Despite the disappointments, as well as victories, sports bonded my brother and me for as long as I can remember. We still call each other and our Dad each week to talk family, religion, and politics, but sooner or later we talk about sports, about some team or individual we have coached or about our favorite college or professional football or baseball teams….and sometimes about our own victories and defeats as well…at least some of them.
Was our competitiveness disproportionate? At times it was. Overall, I think sports made us better. Sports helped to steel us for life. Every life has victories and defeats, joys and tragedies, large and small. But French novelist and essayist, Leon Bloy, wrote there is but one lasting tragedy, and that is not to become a saint, i.e. not to get to heaven.
The long hours spent practicing, the wins and the losses, especially the losses, helped Steve and me to be, I hope, a bit more humble than we would otherwise have been. The strain and grit and gristle certainly helped us practice the virtues of fortitude, temperance, diligence, and perseverance.
Many people bemoan the fact that sports have become too big, too important in the current culture. I think there is some truth in that. But sports are not going away and they are, when kept in right proportion, good, and even occasions for holiness. A huge number of people, especially youth, play sports. So let’s use sports, which can be a good in themselves, to help people, especially our young people, to strive for the imperishable crown of glory with God and all the blessed forever in Heaven.
In the Diocese of Harrisburg this year, we have begun to implement an apostolate called SportsLeader in all the high schools of the diocese, as a way of helping to evangelize and build virtue through sports. You can find an article on the Diocese of Harrisburg’s implementation of SportsLeader at the following link:
as well as pictures of some of our high school teams on their Twitter feed.
In my next column, I will explore more of the particular ways of evangelizing and promoting virtue through sports. In the meantime, if you have a chance, I encourage anyone at all interested in sports, especially all coaches at whatever level, to read the book, The Catholic Ideal: Exercise and Sports by Robert Feeney, published by Aquinas Press. There is good and practical food for thought in this book.
As I prepare to enter my 51st year and realize that I certainly have more years of this life in the rearview mirror than in front of me, our Lord’s admonition comes home more and more to me:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” Winning athletic contests and getting to Heaven, need not run counter to one another. We should strive for excellence in our pursuits, athletic or otherwise. God desires this.
Jim Gontis is the Director of Religious Education and recently appointed Director of Sports Ministry for the Diocese of Harrisburg.