As I was heading downstairs one night to write this blog entry, I ran into a priest and another seminarian. The priest smiled and asked if I was going to our seminarian intramural basketball game. It was the last game of a tough season. Though our team played with heart, they hadn’t won a game all season.
So I followed Father out the door to cheer on our team. We got there in time for the last eight minutes of the game. There were plenty of reasons to cheer – tough defense, unselfish play, and some good shots. The most exciting part was our game-tying 3-point shot near the end of regulation. The game went into quadruple overtime when our guys finally pulled off a victory!
Following the game, our team and fans took a knee on the court and prayed. Sometimes other players will join in. This time, one of the refs did.
After the prayer, a few fans began to throw up some shots for fun. The owner of the ball quietly said he needed to head home but to just give him back the ball another time. Others joined in, including the priest who accompanied me, for a few shots on the basket. And for the next forty-five minutes, the fun continued on the court.
But what does playing hoops have to do with hopes for Lent?
Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
If you’re like me, these acts might sound more like ideals than reality. But I think this hoops story depicts three symbolic ways we can turn our Lenten actions into reality.
First, almsgiving. Almsgiving shows mercy to our neighbor; in other words, it is giving our neighbors what they need. We think of money, food, or clothing, but there are many ways to give. In the hoops story, I would say the priest, who is known for his work ethic, gave the gift of his time by supporting and encouraging others.
Second, prayer. Prayer shows mercy to God. He likes to hear from us, even if we’re not feeling well. God wants to hear from us when we’re up, and when we’re down; He’s always ready for us. He’s ready for group prayers too like those gathered on the court in the hoops story. He’s ready for group prayers like when parents get together with their children in prayer.
Third, fasting. Fasting (reducing food intake) and abstinence (helpful refraining) show mercy to ourselves. How? They free us. They strengthen us. And they convert us. For the man with the basketball at the intramural game, it was as simple as parting with his possession for a period of time.
Have a hope-filled Lent!