Theology on Tap: Lent and the spiritual athlete

Michael MacLean and Bishop Mark Hagemoen at Theology on Tap.

By Michael MacLean, STM Campus Ministry

[Catholic Saskatoon News] – What does Lent look like for a spiritual athlete?

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen addressed this question March 12, 2019 with young adults at Theology on Tap, held at Louis’ on the University of Saskatchewan campus.

In Bishop Hagemoen’s experience, it was the hiking and rock climbing in the mountains of the Vancouver area in his younger days, and more recently, his work on the land in the Northern Diocese of Mackenzie–Fort Smith, that provided him with mountaintop and wilderness experiences. He described how a “spiritual athlete” approaches prayer, fasting and almsgiving for the Lenten season.

He taught that if we have a wilderness experience, it is sometimes easier to relate to Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness, and also to challenge ourselves to recall that wilderness experience when we fast and pray and give alms in Lent.

A spiritual athlete dares to take prayer and fasting seriously, the bishop said. He pointed out that almsgiving can be a counter-intuitive moment, when we move into a situation to use our talents and gifts to give to the other, but realize that we are the ones who feel gifted through the experience. He said that almsgiving blesses us to be like Christ.

Bishop Hagemoen also talked about today’s insanely busy world and how sometimes our Lenten observance might not be only to fast from food, but also from the smartphone.

He noted that cell phones are a tool, so they can be helpful, but they can also be a device that we obsess over.  In society today, there is no persuasive force quite like our phones, and this is plainly seen, as people are being constantly drawn to them, he said.

In terms of temptations  (like smartphones), Hagemoen recalled being welcomed to the north by retired Bishop Denis Croteau, OMI, who still lives in the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. Bishop Hagemoen described Bishop Croteau’s message to those who wanted to come north to serve: ‘We want you here, but you need to want to be here, and for the right reasons. If not, sooner or later you may be facing your devils. These devils in our lives seem to appear more easily in the wilderness.’

Bishop Hagemoen then asked the question: “What’s underneath the experience of Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving?” His answer was the heart.

He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2563), which says: “The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ The heart is our hidden centre, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.”

While “our devils” might reveal themselves to be fear, doubt, competition and vanity, we can dare to pull away from them, which is like the exper-ience of entering into a cloud on the mountain, an experience of encounter and wonder.

As we enter into prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we allow the Spirit to touch our hearts. We are then capable of positive change. On the topic of the call to “ongoing conver-sion”, the bishop quoted soon-to-be canonized Blessed Cardinal Newman, who said, “To live is to change, and to live well is to have changed often.”

Organized by St. Thomas More Campus Ministry, Theology on Tap has been running for over 15 years in the Diocese of Saskatoon as a ministry to young adults, 19 to 35 years old.