Column: Three ways to close out Lent like a champion

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

In the midst of March Madness, you hear basketball pundits speak about the importance of being able to close out games.

A team can play terrific for 38 minutes, but if they blow the last 2 minutes, it may be all for naught. Three important characteristics of successful teams in closing out games are: 1) playing good defense — forcing the other team to make errors; 2) not making mistakes, e.g., not turning the ball over or taking low percentage shots; and 3) shooting free throws well.

As we enter in Holy Week, it is a moment to reflect upon how we want to close out the Lenten season. I wish to propose three important ways to bring this special season to a fruitful conclusion.

First, I encourage you to read prayerfully during this week one or more of the Passion narratives. On Palm Sunday this year, we read St. Luke’s account of the Passion of Jesus and on Good Friday we always read the Passion account of St. John.

I encourage you to read slowly through the entire Passion, then return to reflect prayerfully on those passages that particularly moved you. Personally, there are several passages in Luke’s Passion that provide me with a wealth of material for my prayer.

Luke’s description of the prayer of Jesus in the garden I find particularly powerful. Jesus prays: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still not my will but yours be done.” Luke alone relates that Jesus “prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke captures the intensity of this moment. Jesus is completely aware of the cruel suffering that is about to be inflicted upon him and so he implores the Father to relieve him of it. Yet, Jesus ultimately embraces the Father’s will over what are his own preferences.

Another section of Luke’s Passion that I find fruitful for my own meditation is the depiction of Peter’s denial of Jesus. The scene takes place in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter is trying to stay close to observe the fate of Jesus, but at a safe enough distance that he will not also be arrested. When one of the high priest’s maids and others recognize Peter as a disciple of Jesus, Peter denies that he knows him. In addition to the cock crowing after the third denial, Luke describes Jesus turning and looking at Peter. Luke describes Peter exiting the Passion “weeping bitterly.”

It is Luke who relates Jesus praying for mercy for his executioners. Only Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus promised one of those with whom he is crucified (identified in tradition as Dismas) that he would be with Jesus that very day in paradise. Luke hammers home in his description of the Passion the theme, found throughout his Gospel, of God’s incredible mercy.

Secondly, I encourage you to remain faithful to your Lenten practices of penance and prayer during Holy Week. Also, ask yourself the question: Why not continue these practices of prayer and penance throughout the year?

Personally, I find that fasting creates more space in my life for God. For me, limiting the amount of food and the types of food I eat is not only good for my spiritual life, but my physical health as well. I also discover giving God more time in prayer actually makes me more productive in work, even though I have fewer hours to devote to my labors.

Decide this week which Lenten practices you wish to continue, at least on a modified basis, throughout the coming year.

Finally, I urge you to participate in the Triduum liturgies at your parish. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy

Thursday, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night are the most powerful and beautiful liturgies of the year. These liturgies put us in touch with the central mysteries of our Catholic faith. They give God the opportunity to renew and deepen his peace and joy within our hearts.

Pray over the Passion, persevere in your Lenten practices of prayer and penance, participate in the Triduum liturgies, and you will close out Lent like a champion.

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