Happy first day of training season! While that may sound rather odd, the season of Lent can be compared to athletes in training. Discipline, practice, and focus are very similar to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer — the three things the Church calls us to participate in as we prepare for Easter.
Lent begins and ends with a day of fasting. This discipline requires us to be mindful, first of what day it is, and secondly how much we are eating and when. For the minimum fasting requirement, one full meal is allowed with two minor snack opportunities to maintain strength. Both fasting days also require abstaining from meat, as do all Fridays in Lent, although fasting is not required except for Good Friday. In addition to mindful eating, Lent is also an opportunity to practice self-control. Why does it seem that when we can’t have a particular food, that’s when we crave it even more? Some may complain about it and non-Catholics may scoff and tease us for our efforts, yet are these restrictions any different from those an athlete willingly assumes in training? Do they not need to be mindful of what they are eating so that their bodies can perform to their highest abilities? While our eating may not be fueling us for a marathon, it’s the combination of training body and mind together, reminding us that we are more than just spirit and intellect, and that our physical nature does play a role in our spiritual life.
Almsgiving is older than the Church itself. While it should not be limited to just a Lenten activity, it is in this season that we are called to especially live out the charity we profess. While typically we think of money or food being donated to the poor when we consider almsgiving, opening up the definition to include offering our time and talent to help those less fortunate is definitely putting love into practice. One definition of practice is “ to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.” Athletes don’t become professionals just because they say they are. They need to practice their sport until they become proficient, and even then, they continue to practice and hone their skills to become the best they can be in their sport. Lent is a time for us to practice being Catholic at an even deeper level. It’s not just about the basics anymore, it is doing works of charity.
Prayer should be something we do as easily as breathing. However, when was the last time you paid attention to how you were breathing? Maybe if you had a cold or allergies, you become all too aware how much your body needs the oxygen that you breathe in. Just like an athlete picks a particular skill to focus to improve, we are called to focus on our prayer life during Lent also. There is no shortage of chaplets, novenas, and specific prayers in Catholicism that we can include in our daily prayer time. Perhaps given the amount, it can be too intimidating to choose! If pre-written prayers are not your cup of tea, perhaps the focus could be on perfecting your own method of prayer, maybe investigating a new one like the ACTS method (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication).
Instead of looking at Lent like something to endure, or live through to get to Easter, let’s take the opportunity this year to treat it as though we are athletes for Jesus Christ and this is our season to train. GO TEAM!