Sport and God
Sport is a new religion! You may have heard a phrase like this. In fact there is nothing new about sport and as for its being a kind of religion I would say that such a temptation is nothing new either. Certainly there are more opportunities today to be sated with sport for hours on end – watching televised sports. But, people have loved sport for centuries and even millennia. In ancient Greece the value of sport in the education of a person was held in high esteem.
While meeting a group of Italian athletes involved in the pentathlon ( 5 separate sports) in the Vatican recently Pope Francis said that the human person is not a robot, but must carry out complex physical operations. He said the athlete—and indeed every person—must be formed holistically: “Sport can assist us, because it teaches us to improve through patience, exercise, creativity, and perseverance, in order to reach heights which seemed impossible to attain.” The Pope noted that this path toward improvement goes hand in hand with spiritual discipline and improvement, as we better understand the meaning of life, ourselves, and our relationships.
It is this deeper meaning of sport which is fascinating. Why do human beings follow their teams in such numbers? Why is the stadium full on the big match day? What attracts us? Think of what occurs on the day of the match.
We gather together, we follow our team, we wear the colours, we sing the team chants and songs. We follow the team in good times and bad. In the crowd we feel the sense of belonging and share the joys and sorrows, the wins and the losses together. We watch our team in the hope that they will win. We know that we are part of something greater than ourselves. We realise that there is something beyond the hum-drum of life, that there is meaning. There is something almost religious in all this. In the parish we gather with the community in the church to pray, we sing the songs, we share joys and sorrows, the good times and the bad. We are part of something greater than ourselves. But instead of watching our team, we celebrate the story of human salvation in which we are involved. We are not bystanders. The ‘game’ has already been won. We know the ending – victory over sin and death. What we must do is play our part in the victory by living a good life through the grace of the victorious one who fought the good fight to the end. “This is the more demanding race,” Pope Francis said, “but the prize fills our lives and lasts forever.”