Blessed Pope John Paul II: future patron saint of athletes? Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

Another season of high school, grade school, college, and professional sports has begun. These can invite us to reflect upon ways that we participate in sports as players or watch as spectators.

In Colossians 3:17, it says “Whatever we do in word or deed, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father though him.”

When Pope John II became pope, he installed a swimming pool at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence. He responded to those who criticized its cost by saying that it was cheaper than paying for a new conclave. He also skied. Doctors think that he recovered from an assassin’s wounds quickly because of vibrant health nourished by sports. Through sports and exercise, he showed us ways to care for our bodies, which God created. If he is canonized, he could join St. Sebastian as patron saint of athletes.

On October 29, 2000, at Rome’s Olympic Stadium, Pope John Paul II preached a homily entitled “Jubilee of Sports People.” He stated, “Playing sports has become very important today, since it can encourage young people to develop important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing, and solidarity.”

Respect for teammates and opponents

Church of God pastor Rev. John R. Wiuff seemed to agree when he encouraged athletes to model values. He wrote, “Athletes should treat teammates in encouraging and upbuilding ways; opponents with dignity and good sportsmanship; and game officials with great respect.”

In the Journal of Lutheran Ethics, Dr. Robert Benne wrote, “It is impressive to see players help their fallen opponents off the floor or turf now and then, not only their teammates.”

When I taught high school, I thought that our coaches modeled sportsmanship, discipline, and other values. Student athletes often impressed me by their commitment. I also respected non-athlete students.

The way we adults coach, play, or watch our favorite team is a visible way that our values connect with life. In sports, we keep score because one team must win (except in coach pitch and tee-ball.) We can show youth that winners are also those who do their best, play fairly, and learn lessons that help them cope with life.

Sports should be enjoyable and help youth grow as persons. I coached for 42 years and played baseball and softball for 12 years. It was hard, but fun. My winning percentage was slightly more than my weight.

Winning: the ultimate prize

A sports-minded lady told me she is proud when she sees her daughter play sports, but even prouder when she sees her in church. She believes like St. Paul that we should run the race of life for Heaven, the greatest prize!

Pope John Paul ended his Jubilee 2000 homily on sports with this prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.

“May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever. Amen.”

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.