As I write this, the month of the year known to college basketball fans as “March Madness” is halfway to its conclusion. The Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games will be played this weekend, the Final Four and Championship rounds will happen just as March turns to April the week following. Although I have never been much of a follower of basketball on any level, that changed this year when I was given some tickets to the Big East championship game right here at Madison Square Garden. Now it’s a thing for me. I don’t have the patience to tune in to many games or pay serious attention to anything more than the final five minutes of the games I do watch, but I’m involved.
If you follow college basketball, you know that one of the teams that is favored to go far in this year’s tournament is the University of Virginia. They might even take it all, so they have received a lot of media coverage in their run for the championship. If you look the team up online, you are sure to read about the “five pillars” of their program: Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, Thankfulness. These core values are made central in the UVa program by their coach, a man who identifies publicly as Christian. He embraces a more conservative interpretation of Christianity than many of us do, but he has found a way to bring some of the countercultural aspects of the Gospel into his work without pressuring those around him to share his version of faith. Coach Bennett has insisted on these foundational principals through good seasons and bad, during breathtaking wins and heartbreaking losses. And it’s remarkable that a) these virtues are getting so much mainstream publicity right now and b) that they are presented as outlying-ly new; revolutionary, even.
As Christians who are just about halfway through Lent, it may help us to remember that our seasonal commitments are meant to be values-oriented; that what we do or don’t do during these forty days and forty nights can position us to live with humility and passion, to work together for the benefit of all and to give thanks as we pray for the Grace to do so in the life God has granted to us. The Spirit issues us invitations, during Lent and always, to bring our faith out into the world. To share it freely and generously, without question or qualification, without attachment to preconceived outcome. Jesus’ sacrificial self-offering pulls us in this direction. Our Lenten reorientation reminds us that living faithfully is not necessarily the same as achieving success in conventional terms. Our Lenten devotion helps us access the virtues that support our preparation for Easter joy.