Today the round of the Saintly Sixteen begins!
I have to confess, I’ve never been a basketball fan. Curling and soccer don’t tend to have nearly so many brackets as the craziness of March Madness, and in years past I was irked as the good television shows disappeared in favour of showing college basketball. But so it goes—every year you can find new studies about how much productivity is lost as many people throughout the US and Canada ponder, predict, and come up with their thoughts of who will beat who in each round, until the American champion is crowned. This year, Warren Buffet offered a billion dollars to anyone able to correctly pick every winner in advance.
Not much there for the Church, right? Well, in 2010 entered the Reverend Tim Schenck—a sports-fan himself, Schenck devised a bracket that pitted 32 saints against one another, and encouraged online voting to determine the winner of the elusive “Golden Halo.” Thus Lent Madness was born. In 2012, the Reverend Scott Gunn (executive director of the Forward Movement) joined the fray. A dedicated website followed; so too did printing of beautifully designed examples of the bracket that one could purchase as posters. Also along the way, a number of people entered as celebrity bloggers—offering brief biographies, and speaking about why each saint is a compelling example of Christian life to us today.
It may all seem a bit silly. And in fairness, it is. But it’s also inspired thousands of people to dive into daily voting. This year, those of us following along have seen our guessing brackets falter (woe is Charles Henry Brent! Alas for Moses the Black!), and today the remaining sixteen start their head-to-head matchups: surely Antony of Egypt will triumph over Basil the Great, right? Right? Who will make it into the Elate Eight, and then the Faithful Four?
And you can’t find it fun without finding yourself intrigued by some of these remarkable men and women. Some names are familiar—though both Joseph of Arimathea and Simeon have gone down in the first round—and others less so. Yet the daily bios at the site, and the fun surrounding us immerses us in a reminder of the great cloud of witnesses who travel this journey with us, and remind us of how they found the best ways for them as individuals to follow Christ and to inspire us.
Stephen Reynolds writes, in his introduction to For All the Saints, that when we remember a person in our liturgy, we recognize “a singular truth: God showed Christ specially at work in and through this person’s life,” and that our encounters with them are “a question of discerning the story of God as told in the story of a faithful human being. For this very reason, the saints are our examples on the way to the kingdom of heaven” (17). For me, the great joy of getting wrapped up in Lent Madness is the encounter with others whose stories I don’t yet know well, and hearing how personal heroes (Let’s go Thomas Merton—win that Golden Halo!) have inspired others.
Lent Madness is simple fun, a little silly—and a great reminder of those with whom we share our hope. Now get out to your browser, dive into the voting (Merton over Wesley, please), and join the joy of Anglicans the world over. And next year, why not try to persuade your whole parish into a bit of fun, putting brackets together before Lent begins? Saints alive!