What do you get when you combine a love of sports with holy saints? Lent Madness, of course. Based loosely on the wildly popular NCAA basketball tournament, Lent Madness pits 32 saints against one another in a single-elimination bracket as they compete for the coveted Golden Halo.

What do you get when you combine a love of sports with holy saints? Lent Madness, of course. Based loosely on the wildly popular NCAA basketball tournament, Lent Madness pits 32 saints against one another in a single-elimination bracket as they compete for the coveted Golden Halo. 


As a big sports fan, I love the excitement of the NCAA’s March Madness – it’s the only thing that gets me through the sporting doldrums between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball season. But then I thought, why should college basketball fans have all the fun while we Christians sit around giving up chocolate? Plus, Lent gets a bad rap – why should it be all gloom and doom? After all, what could be more joyful than a season specifically set aside to get closer to God?


This year marks the third year I’ve hosted this unique online devotion. In previous years I’ve held it on my blog Clergy Family Confidential, but this year it has its own dedicated website - www.lentmadness.org- and I’m partnering with Forward Movement, publisher of the popular daily devotional Forward Day by Day.


Here’s how it works: Each day we post information about two saints and then participants (you) vote to determine who goes on to the next round. Each pairing remains open for a set period of time – usually 24 hours – and people vote for their favorite saint. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Final Four; two to the championship; and the winner is awarded the Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends and even move into the area of saintly kitsch. It’s fun, it’s informative, it’s the saintly smack down!


To win in 2012 will take grit, determination, holiness, and perhaps some good old-fashioned ballot stuffing (though this is discouraged, of course). Lent Madness 2012 features a slate of saints ancient and modern, biblical and ecclesiastical including Joan of Arc, the apostle Paul, “Doubting” Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Dietrich Bonheoffer and Thomas Merton. Some you’ve surely heard of; others are rather obscure. Half the fun is the absurdity of the matchups – in the first round we have St. Augustine pitted against his mother, St. Monnica. Yet what they all have in common, of course, is a unique and single-minded approach to serving Jesus Christ. Only one saint will prevail; the rest will taste the bitter agony of defeat. Which, if they were martyred in the first place, will merely add insult to injury.


This all kicks off on Feb. 23 and will continue throughout the 40-day season of Lent. To participate, log onto the website, where you can also print out a bracket and fill it out to see how you fare or “compete” against friends and family members. Like the real March Madness, there will be drama and intrigue, upsets and thrashings, last-minute victories and Cinderellas. Only time, and the rapid approach or Easter, will tell who will ultimately emerge victorious.


My real goal in hosting Lent Madness has been to give people an opportunity to get to know some of the inspiring stories of those who have come before us in the faith. There’s no reason that a Lenten discipline should be dreary and if this helps people connect with the risen Christ during this season of penitence and renewal, and have a bit of fun in the process, then it’s all worthwhile.


Now go log onto www.lentmadness.org and get in the game!


The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Mass. Visit him on the web at www.frtim.com where you can access his blog Clergy Family Confidential.