It may be fortuitous that the Winter Olympics and Lent begin around the same time. Two seasons where challenge and struggle are melded together for a higher purpose give each an added bonus. Lent can take from the Olympics the evidence that practice makes perfect as well as a never give up attitude. The Olympics can take from Lent that higher purpose can motivate us to overcome adversity far more than accolades that will fade and tarnish. But it is what is unseen in preparation that really tells the tale in the success of these two seasons.
We watch Olympic athletes and enjoy the show. But the practices that have preceded the performances are often carried out with no fanfare and not much fun. They are regularly done at inconvenient times when others are asleep or relaxing. They examine and re-examine the finest details of their sport in order to make small changes that may have only a millisecond of difference but may also be the transformation from silver to gold. This is not a game or a pastime for these athletes, it is a passion. The mark of that passion is the preparation for the season that is key to performance. Can Lent be the same?
If we are drawing parallels between the season of the Olympics and the season of Lent, is it possible to imagine ourselves as Olympic caliber Catholics who are preparing for the Lenten season to come? It almost seems comical to consider ourselves at that level of dedication. But if not that, if we are not that passionate to prepare well for the season of Lent, then how would we describe our relationship with Christ in faith? A pastime? A hobby? A curiosity? A club? If so, I imagine that our season of Lent will limp accordingly, and will miserably fail in the project of real preparation to make the Lenten journey the experience of conversion that it is designed to produce. Anything other than a passionate relationship with Christ in the Church simply does not inspire enough to make the sacrifices in preparation for Lent as well as in the season itself.
What sacrifice needs to be engaged in the days before Lent? We are called to dedicate quality time to reflecting and preparing to engage the season well – to hit the ground running. We need to know ourselves well enough to realize the small and not so small adjustments that our faith journey requires to be headed to the medal winners’ platform, rather than losing or worse, being disqualified. We need to select penitential practices of substance, more than the sweet abstaining clichés of our youth. We need to select some reading material that will fuel our minds. We need to carve out regular time for prayer and reflection. We need to consider the poor and how we will make a difference in their lives. Suffice it to say that what every passionate Olympian knows to be true is equally true for every Christian who is even moderately self-reflective: we cannot engage the season unless we prepare well for it. Ash Wednesday is a few days away – get prepared and let the games begin!
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