Pastor’s Column February 17 - 18, 2018
"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
This past Wednesday we celebrated the confluence of three big events. First, it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy and penitential season of Lent. Second, it was St. Valentine’s Day, a day for celebrating love. I read somewhere that this was the first time that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincided since 1945. And third, it was the day that pitchers and catchers reported to camp, marking the beginning of Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. And after the dismal seasons that the Jets and the Giants had, and that the Knicks, Nets, and the Rangers are having, Spring Training comes none too soon.
Lent is modeled after the story we hear in this weekend’s Gospel. Mark tells us, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days tempted by Satan.” Jesus was getting ready to begin his public ministry during which he would spend three difficult and challenging years preaching, teaching, healing, and calling people to conversion. He prayed, he fasted, he resisted the temptations of the Devil, and after the forty days were over said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
When you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between Spring Training and Lent. Both are meant to get us into shape. In Spring Training, baseball players run sprints and lift weights to get themselves into good physical shape. During Lent, we try to get ourselves into good spiritual shape through prayer, the reading of Scripture, and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. Spring Training is a time for baseball players to work on the fundamentals of their sport: hitting, fielding, throwing, and running. Players go through various drills. Pitchers will practice breaking off the mound to cover first base on a ball hit to the right side of the infield over and over again until they build up muscle memory and it becomes automatic. Hitters will use a batting tee and hit ball after ball into a net until they get their swing down just the way they want it. Coaches will fungo hundreds of ground balls to the infielders and fly balls to the outfielders so that fielding becomes second nature to them.
In Lent, we too work on the fundamentals of our faith. The Church gives us three spiritual tools in particular, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to build up virtue so that our practice of the faith becomes second nature to us. Lent should be a time of increased prayer, both public, by making the effort to get to Mass more often, as well as private. Reading and meditating over the Scriptures, a practice called Lectio Divina, can be a beautiful and most helpful practice. And if you are not already praying the Rosary every day, Lent is a great time to start. Fasting is all about sacrifice and self-denial. Giving up something we like for Lent, or doing something positive that we should do more often but perhaps do not enjoy doing, may seem childish, but it helps us discipline our will to help fight against the temptations that come our way. And almsgiving and other acts of charity towards those most in need help us remember that while, like baseball, the practice of our faith involves lots of individual battles, ultimately we are part of a team, forming one Body in Christ.
This year Lent and Spring Training not only begin on the same day, they also end on the same day. Baseball’s Opening Day is March 29th which also happens to be Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Sacred Triduum which ends Lent and begins our celebration of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. And just as baseball players hope that their hard work in Spring Training will bring them closer to their goal of a World Series victory, we pray that our Lenten observance will bring us closer to our goal of sharing Christ’s other worldly victory in heaven. Have a Blessed Lent!