Editorial - February Cold and Lent
Do you recall the record eight gold medals won by swimmer (some would say fish) Michael Phelps? Do you remember the patriotic feelings that motivated the "Redeem Team" in basketball? How about the many other competitions that merited the United States one hundred medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China? It is difficult to believe that half a year has passed since then. And just what do the exploits of all of these great athletes of a summer ago have to do with the February cold and Lent?
For the next forty days, Christians of all nations are gathered together spiritually to compete with themselves for the laurels of Easter. If we were to continue the analogy, perhaps, the event of running the hurtles would be most apt. With adequate training and expert coaching from God, the saints, and all the wonderful models of faith who have come into our lives, we can negotiate successfully the many hurtles of sin and despair placed before us. Disciplining body and soul against the temptations that would trip us up in our pursuit of spiritual excellence is as demanding and challenging as any athlete would face. Prayer and perseverance are our strength.
There are many who would tell you that you are prayerful enough, charitable enough, pious enough, and good enough. Be happy, they would say, with who you are, with where you are, and with what you are spiritually. Be satisfied! Keep in mind that not one Olympic athlete would heed that advice. He or she would be about the business of improving on their previous performance, working on correcting any mistakes in attitude or form, and pushing themselves toward perfection. The challenge before us is to refuse to accept spiritual mediocrity. There is a hidden danger: a feeling of despair because of our weaknesses or a resignation to never being good enough. Growth in faith builds upon God's gifts of grace that speaks of the love, forgiveness, encouragement, and hope that we depend on to face the task of raising the bar of our spiritual endeavors. Past accomplishments in our life of faith and the wisdom we have gained from them provide a steady resource and a refreshing spring for our Lenten efforts.
What is it all for? Does an Olympic champion view his or her prize solely as a ticket to returning home as a conquering Caesar to gather the adulation of the crowd and the possibility of riches? Although these rewards may be bestowed upon the athlete, the true champion draws a humble satisfaction in being able to have succeeded in giving his or her best for their country, their family, and their friends. For the majority of athletes who return home without any Olympic hardware, they ought to feel the same. A Christian's race through Lent to Easter can result in achievements more profound, more lasting, and, indeed, more humbling.
Many years ago in an article titled A Lenten Message, Fr. John Monaghan wrote, "The religion of Christ is not aspirin to deaden the pain of living, it is not a discussion group, nor a miraculous medal, nor a piety, nor a bingo for God. Not anything less than a joyous adventure of being Christ in a world still skeptical of him." What a thrill it is to put yourself in the service of Christ and to witness how he makes of you a gift to your world. Allow yourself to be his champion and something immeasurably better than gold will shine forth.
Throughout this Lent, allow me to cheer you on toward the finish line of your particular goal. Like Saint Paul, I pray that you may you feel assured that you have fought the good fight and have run the good race and are looking forward to standing before the Great Judge who will present you with that merited crown.