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Are you on a mission?

Faithpoint | Thursday, March 31, 2011

Raise your hand if you would have liked to be in the Lady Vols’ locker room facing Coach Pat Summit’s wrath at halftime of the Notre Dame-Tennessee women’s game Monday night. Coach Summit, known to be, um, blunt when she’s unhappy, found her group in unfamiliar territory: behind to a team they’d beaten 20 times, in every single previous meeting. Down by five points at halftime with two key players already in foul trouble, she attributed much of Tennessee’s difficulties to the Notre Dame women, saying, “They are on a mission.”

Are you on a mission? Because we are at a halftime as well: today we are halfway through the holy season of Lent. It’s worth taking a brief trip to the locker room to regroup and think about how our second half will play out.

A halftime — whether the midpoint of a game, the intermission at a concert or play, or that week of spring break which follows midterms — adds great value to an event in symbolic ways, but more importantly in real ways as well. Halftimes can be turning points: they can focus our attention, strengthen our resolve, lift our spirits.

Players and fans get to pause and take a breather. The coach and the team get to assess how they’re playing and where they must adjust and improve. Actors and musicians regain their focus and energy so that they can offer their best performance in the next act. Students and teachers examine what they’ve accomplished and learned and map out what they still need to study, teach on or write.

This Sunday we will celebrate Laetare, or “Rejoice” Sunday in the Church. It’s the halftime Sunday in Lent: we can see where we’ve come so far in our journey as well as the joy of Easter awaiting us up ahead. Hopefully as Lent has progressed, our Lenten practices have swept away some of the noise and clutter that surround us. The superficial fuss and shallow distractions, the weaknesses and sinfulness that keep us from following God freely: have we, through our loving obedience to the call of Jesus Christ, cleared any of those obstacles from our path this Lent? As we reach this halfway moment, this turning point, we can see the hope of the resurrected Jesus ahead of us with new eyes, with a fresh spiritual vision.

Surely it is no accident, then, that the gospel readings we hear at Mass during these halftime days all ask us to examine whether or not we truly can see Jesus, and see ourselves, with the focus and clarity of vision that come only from pausing in prayer to remind ourselves of our purpose. In the passages chosen for the next few days, as well as for Sunday, the people who thought they were watching Jesus the most intently were the ones whose own sinfulness impeded their ability to see. And yet the man born blind whom we meet in Sunday’s gospel had the vision to stop and consider the possibilities for his past and his future and to say, “I do believe, Lord.”

Alexander Schmemann, a prominent 20th century theologian and author, described the “bright sadness” of hope inherent in this middle time of Lent: “Little by little we begin to understand … that the sadness of Lent is indeed ‘bright,’ that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us.”

So perhaps these next few days will become a halftime moment for each of us. Can we consciously call for a brief intermission and take some quiet time to pray about our own journeys of preparation for Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection? Make an honest assessment about how the first half has gone for you and ask the Lord for the wisdom and courage to face the mission ahead: to change any habits or weaknesses that are keeping you from him. Most importantly, as the hope of the resurrection begins to dawn in the weeks ahead, may we each give praise and thanks to God for creating and sustaining us in every moment of our lives.

It’s halftime. Let’s be on a mission.

Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus Program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

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