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If Lent were spring training, I’d be in jail

Father Lou DelFra | Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Honestly now – how many times have you broken your Lenten promise so far? I promised to spend 20 to 30 minutes in quiet prayer each morning this Lent, but know of at least five days when that has not happened, three days when I didn’t reach the finish line, and at least five more when my prayer was so distracted it could hardly count as prayer.

Today is the 32nd day of Lent, and that’s thirteen whiffs. If Lent was a baseball game, my .600 average would have someone checking me for steroids. God, however, has not yet knocked on the door with a random drug test, so the numbers don’t seem to impress Him much. Has God ever tried to hit a baseball? It’s not that easy…

The days when we break our Lenten promises can be the most important of the 40 days of Lent. By reminding us of our seemingly unshakeable inability to keep even simple commitments to God bring with them a whole battery of interior reactions that are rich with the possibility of deeper self-knowledge, and a deeper knowledge of God. I have learned some of my most enduring spiritual lessons while swinging and missing in Lent.

Most importantly, I have discovered that, if I put my mind to it, I am capable of endlessly frustrating myself. I have never made it through a flawless forty days of Lent, and the prospects for next year don’t look great either. I am pretty sure I am incapable of pulling off a perfect Lent. And once I start thinking outside of Lent to the challenges that confront me the other 320 days, it’s a wonder I get up in the morning. It’d be easier and safer if I just stayed in Dillon with the door locked.

Of course, this spiritual depression – born of a spiritual perfectionism – is a helpful conclusion to reach precisely for its absurdity. Lent reminds me precisely of the certainty that moral and spiritual perfection is an impossibility for me. Yet, an overwhelming sense of discouragement at my failings hardly helps us build up of the Kingdom, which I personally and definitely can’t do locked in my room at Dillon – no offense to the guys at Dillon.

My search for a more helpful response sends my mind through the Scriptures, and an almost daily reminder of the collection of sinners with whom Jesus spent his days.

Times of spiritual discouragement, or realizations of our weakness, are extremely rich times to read Jesus’ encounter with the town thief Zacchaeus, or Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector. I nearly cry each third Sunday of Lent as I hear Jesus speak in utter compassion to the adulterous Samaritan woman sitting at the well: “You are thirsting after water that will make you thirsty again. But I can give you water so that you will thirst no more.”

These are people of moral imperfection, and what strikes me to the heart is not so much that Jesus forgives them (though of course he does) but that he seems to seek out, and then remains in, their company.

Reading these passages, and seeing myself in them, are some of the most intimate moments with God that I experience all year.

While they don’t justify my sins and shortcomings, they do speak to them – and the words are ones of mercy, love, and a renewed call to conversion and true freedom and relationship with God. My Lenten failings are invitations not into discouragement, but into a deeper understanding of the depth of God’s mercy and love.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be so content with imperfection, but – truth be told – I kind of like hitting .600 during Lent. Recognition of our limitations, and recognition of our thirst to transcend them – even if that recognition some days manifests itself only as frustration with ourselves – is a time-tested gateway to a more vibrant and real relationship with Christ.

Our limitations make us one with most of the Gospel characters whom Jesus goes out of his way to encounter. Jesus seeks for us with such persistent compassion despite, I indeed because of, our sin, failures, and imperfections.

So .600 it is this Lent, with eight days to go. Hey, it’s hard to hit a baseball with perfect regularity, and besides, you don’t want to be at the peak of your game in spring training.

Father Lou DelFra is the director of Bible studies in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at

delfra.2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.