Defying odds, breathtaking, a cut above the rest…those are phrases that still echo in my ears after watching the Winter Olympics games these past weeks. The elegance of ice dancing to the fearless leaps in skiing or snowboarding. The competitors that gather from all over the world show the hard work that they have put into their training. They did not expect to become participants in the Olympics without the grueling training and dedication that it takes. Hours of practice and focus prepared them to show off externally what they had gained. It is not for the faint of heart or for the procrastinators.
Catholics need focused training, too. (No, not for winter sports thrills!) One of our spiritual training times is a season of the Church’s year called Lent. The vigor with which we put forth into Lent might not be as obvious as the Olympics competitors; but we are not going for a medal for others to see. We are going for the ultimate prize of being united with God for all eternity. So, our training time and dedication are even more important!
When does our training begin?
Lent begins next week on Ash Wednesday — March 2. On that day, we receive ashes on our forehead in a shape of a cross. To see a list of ways to explain (some good and some not so good) why we receive ashes on our forehead each year, check out this article (https://lifeteen.com/blog/why-do-catholics-put-ashes-on-our-heads-on-ash-wednesday/) by Mark Hart at LifeTeen.
How long is our training?
This important day begins our Lenten training time of 40 days. “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540) Jesus spent 40 days in the desert after His Baptism and before His Public Ministry. Like Jesus, we need dedicate time to prepare ourselves for our unique ministry that God has called us to in this world be it in family life, school, or work, or volunteer work.
What is our training regime?
There are three key aspects; but, as we review them, let’s think of maybe a new way of accomplishing them this Lent:
- Prayer – Connecting with God every day is essential. It might be time to set a new appointment in our daily calendar to pray (don’t forget the notification to help remind us). When we give God our precious time, we are always rewarded far more than we expect!
- Fasting- Denying ourselves of things opens our heart up to what we really crave and need. Besides the fasting days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, giving up things throughout Lent is a way of making more room for God and less dominance of our physical wants. Maybe it is time to give up something new or try taking what we normally give up to a harder level. Sometimes the things we give up can save us money (going out to eat, drinking an expensive cup of coffee, etc). This fasting can then enable us to do the next step with some extra money in hand.
- Almsgiving- Providing for one another is a way of acting out the love that our training is making more authentic. Likely there is some way each week that we can share our love and talents with those who are in more need. Whether it is providing through monetary means or using your time and talent, giving to others is giving directly to Jesus.
Each of these aspects will create an environment for the ultimate focus — a relationship with Jesus who suffered and died for us! These aspects alone do not bring our salvation but rather shows our humble, grateful collaboration with the sacrifice and graces Jesus unreservedly gives.
What will our unique training look like?
Best way is to ask our Head Coach — Jesus. Pray about what our Lent needs to be. What areas are we struggling with? What practices will enable us to grow stronger and more faithful?
May this Lent lead us closer to Christ and awaken a drive within us to run the race of faith with new intensity:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3
CCC 540 retrieved from http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/540.htm
Author: Laura Stephens, FF Sacrament Preparation Catechist