Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent 101: Why I Need the Pre-Game Warm-up

I found myself in a new position on Ash Wednesday; I wasn't sure what I was going to do or not do for Lent.
I  just love the photo. What could be more culturally Catholic?
I'm always a little surprised by how openly people discuss what Lenten practice they have committed for the 40 days of the Holy Season. I grew up in a home that expected us to "give something up." We abstained from meat on Fridays and aimed to fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but we did not disclose what our Lenten discipline might be. And even today,  when I ask my dad what he's working on for Lent he gives me a look and says "I"m not sharing that." Fair enough. 

Some of us need the communal support for success. Others want to root out a tendency or habit that gets in the way of our relationship with God. Striving for holiness may mean exposing our humanity and our selfishness. Said information may not be for public consumption.

But the last two days at school, my students have warmly and innocently asked what I am doing for Lent. I was honest, I said "I'm not sure yet. I'm hoping to get a sense of what I need to do and commit to it soon."
One friend commented on her surprise that so many people give up FB for Lent
And that is my roundabout way of making a case for the pre-season warm up. Although preparation is not exclusive to sports, it certainly exposes how important it is.

In cross country, the three most important words are June, July and August. This translates to summer running. Those athletes who train before the season begin are stronger, fitter, get faster during the season and with the right coaching prevent injury (even overuse injury!). They approach the time trial with a noticeable confidence. Their ability to really compete in the early season races bears fruit during those much later in the season.

As important as summer running is however, we have girls that haven't logged a mile since track or worse...since the season prior. They know this and so do we. We meet girls where they are at, but it sure makes the climb a lot more strenuous.
Anyone who tells you they love the erg is lying.
In my own experience as an athlete and maintaining physical fitness, I've noticed new and unique examples. One has come from a personal highlight for me this past year; I have been working out on a regular basis with a woman I (barely) coached when she was a rower at St. Ignatius. She went on to row at Cal. A regular component of our lifting sessions has been integrating sets on the rowing machine—the erg. One interval may be a 5 minute piece with 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off (or some combination). I have noticed that Sam has never forgotten her training. Ten seconds prior to rowing at full power, she gradually picks up the intensity, so much so that by the time we are "on" she is already at her mark. 

To me, this is striking analogy for anything we do that we want to do at our best. I try not to show up for class the minute the bell rings and expect my students to be ready and prepped for the lesson. I know this is why I was taught to pull out the kneeler and spend a little bit of time in prayer before the Mass begins; that exercise can put me in the right space for the communal celebration of the liturgy. I also think it would have served me well to spend a little time in preparation before the season of Lent begins.  Some of you know this as Mardi Gras and others as Carnival! We feast before the famine, we say goodbye to the flesh. Maybe I'm just making a push for Mardi Gras to extend far beyond South Louisiana and Mobile, AL and I am. 

I had the good fortune of teaching at Our Lady of Prompt Succor in White Castle, LA for two years in the Alliance for Catholic Education. My time in South Louisiana taught me that Mardi Gras wasn't a just a single day, but rather, it is a season. We would have slices of King Cake every Friday from the Feast of the Epiphany and a whole lot on Fat Tuesday. The next day, the celebratory colors of purple, gold and green were stripped down to one—just purple—which symbolizes repentance.
It's ridiculous how much I love King Cake...
It's hard not to know that Lent is about to begin when you have the culmination of a slightly hedonistic season one day prior. Some of us need to go big before we go home. Mardi Gras offers that opportunity. It's not the only way to prepare for Lent, but it's not a bad one.

Next year, I aim to go to Confession at least once after Christmas before Lent begins. A number of Catholic social media sites provide ample resources for prayer and thinking creatively about Lent. Lent is—after all—game time. Bring it.

I hope this Lent is a time of personal growth and holiness for you, and the whole world. 

Photo Credits
Lone Flower

The Erg
King Cake
Ash Wednesday taken by Paul Totah

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