2014 Lenten Journey – The Spiritual Olympics
“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (II Timothy 6-8)
Glory to Jesus Christ!
As we begin the season of the Great Fast, the images and memories of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are fresh in our minds. In a world of over six billion people, only the best athletes from the ends of the earth gather to compete for the prizes of bronze, silver, or gold. Many have prepared their whole lives through training and endless exercises to strengthen the arms and legs to ski, skate, or slide to be faster or better than anyone else. Everything that they eat builds their muscles and helps to reach and maintain the perfect weight. Years of competition sharpen their minds and senses to see opportunities and avoid obstacles in their paths. Their life of preparation pays off in giving them the edge to succeed.
In the season of Lent we are called to focus our spiritual training to prepare us not for gold or silver, but we strive for the goal of a richer celebration of the Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Lenten fasts and services help us to strengthen our minds and refine our sense of prayer to hear the Word of God and feel the presence of His love for us. Pope Francis has reminded us that during this Lent to be aware of the need to help the poor and to give alms are important parts of our personal and our church’s Lenten journey.
During the 1960s, the American Broadcasting Company’s Wide World of Sports was the only program that promoted obscure Olympic sports in the United States. The program opened with horns playing the Olympic melody followed by the statement that they presented “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” One video was of a winner, but the image that was more famous was that of a ski jumper flying off the Olympic ski jump only to crash at the bottom into a tumbling swirl of snow. This drama of victory or defeat is relived in every Olympics.
Will our journey through the season of the Great Fast end in victory of the deeper understanding of our faith or will the Fast end in the agony of defeat? Just like the Olympic athletes, we are called to make goals to do more than we did last year. We may not be able to match the effort of the saints, but we begin the journey at the celebration of Cheesefare Sunday Vespers by making our personal commitment for our program of spiritual training and fasting. For the young and the strong, the goals can be more challenging. But for all, the intention and the effort have to take us in the direction of improving our spiritual lives and the lives of our families through praying, fasting, and giving alms.
If we try, we can do more.
Saint Basil the Great’s Lenten Homily reminds us that any credit for our spiritual progress is a gift from God: “It is God who is active within us, giving us both the will and the achievement, in accordance with his good purpose.” Through his Spirit, God also reveals his wisdom in the plan he has preordained for our glory. God gives power and strength in our labors. “I have toiled harder than all the others,” Paul says, “but it is not I but the grace of God, which is with me.”
Please include in your spiritual program time to pray for our Greek Catholics in Ukraine during yet another time of political upheaval for a people who have long suffered oppression. It would be a tragedy if the progress of the freedom to worship and to build up the Church was undermined. We ask the Lord to spare them another setback.
Pray for one another that the out of the dark and cold of the beginning of Lent we will rise in triumph to the light and warmth of Easter.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh