By Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
They say “life is a marathon, not a quick sprint.” I think that is true although the older you get, the faster the days seem to pass. The same could be said of the holy season of Lent: it is a marathon to Easter!
Here we are past the mid-point of our Lenten journey with the finish line now in sight. How has it been going?
A few weeks ago, like many Americans, I watched some of the Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. I marveled, once again, at the talent, skill, determination and enthusiasm of so many of our young, best athletes. How did they get to this Olympic moment? Practice! And whether they earned medals or not, these competitors demonstrated the will to reach their goal. What amazed me watching all the ice skating, skiing, snow-boarding and so forth were those moments when they tottered, stumbled, fell or veered off course. They didn’t give up. They picked themselves up, resumed their focus and finished their path into 2018 Olympic history. That’s what a champion does even when there is no gold, silver or bronze awaiting.
Living our Catholic faith isn’t much different. It takes practice all the time. And even when we fall, the true believer picks himself/herself up, dusts himself/herself and carries on where he/she left off. A marathon with a goal, a finish line in view.
So it is with the holy season of Lent, that annual time of penance and grace the Church gives us. There are crosses and resurrections throughout these 40 days heading for the commemoration of Christ’ own Cross and Resurrection. Perhaps we started off on Ash Wednesday with the very best of Lenten intentions and plans. And we may have stumbled on the way. But we shouldn’t give up on what we hoped and wanted to do for the Lord.
Maybe we didn’t pray as much or with the intensity as we had planned. Maybe we hedged a bit here and there on what we had pledged to ourselves to give up. Maybe we didn’t give to others as we had promised ourselves. Guess what? No one is perfect! The Christian life is about the long view as well as the short. Our goal as Catholics in the long and short term is to draw as close to Christ as humanly possible. And when we veer off course, the Christian gets back in the race.
As I write this piece, the words of the Broadway show “Seasons” come to mind: “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.” That’s what the holy season of Lent reminds us, what Lent is for. And you know what? The same is true in life. “If you’re going to last, you can’t make it fast.” A marathon, not a quick sprint!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, it was all cheers and palms and “Hosannas.” That’s where Jesus started in Holy Week. By Holy Thursday, it was washing feet and the Eucharist and off to Gethsemane. By Good Friday it was Calvary and the Cross and Crucifixion. By Easter Sunday, it was triumph and Resurrection, the tomb was empty. That’s where he finished. For Christ and for all who follow him, it was worth the trip.
So, no matter where Lent has taken you this year, continue your holy resolve and, if you stumbled, be willing to pick up and finish. Keep in mind the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life (General Audience, March 1, 2006).”
“And Jesus said to all of them, ‘If anyone would come after me, deny yourself, pick up your cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9: 23).” That’s where we start AND where we finish.