Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
St. Paul imagined the Christian life as being an Olympic race in which you must complete the race in order to win the prize. The words are meant to encourage us to continue in the running, even when things become difficult. His words, however, rightfully apply to many activities in life. I’ve begun a race against cancer with chemotherapy being the arduous course for the contest. I’ve completed the first of four treatments. This first lap was difficult, more than I imagined. The next lap begins July 27. I am grateful to have completed the first round, but am reminded of the reality of the full length of the race. St Cyprian of Carthage (martyred 258AD), following St. Paul’s idea of the Christian life as a race, says:
“The act of confessing Christ as the starting point in the race to glory is not already the successful end that merits the victor’s garland. It does not mark the end of the act for which one wins praise, but makes a worthy beginning in that direction. Since it is written: “He who will persevere right up until the end, shall be saved” (Mt 24.13) whatever will be before that end is but a step by means of which one ascends to the summit of salvation, not the finishing post fixed at that summit’s highest point.” (On The Church: Select Treatises, Kindle Loc. 3261-64)
The goal is to reach the finish line, not just to run for awhile. I admit perseverance will be a test for me. A couple of the saints and martyrs who bears the name of Theodore were soldiers and persevered in the faith. I’m not so courageous as them, but am encouraged by their examples.
I look forward to that day in which I can say with St. Paul:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.(2 Timothy 4:7-8)