St. Paul used the image of an athlete to describe the Christian life in Several places. Consider this one:
- Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. ( 1 Cor. 9:25-27)
Clearly there are many virtues necessary to the athlete that are also of great necessity to the Christian:
- Discipline – The athlete must carefully and persistently train the body. Without a clear and repetitive discipline the sport will not be mastered and neither will the body have proper stamina, strength and coordination. Athletes train every day and work to perfect their mastery of the sport. So too must Christians undertake a clear discipline and persistently train in the ways of faith through prayer, scripture, sacraments, moral virtue and self mastery. The Christian must practice every day.
- Persistence – The Athlete must follow discipline all the time, not just occasionally. To fail in persistent training not only jeopardizes good performance but it risks injury. So too for the Christian. We cannot expect much progress with an on again, off again regimen. Without a persistent good habit of prayer, scripture, sacraments and practicing of moral virtue the Christian not only stunts progress but also risks injury (sin).
- Rules – every sport has rules that must be accepted and followed. The athlete is not free to reinvent the game. They must play by the rules or risk exclusion and disqualification. S0 too the Christians must play by the rules set by God. If we are going to be on the winning team and secure the victory we have to abide by the rules. To refuse this is to risk being disqualified. We are not free to reinvent Christianity as so many try to do today. There is only one playing field and one game. Follow the rules or be ejected.
- Alert for Injury – A good athlete listens carefully to his or her body and any signs of injury. If injury is detected they see the team doctor quickly and take measures to heal as quickly as possible. Further they avoid injury by learning proper form, stretching etc. So too for the Christian. We must monitor ourselves for injury and upon discovery of even minor injury we should consult our team physician, the priest and get on the mend quickly. Further we should avoid injury by learning proper Christian form (moral life) and avoiding what ever leads us to sin (a kind of stretching to avoid moral injury).
- Teamwork – many sports involve learning to work together for the goal. Athletes cannot merely seek glory for themselves, they must have the good of the whole team in mind. They must learn to work with others toward the common good and overcome any idiosyncrasies or selfishness that hinders the common goal. So too Christians must strive to overcome petty and selfish egotism and work for the common good, learning to appreciate the gifts of others. The team is stronger than the individual alone. Life is about more then just me. When others are glorified so am I if I am on the same winning team.
Well, you get the point. Why not add a few of your own thoughts on how sports is a good analogy for the Christian life?