Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's not where you start...

Long before Shirley MacLaine had become a New Age icon and an unexpected star on Downton Abbey, I took my mother to see her perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Almost forty years later, I still remember one song from her show. The lyric went “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”

St. Paul didn’t have much in common with Shirley MacLaine, but he would have approved of that line. In our second reading today, the Apostle looks back on his life with satisfaction, and looks ahead to eternal life with hope and thanksgiving.

His words are far more famous than any Broadway song: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Wouldn’t we all love to make those words our own?

Today’s Gospel says we can, even if we can’t compare ourselves to St. Paul. Jesus tells us what it takes to win the race: nothing more or less than a humble prayer for God’s mercy. The tax collector—a classic sinner in any story—wins the fight after losing many rounds to sin.

Even for Paul, victory is a gift. It’s the Lord who gave him strength; it is the Lord who rescued him from every evil; it is the Lord who saves.

Three months or so I met a lovely woman who was away from the Church for some 60 years. She had decided after all that time to return to the practice of the faith of her upbringing. She came to the rectory for coffee and confession, and we discovered that my great-aunt had been her principal at a convent school, where my father’s sister was also a boarder.

She came back to church with visible joy, and the parish welcomed her warmly, thanks to a generous parishioner who drove her to Mass on Sundays.

When her ride arrived last Sunday, she failed to answer the doorbell. Barbara Reynolds had finished the race, and kept the faith. This week I will be celebrating her funeral.

This story has meaning for those of every age, because the Lord wants to save us here and now; he offers us the strength and peace that comes from faith at every moment of our lives; we only need to accept it.

I’m very glad that today we'll also hear the faith journey of a young person as part or Year of Faith series of parishioner's testimonies. Even if it’s not where you start but where you finish, Chris Ufford will tell us something about the beauty and joy of youthful faith, and the blessings that come when a young athlete runs the race with real conviction.

Today, whether young or old or in-between, let’s ask ourselves: are we keeping the faith—are we in training for eternal life?

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