March 13, 2020

Reflection / Tom Yost

March Madness and Lent have much in common

March Madness is upon us. Even if you are not a sports fan, you know what I am talking about.

The NCAA college men’s basketball tournament begins on March 15 with what is known as “Selection Sunday.” This is the day when teams and fans around the country find out if they have been selected to play in the tournament. As strange as this might seem, I believe March Madness and the season of Lent has a lot in common.

Selection Sunday reminds me of Ash Wednesday. They both “kick off” a major event/season. Sixty-eight teams are selected for the tournament. All the baptized and those preparing for baptism are “selected” for Lent. College teams and their fan base await the announcements from the selection committee. The prophet Joel announces to the people on Ash Wednesday to “Blow the trumpet … call an assembly … gather the people … notify the congregation … assemble the elders … gather the children” (Jl 2:15-16) because something big is about to begin.

We then move into tournament time when the teams do battle. The players and coaching staff prepare themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and, I would dare say, even spiritually. They discipline and focus themselves to reach the Final Four and ultimately the championship game. Interestingly enough, the teams that make it to the final game go through six rounds or six games—rounds one and two, the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the championship game.

Lent is our tournament time. We have six rounds or six weeks of preparing ourselves to turn away from sin and turn toward God. It takes discipline and focus (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) as we journey to Easter.

The “Final Four” of the tournament is a celebrated accomplishment. It is the gate way to the championship game. I equate the “Final Four” to our celebration of Holy Week and the triduum, or the three days—Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday which is the gateway to the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. It signals the end of the tournament/Lent as we anticipate the championship game/Easter Sunday.

At the end of it all, March Madness only celebrates one basketball champion. One victorious team. Many teams and their fans come away disappointed.

Easter proclaims to the baptized and newly baptized our “champion” is our Savior Jesus Christ, and every one of us shares in his victory over sin and death. Amen.

(Tom Yost is a pastoral associate at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany.)

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