Lent Madness has begun. If you somehow missed all the hoopla, a short recap: Lent Madness is an online "competition" loosely based on the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament in which saints, instead of basketball teams, are matched up against one another in four rounds and anyone who wishes can go to the Lent Madness website and vote for their saint of choice every weekday during Lent. The saints were chosen by the "executive committee" of Tim Schenck and Scott Gunn based on input from eight "celebrity bloggers" with the additional stipulation that the saints chosen for this year's bracket had not been in competition during the late rounds of the last two Lent Madnesses.
So far, I am very pleased to see how well people are responding. There is a real learning component to the game, and people are reporting in the comments on the website and the Facebook page that they are learning and enjoying learning about various saints of the church. And yet this is a lighthearted Lenten discipline: it makes a game of that learning.
What pleases me the most is reading that some families are reading about the saints around the breakfast table and deciding for whom to vote as a family, that some college and youth groups are playing together, that people one would perhaps not expect to find thumbing through the 17th Century "Fox's Book of Martyrs," Catholic Saints Online, or even the new version of "Holy Women, Holy Men" are learning about the wide variety of heroes and heroines of the faith through Lent Madness. So far, around two thousand people are voting in each round, which is pretty amazing. I'm positively thrilled!
But let's be clear, there is not any sort of Official and Definitive Ranking of Holiness going on here. The Church, in its wisdom, has lifted up all sorts and conditions for our consideration of what a life of holiness looks like. Anyone can read about the saints of the day and decide which one is the most appealing and go to the website and vote - and record a comment about their choice. It's not scientific and it's not the work of some church council.
And so if your saint does not win a matchup, even though you believe that saint to be vastly more "important" than the other one, it doesn't mean that all those who voted for the other saint are ignorant or that the result will be a throwing out from the heavenly court the Apostle Paul in favor of a "minor saint" whose life story consists only of "tradition." It means that something about that saint really touched others. And hooray for that!
Besides, it is still a bit of a game. After all, last year in the Final Four, Thomas Becket surged ahead of Perpetua (who had jumped out to an early lead) after the blogger for Becket made the claim that he was the inspiration for Thomas the Tank Engine. (Yes, Scott, I'm still smarting from that one.)
So enjoy Lent Madness for what it is: an opportunity to learn about and discuss in a world-wide online community all kinds of holy people who lived out their faith in their own time AND an opportunity to be really engaged in the process of admiring and maybe even emulating the saints of The Church. To use Forward Movement's Executive Director Scott Gunn's words, "In doing all this, we are nourishing .... and equipping Christians to share their faith story. Don't let the laughter and the saints wearing sunglasses fool you. St Paul challenged us to be all things to all people. Lent Madness is helping us connect with people who won't connect through pamphlets or church suppers. Lent Madness makes us 'fools for Christ,' but we're definitely for Christ."
I'm glad to be numbered among the fools.