For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:6-7
“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on him. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.” – Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, in Chariots of Fire
Freccia: You’re a pretty smart fella.
Moore: Ah, not that smart.
Freccia: [If] you’re not that smart, how’d you figure it out?
Moore: I tried to imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, “What would he do?”
If there is no more than this, if I were to lose her, all memory of her and all the rest of my life upon the instant, still I have had all that anyone could ask. I have had love. I have had meaning. I have had my commission. I have been tested, and I did not fail.
The last of his regrets dropped away like palpable weights.
Andrea will be all right. Devin will see to it.
Devin will be all right. Natalie will see to it.
Forgive me, Rachel. Being what I was, I could never give you all that you needed. It wasn’t to be.
Thank You, God. Thank You for all of it. All the failure, all the pain, all the triumph and all the joy. I have been truly blessed.
Aristotle told us that we cultivate the virtues by practicing them. In this regard the virtue of perseverance is particularly challenging, for a simple reason: One must practice it continuously, at all our waking moments, all the days of our lives. (No time off for bad behavior. 😁) We get no pass for weariness, disappointments, or distractions. There is no formula, as Ian Charleson’s Eric Liddell character tells his listeners.
But completing the race is all that’s required for eternal bliss.
Every man’s faith is tested. It’s built into the thing, for as Pope Benedict XVI has told us, faith is inseparable from doubt. Anyone who adopts a faith must expect to be afflicted by doubt at least some of the time. Many persons seek to inflict doubts upon us who believe.
To persevere in faith is the critical test of the virtue of perseverance.
Temporal perseverance is coupled to the virtue of hope: the conviction that by persevering, we might yet win through to a better state of affairs. The specifics, of course, will vary among us. The point is that we each need a goal: something to which we can look forward if we persevere in our efforts…and maybe get a break or two along the way.
But life ends. Our time is short. What then? The Christian faith incorporates an infinitely attractive “what then” for those who persevere, and an infinitely horrifying alternative for those who do not. That’s what the Christian looks forward to. It’s the ultimate reason for the theological virtue of hope.
This reaves the prospect of death of its horror, and not just because something infinitely better could follow. Alongside that, it puts a limit to the period through which we must persevere. We won’t be tested throughout eternity; only for the span of a human life, seldom as long as a century. The race will have a definite end.
To complete the race is to win it. No one who crosses the finish line on his feet will be excluded from the winner’s circle.
That’s all for this morning: just a few thoughts on a particularly challenging virtue and the tests the Christian faces in striving to cultivate it. They struck me as appropriate to our time, in which many of us – perhaps most – are being tested in ways we did not foresee and about which we can do little. Temporal tests are also tests of the spirit: to maintain hope in the face of persistent difficulties, aware that all trials must end.
They will end, you know. You can outlast them. No matter how difficult the present, it lasts only for an instant. An interval so short it’s gone before you can finish pronouncing its name.
May God bless and keep you all.