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Jerry Costello

Lent: Spring Training for the Soul

Ever thought of Lent as spring training for the soul? The odds are against it, I know, and I admit I’ve never thought of it that way. More important here and now, however, is the fact that Father Joe Breighner not only thought about it, but wrote about it, too. And like most of the things he writes about, darned if it doesn’t make sense. (I’ve written about Father Joe before; he’s the columnist for the Catholic Review in Baltimore. He used to have a radio program called “Ask Father Joe,” and there he held forth freely on whatever came up.)

                As it happens, Lent has a number of things in common with spring training, among them the amount of time it takes (give or take a few days). This year Lent goes for most of February and March, beginning on Feb. 10, and winding up on Holy Saturday, March 26.

                But more to the point, there’s something that gets to the heart of the matter: Lent and spring training are all about getting back to basics. In baseball, the basics are hitting, pitching and fielding. In Lent, they’re prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. The person who ignores those fundamentals is like the baseball player who tries to limber up without paying attention to the basics of the sport: he’s likely to get nowhere fast.

                “Just because we know the way doesn’t mean we go that way,” Father Breighner writes. “We always come back to basics.”

                He offers insights into one of those “basics,” praying. “Prayer is different for all of us,” he says. “Some like to pray in silence, and others like noisy places. Some like to sit at the front of the tabernacle, and others visit the presence of God within themselves. One size does not fit all.”

                The same thing goes with fasting, and here Father Breighner offers a personal reflection. “I thought fasting was simply a matter of making myself miserable,” he writes. But that turns out to be not the meaning at all.

                “Fasting is not a matter of ‘giving something up’ as ‘letting things go.’  We let go of our addictions to food, sex, anger, wanting and craving. We go into the desert of our own insides, and discover that when we let stuff go we are in the presence of God…Lent takes me back to basics, if I let it.”

                Finally there is almsgiving, giving to the poor. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Give to the poor and worthy charities, by all means, but give of your time and energy as well.

                “I’m convinced,” Father Joe writes, “that the greatest gifts are not about how much we give, but how much of ourselves” is involved. That’s all the difference, and it’s a vital point.

                Father Breighner reminds us of another important distinction. “It was easy to be a believer on Easter Sunday,” he writes. “It wasn’t as easy on Good Friday.”  And he takes us from there:

                “Much of life, I’m convinced, is lived on Good Friday. But if we take time to pray, if we take time to fast, and if we take time to give alms—giving of what we have and who we are—we will discover a moment of resurrection.”

                And that, in a sentence, is what Lent is all about. It’s just a matter of getting back to basics. Spring training, that is—for the soul.


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