Lent is like the Pre-Olympic trials that narrow down the competitors to the athletic elite. Those who can’t hack it are sent packing. In a marathon, for example, you have to finish the race in order to get a placement.
Lent is like a Catholic’s 40-day marathon. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2Cor. 13:5) Lent is a time to prove that you can walk the walk.
Without Cheering Spectators
Unlike a marathon however, Lent is not about proving to the world or to yourself that you can hack it. There are no streets lined with spectators cheering you on.
Christ tells us in the Gospel, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.” He goes on to say to us not to “appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
There are plenty of sacrifices that can be made as a way of uniting to Christ’s Passion. It could seem like a great opportunity to follow up on those forgotten New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or to cut back on how much TV you watch. Those are great goals, but our attitude is what deserves more attention.
Why am I really choosing this Lenten sacrifice?
Would I do it if I knew that no one would notice?
Am I just trying to prove something to myself?
It’s a Two-Legged Race
Lent is a reminder that we are not walking alone, we have to keep in step with our partner.
In Mass the Altar Server walks in front of the priest carrying a crucifix. This is to remind us that Christ has gone before us by his Passion. He then comes to us again in the Eucharist to say that he is right beside us. Christ himself needed the help of Simon of Cyrene. He doesn’t expect us to do it by ourselves. That is why he has given us the Church.
So the various ways to live Lent as a community, either in liturgy or the various traditions of the Church, are ways in which Christ invites us to let him be our Simon of Cyrene. That closeness with him is achieved by uniting to what he lived. He experienced hunger, his 40-day fast at the beginning of his public ministry. He suffered the entire Passion merely on what he had eaten at the Last Supper.
So abstain from meat on Fridays if you don’t already, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Walk side by side with him by uniting to his way of the Cross. Go to a living stations of the cross if your parish or diocese is organizing it. Try to participate in the liturgical celebrations in Holy Week. They are the climax of the Lenten period and enable us to better appreciate the mystery of Easter.
The Finish Line
When a runner finishes a marathon, they already begin looking forward to the next race. Quality Olympic runners don’t let a win or loss get to them too much. They gain what they are meant to -- better conditioning, higher chances of winning, and more experience.
As a Catholic, Lent has to be a turning point, an opportunity for further conversion of heart. Lent is an image of the race that takes place during our entire lives. If we make the most of it this Lent will contribute to our final perseverance in the faith, so we can say with St. Paul, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)
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