Last year, the Vatican issued a new document on sports that gained headlines when it supported participation on Sundays as a means of bringing families and communities together in joy and celebration as long as such events are not used as an excuse to miss Mass.
Now’s a good time to review that document, which went into way more subjects than what was reported in the headlines.
The document, “Giving the Best of Yourself,” explores specific challenges to the promotion of a humane and just sport, including the debasement of the body, doping, corruption and the sometimes negative influence of spectators. The Church, it stated, recognizes her shared responsibility with sports leaders to point out wrong directions taken and unethical behavior and to steer sport in a way that promotes human development. The document also presents an overview of the Church’s ongoing efforts to humanize sports in the modern world. “Sport in its various contexts, such as amateur and professional arenas, can and does serve as an effective tool for education and the formation of human values,” the document stressed.
The Vatican’s Discastery for Laity and Family Life, which issued the document, explained that giving one’s very best is a fundamental and laudable theme in sports. “When a person gives his very best, he experiences satisfaction and the joy of accomplishment,” it stated.
The Church not only encourages sports but also wants to be at the forefront, recognizing its ability to strengthen bonds of friendship, foster dialogue and openness to others and be an expression beyond the consumption “and all other purely utilitarian and hedonistic” considerations.
The document summed up today’s culture well: “Nowadays, many people believe that freedom is doing what one wants, without any limits. Such a view decouples freedom and responsibility and may even eliminate regard for the consequences of human acts. However, sport reminds us that to be truly free is also to be responsible.”
Recently the St. Louis Sports Commission filled the Stifel Theatre in Downtown St. Louis with the presentations of the 2019 Musial Awards celebrating extraordinary sportsmanship (with scheduled TV viewings on CBS Saturday, Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. and on CBS Sports Network Monday, Dec. 23, at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, Dec. 24, at 10 a.m.). Honorees included Marek Bush, who faced another elite wrestler, Logan Patterson, in a New York high school meet. Patterson held a dominating lead in the title match before landing on his elbow awkwardly and painfully. Bush could have easily pinned him, turning a sure loss into a win, but instead let the clock run down to preserve Patterson’s win.
These honorees, including St. Louis Blues broadcaster Chris Kerber who stepped aside during part of the Stanley Cup finals to let John Kelly have a chance at the microphone, show the acts of grace and selflessness that the Vatican document praised about sports.
Pope Francis, addressing members of the European Olympic Committee in 2013, stated that “engaging in sports, in fact, rouses us to go beyond ourselves and our own self interests in a healthy way; it trains the spirit in sacrifice and, if it is organized well, it fosters loyalty in interpersonal relations, friendship and respect for rules.”
The more we keep those words of Pope Francis in the forefront, the more the negative actions surrounding sports will fall by the wayside.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.