Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr
Jesuits have been known through the centuries for speaking out on controversial subjects, giving fodder to the popular press and indigestion to their superiors. Not wanting to ignite controversy, this time of year may be appropriate to examine the energy and concern we place on sports. The suspicious among the genteel readership of these reflections may of course jump to the obvious conclusion that my Wisconsin heritage and my alliance to the Green Bay Packers and the memory of Vince Lombardi (who was, by the way, a daily communicant) colors my view concerning athletics, particularly the ho-ha of a Seattle victory two weeks ago…Keeping that victory in mind we recall the writings of Thomas a Kempis taken from his Imitation of Christ: O quam cito transit gloria mundi …O how quickly the glory of the world passes away.
If athletics teaches us anything it is that victory is temporary and that winning in the arena of life and the field can be based on luck, skill, and a misplaced throw. The emphasis on athletics certainly creates a common spirit, training of the body, and a sense of cooperation; benefits all around. If only I could figure out how the occupation of teaching could move a ball over a net, through a net, into a hole, or over a goal post, perhaps the profession would garner a bit more money and a lot more respect.
Of course sports are not the only activity in our lives that grab our attention and our resources. St. Ignatius wisely noted in the first Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises that there are a myriad of attractions, many goals and means to these goals, and that we should be very careful in choosing our values, especially our ultimate values, since it is on these values we base the decisions of our daily lives. We train to achieve these values, we spend money on these values, and we pass these values on to our children. St. Paul was well aware of athletic contests and used the analogy of races and training when he alerted his readers that there was a more important finish line ahead.
Vince Lombardi put it another way…
“There are three things that are important to every man in this locker room. His God, his family, and the Green Bay Packers. In that order.”
Debates may ensue concerning the priority of the third category, but perhaps Vince’s Jesuit training helped him clarify what was his first value and the great effort it takes in keeping it as our ultimate value and as the best prize we could ever achieve.