If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Health and exercise experts advise us to stretch before exercising – in other words to prepare before doing.

The benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Websites and exercise books list myriad benefits derived from stretching including: Stretching encourages an optimistic outlook; Improves our posture; Enables flexibility; Increases stamina; Decreases the risk of injury; Gives us more energy; Promotes blood circulation; Improves performance; Reduced soreness; and Reduces cholesterol.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of preparation – a time for stretching. The Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey so that our Lenten workout will pay off.

Athletes would attest that failure to stretch before getting into the game will almost certainly result in injury. So it is with our Lenten journey. Will we go into Lent without having prepared? Will we wonder somewhere around the fourth Sunday in Lent – Am I getting anything out of this? Has my prayer life, charity, evangelization, sacrifice, repentance, or forgiveness increased or am I in the same place I was on January 1st? Have I improved?

Stretching for God results in the same good that athletes get. Our outlook becomes more optimistic because we get a better picture of God’s mercy. We see the beauty of what He has done for us, of His promise, much more clearly and we become joyful in that knowledge. Our spiritual posture improves – we begin to carry ourselves as people of faith in all that we do. We become more flexible – not in terms of accepting sin or saying that it is ok, acceptable, allowable, or a choice – but in removing judgmentalism and replacing it with compassion. Our spiritual stamina increases – we can pray, read scripture, and do good works longer and without distraction. Best of all, our preparation, our stretching decreases the risk of self-injury. We learn to turn away from sin, to stop harming ourselves and others by our sinful action or inaction, by our words or by our failure to speak God’s truth.

Will our blood pressure and cholesterol improve this Lent? While scientific studies differ on the benefits of spiritual practice, we do know that if we sacrifice and avoid temptation then our spiritual and physical health will improve.

Sirach reminds us that by stretching out to God we will be saved. Now is the time to renew our stretching out to salvation.