Sweat and blood in the spiritual life

| Brad Parent | June 21, 2018 | 0 Comments

As a culture, we are fascinated by sports. Hundreds of millions of people tune in to watch the Super Bowl, World Cup, Olympics and other sporting events. Even among those who aren’t athletically inclined, names like LeBron James, Tom Brady and Usain Bolt are as much pop culture icons as they are athletes, and the allure of watching them compete is undeniable.

Additionally, sports have long been viewed as a unifying and welcome distraction from the trials of life. Earl Warren, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, famously said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.” While on its surface this seems to be a ringing endorsement for athletics, it does beg a further question: What exactly are these athletes accomplishing? Isn’t it, after all, “only a game”? Is there any real value to these pursuits beyond serving as a temporary distraction from what can at times seem to be a depressing world?

I believe that to answer this question we need to ask another: What is it about sports that is so intriguing? As a Christian as well as an athlete, I have become convinced that sports reflect certain truths about the purpose for which we were created in a very real and tangible way, and the lessons we learn while “playing” can go a long way in helping us to grow in the spiritual life.

The Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” But I think just as important as what it does say is what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “Faster, Higher, Stronger than those who you’re competing against”; just “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” I will be the first to admit that I have lost sight of this truth more than a few times. It is easy to measure yourself by looking at those around you, but an athlete’s true competition isn’t against his opponent, or even the clock, but rather himself.

For this reason, I would argue that we don’t really turn on the Olympics to watch athletes compete against each other. Rather, we want to see them push themselves, to be the best version of themselves and to achieve something beyond what even they thought was possible. Furthermore, we are captivated in a particular way by team events, in which the athletes sacrifice for something bigger than just themselves: their teammates. But even in individual events, the Olympian never really competes alone. Despite what might appear to be the weight of the world on his shoulders, he is urged on by his countrymen, and it is clear that his sacrifice of sweat and blood is for something bigger than himself.

The same is true in the spiritual life. It is easy to compare ourselves to those around us. But as Christians we are told to “… be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” not “try to be a little better than your neighbor.” We are called to be the best version of ourselves, doing everything within our power to grow in holiness. The true measure of holiness is not relative to others, but whether we strive for holiness every day.

And just like the Olympian, we cannot do this on our own. We have teammates: our family, friends and community, for whom we are called to sacrifice. We also have countrymen, although instead of being united by a flag or geography, we are united to them as co-heirs of the kingdom of God. Some of these countrymen are still here on earth with us, but others are the saints in heaven interceding for us and urging us toward salvation. And if we allow these cheers to change our lives, our reward will be far greater than gold.

Parent is an actuary and lives with his wife, Susanna, in St. Paul, where they are parishioners of St. Mark. Learn about the archdiocese’s Catholic Watchmen initiative at rediscover.archspm.org/the-catholic-watchmen or facebook.com/thecatholicwatchmen.

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Category: Catholic Watchmen