Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Launch of Social Justice Statement: “A Crown for Australia”

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Launch of Social Justice Statement: “A Crown for Australia”

The Gift of Sport

Does anyone know the result of the game yesterday? I am sure you could all tell me. Firstly, you would know what game I am speaking about – the AFL Grand Final at the MCG. Secondly, most would be able to tell me the score – 137/74. Thirdly, many would say that they watched every minute. And just about everyone would have a view on how the match was played.

Such is the interest of sport in our nation. We love our sport. I say about myself that if there is a ball bouncing I am interested.

The Australian Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for this year is on the subject of sport. It looks at the contribution that sport makes to the life of each individual and the contribution that sport makes to our society. It also explores some of the dangerous trends in the sporting culture.
It is a subject worthy of Christian reflection. Christian teaching emphasises the dignity of the human person. Each person has an intrinsic worth and value because each person has been created as a unique individual in the image and likeness of God.

A statement of Jesus is often quoted: “I have come that they may have life and life to the full”. We have been wonderfully created as the psalmist says, “made little less than a God” (Ps 8:5). We human beings are the high point of creation, God’s greatest work. We are entrusted with extraordinary gifts – the capacity to love, the ability to make moral choices, personal freedom and the desire for meaning and happiness.

Despite the sin of humanity the redemption offered in Christ is the path of restoration of the original plan of the Creator. Human beings under the influence of the love and mercy of God mediated through the Holy Spirit have a new capacity for full human flourishing.

The Catholic tradition has always embraced all that is good in human life. It has fostered education, the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The Church has been committed throughout its history to improve the quality of human life.

Thus sport, now such a significant aspect to our way of life, is worthy of not only Christian reflection, but also of active promotion.

The Bishops’ statement highlights the many positive aspects to the contribution that sport makes in the development of the human person. As well as fostering qualities of character like perseverance, self-discipline and fairness, it also fosters many social qualities like team work, social interaction and community building. It is a great socialiser and can greatly assist in social inclusion.

Of course, involvement in sport is also a path to maintaining health and fitness. It is good for physical and mental health.
For these and for many other reasons sport is a human good that helps human and social flourishing. It is to be encouraged.

However, there are also some downsides that the Bishops’ statement mentions. Excessive demands of achievement can lead to various forms of cheating, like the use of performance enhancing drugs. Sport is becoming increasingly commodified – it has become a business with large sums of money involved. In the interests of profit the joy of sport can be lost and decisions made more for financial reasons that for the good of the sport. There has been an exponential growth in on-line betting on all sorts of sports. The costs of being involved in sports has increased, and this has been felt particularly by families who want their children to benefit from involvement in sport.

Sports people can come under great personal pressures to succeed. They can act out badly as a means of overcoming the inherent stress of their lives.

These darker aspects of the sporting culture remind us of the importance of Christian virtues needed to be able to resist temptations. Engagement in sport naturally fosters many essential Christian virtues. It is worth noting that St Paul used the image of running a race as an image of the Christian life.

The exhortation of St Paul in the second reading today is most appropriate. He begins by saying – “If our life in Christ means anything to you”. In other words he is urging the Philippians to base their actions in their life in Christ. This is always the way for the person of faith. We turn firstly to Christ and to our life in Christ. He is our inspiration and guide.

He speaks about the need to have a common purpose and a common mind. This reflects the importance of having a team approach. It is often said that a team of champions will often be beaten by a champion team. Working not for oneself but for the common good is a key Christian theme and a key to success in sport.

St Paul then urges the community to adopt certain attitudes. He says there should be no competition – this is not the competition of sport but the pursuit of self-interest over the needs of others. He adds that there should be no conceit, rather everyone should be self-effacing. It is always good to see a champion who has a genuine humility. It is always good to see a sports person who receives an award acknowledging their team mates or those who were their mentors or coaches.

Involvement in sport and excelling in a sport can greatly enhance the individual, forming their character in the best possible way. When the ideals of sport are combined with key Christian virtues an individual and a society is greatly enriched.

Pope Francis commented on the place of sport in human society in these words,
The bond between the Church and the world of sport is a beautiful reality that has strengthened over time, for the Ecclesial community sees in sports a powerful instrument for the integral growth of the human person. Engaging in sports, in fact, rouses us to go beyond ourselves and our own interests in a healthy way; it trains the spirit in sacrifice and, if organised well, it fosters loyalty in interpersonal relations, friendship, and respect for the rules”.

I recommend the Bishops’ Social Justice Statement to you.
And …. Go the Hawks!

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 27 September 2014