Peddling Saints: Lent Madness

Peter Prokop’s “Saint Francis of Assisi,” the sine qua non of saints. (He does not appear in the Lent Madness bracket of 32 saints this year, a shock from which I may never recover.)

Getting hooked on Lent Madness was like getting hooked on “Downton Abbey”: All the other seminarians/priests were doing it, but I thought the first season was kind of dry. And who needs another time sink? But just as I got stuck on “Downton Abbey” season 3, I’m afraid I’ve gotten hooked on Lenten Madness 2013: The Saintly Smackdown.

This is because my church, Christ Church Bronxville, is encouraging the whole church to participate, and at our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper tonight, we had lively presentations about saints’ lives so that people could fill out their bracket. (I trended toward social justice picks with a few Anglican artsy picks.)

Last year, I was a bit suspicious that we were peddling saints rather than really reflecting upon Lent. This year, however, I done seen the light. The purpose of this online contest is to get people to reflect upon and talk about holy examples as we proceed through Lent, the 46 days before Easter.

And I love saint stories! When I was a kid, my parents had these old copies of saint stories for kids in magazine-like bundles that looked like serial publications, and so I read story after story of saints, written for a child’s understanding. I remember a lot of warriors, a lot of Italians, and a lot of virgins. I remember asking my mother, “What’s a virgin?” And she said, “Later.”

Later (much later), when I was at seminary at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, we often began our Morning Prayer and Eucharist each morning with a brief biography of the saint or holy person for the day. These stories often elicited yelps of laughter and giggles, as we quickly realized that nobody in the first few centuries really WANTED to be a bishop. (Now, seminarians quietly lobby for it. Sigh.)

And to our delight, we were one of the testing labs for the Episcopal Church’s new volume of holy people titled Holy Women, Holy Men. This volume seeks to move beyond the saints lifted up for canonization in the Roman Catholic Church and presents us with a much more diverse set of holy people: more women, more people of color, more non-Europeans, etc.

So what’s not to like about a saint? Hey, I am all for Lent Madness, as long as we remember the person in whose name all of these holy people labored. While there are many holy people of other religions, all of these holy examples are Christian. They took great risks, made great sacrifices, led great movements in order to be the light of Christ to the world.

But that’s Epiphany talking. Tomorrow morning we begin a Holy Lent, a time of fasting and prayer, repentance and reflection. I hope Lent Madness makes people crazy for the Jesus who presents the most radical example of God’s love for the world.

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