In athletics, there are different lengths of races, the shorter the race, the stockier the athlete, the longer the race, the leaner the athlete. Sprinters need to run as fast and as quickly as they can, whereas a marathon runner knows that pace is more important. The longer the race, the more important stamina will be to achieve victory.

The Greeks were great lovers of athletics. St Paul would have been aware of this from his travels around the Greek parts of the Roman Empire. In his Second Letter to Timothy, from prison, he reviews his life as apostle and evangelist and he considers that he has now run the race and won the laurel crown given to the victor. He is being rewarded for his efforts in preaching the gospel.

St Paul was not the most modest of men. He was not afraid to defend himself. He was not shy to describe the hardships he had endured for the sake of preaching the gospel.  He catalogues them in his second letter to the Corinthians, the imprisonments, the floggings, the shipwrecks, the stoning, the hunger, thirst and sleepless nights he had endured. But he says that if he must boast, he will boast of the things that show his weakness, for when he knows that he is weak and dependent on God’s grace then he is really strong.

These three months of lockdown have been difficult for everyone. But they have been difficult in different ways, which will have been personal to us. We have all faced challenges, whether they be bereavement, illness, working in risky situations, unemployment; we may have had tensions in households, or felt extremely lonely; we may have had days when all appeared fine and days which for no reason seemed hopeless; there may have been days when we felt strong and days when we felt weak; there may have been times when we felt God’s grace at work and times when it was harder to perceive. We have run the race, and though it would be premature to say that we have crossed the finishing line in dealing with the virus, we have passed an important milestone in coming out of lockdown, especially with Christians being able to return to our churches.

The readings at the midweek Mass this week have been about the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. It has indeed felt as though we are in exile from our churches, that we have been dispersed to our own homes. A church that is locked up, unused and uncared for, with no prayer and worship soon acquires an air of dereliction and melancholy. It is important that we return as soon as we feel able and safe to do so, to build up the body of Christ once again.

Life will not be the same for us. We may well think in terms of 'BC' and 'AC': before corona and after corona. There will be many changes we note in our surroundings and in ourselves. St Peter was a changed man after the resurrection of Jesus. After he witnessed the risen Christ, he was not the same. Beforehand he got some things rights, as when he professed Jesus to be the Christ, but then showed that he did not understand Christ’s message, forcing Jesus to say ‘Get behind me Satan.’ He could be a brave defender of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and then hours later deny that he even knew him.

However after the resurrection, he was a fearless preacher of Christ. He had that inner peace and assurance, that the world cannot give, that enabled him to withstand imprisonment and the threat of execution, that led him out from the prison cell. He could now take the leap of faith that showed him all things are possible.  

Peter denied Jesus, but the risen Christ did not hold that against him, and restored him as the leader of the church and entrusted to him the care of his flock. We too need to be kind and forgiving and bear with one another. It may be that some people have not behaved as we might have hoped, that they have done things we wish they hadn’t, or not done what we might have hoped. It has felt perverse to be told that the best way to care about someone was to stay away from them. We need to go easy on each other, for each one of us may have been bruised or scarred by this experience. These have been extraordinary times that no one could have predicted or planned for.

We still have more of the race to run to win victory over the virus. We must continue to be vigilant and not forget what we have learnt, to hold on to what we have found to be worthy and good. On this feast of St Peter and St Paul may we stand firm on the rock of faith and venture forth with calm assurance, knowing our need of the stamina which God’s grace can provide.