Sports and the Sabbath

The summer of 2016 was an exciting time in sports. Many of my fellow New Yorkers endured a hot July day to witness the Hall of Fame induction of Ken Griffey Jr. and our own Mike Piazza. As Americans, we watched in awe of our gold medal Olympians. My own kids were doing summersaults all around their Aunt Christine’s house as we cheered for Simone Biles. Later, they stayed up past their bedtime to witness Katie Ledecky break yet another world record. Interestingly, all three of these athletes are quite serious about their Catholic faith.

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Katie Ledecky shared, “My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith. It helps me put things in perspective.”

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Simone Biles explained the contents of her Olympic bag: “Along with her bottled water, bobby pins, Beats headphones and cheetah-print umbrella, Biles carries a white rosary. ‘My mom, Nellie, got me a rosary at church. I don’t use it to pray before a competition. I’ll just pray normally to myself, but I have it there in case.’”

And Pope Benedict XVI was quoted in Cooperstown when Mike Piazza proclaimed that “One who has hope lives differently.” The all-start catcher added, “My mother gave me the greatest gift a mother can give a child. She gave me the gift of my Catholic faith. This has had a profound impact on my career and it has given me patience, compassion and hope.”

In Piazza’s speech, he also said, “Above all, my religion is a source of personal strength, not a reason to impose your will or put down those who are different. My belief in God has driven me since my childhood and formed my core values of hard work, faith and belief in yourself.”

All three athletes speak of their faith as giving them something important. I have sometimes, however, met Christians who criticize sports as a waste of time. And many are concerned that people are playing sports on Sunday, which is supposed to be the Holy Day dedicated to God.

After creating the earth and humanity, God rested. Genesis says that, “On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Gen: 2:1-3).

Cardinal Ratzinger speaks in our class book, “In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall,” of the “Sabbath Structure of Creation.” Ratzinger explains that the day of rest, which some could view as a waste of time, was established by God as a way “to return to the source” and “participate in God’s freedom” (Ratzinger, p. 31). For Christians, rest is an important way to see beyond the day-to-day grind and to recognize our ultimate reality: where we came from and where we are going.

For Discussion:

Do you think that sports are actually good for Christians? How might sports and faith be complementary? Are you concerned that sports are played on the Christian holy day and that these athletes, who claim to be Catholic, are working out and competing on Sundays?