Sports as an Image of the Christian Life

68875In several places, St. Paul used the image of an athlete to describe the Christian life. 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 of the athlete that are also of great necessity to the Christian.

  • Discipline – The athlete must carefully and regularly train his body. Without this discipline, he will not master the sport nor will his body have the necessary stamina, strength, and coordination. Athletes train every day and work to master their sport. So too must Christians be disciplined and train themselves in the ways of faith through prayer, scripture, the sacraments, moral virtue, and self-mastery. The Christian must practice every day.
  • Persistence – The athlete must be disciplined all the time, not just occasionally. To fail in persistent training not only jeopardizes good performance but also risks injury. So too for the Christian. We cannot expect much progress with an on-again, off-again regimen. Without the habit of persistent prayer, scripture, the sacraments, and moral virtue the Christian not only stunts his progress but also risks injury (sin).
  • Rules – Every sport has rules that must be accepted and followed. Athletes are not free to reinvent the game. They must play by the rules or risk exclusion and/or disqualification. So 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 watches for any sign of injury. If athletes detect an injury they see the team doctor and take measures to heal as quickly as possible. Athletes also avoid injury by learning proper form, stretching, etc. So too for the Christian. We must monitor ourselves for injury; upon discovery of even a minor injury we should consult our team physician (a priest) and get on the mend quickly. Further, we should try to avoid injury by learning proper Christian form (a moral life) and avoiding whatever leads us to sin (a kind of “stretching” so as to avoid moral injury).
  • Teamwork – Many sports involve a group of athletes working together toward 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 for the common good and overcome any idiosyncrasies or selfishness that hinder the achievement of 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 than just me. When others are glorified so am I, if I am on the same winning team.

Why not add a few of your own thoughts on how engagement in sports is an analogy for the Christian life?

What would happen if we applied some of the principles of this video to the Christian life?

3 Replies to “Sports as an Image of the Christian Life”

  1. A wise athlete will find a good coach, someone with knowledge to guide him as to which exercises to undertake, and who will monitor his progress and make suggestions as to how to progress. A wise Christian will find a good spiritual director, someone to guide him, who will get to know him, and advise on how to make progress. The Christian will submit to him as one who can lead him to his goal.

    Persistence: A Christian must be patient for the changes he expects to see as he disciplines himself. He must be aware that the changes that come with persistent prayer and practice will take time to show fruits. If some regimes are not working well they should be let off, and if some are actually hurting progress, under the guidance of a “coach,”(a spiritual director) he should be ready to leave them completely.

    A wise athlete keeps his “eyes on the prize”…keeps the ultimate goal in mind which helps him when his energy flags, or discouragement creeps in. He reminds himself of his heroes, other athletes who have achieved the goal, and gets strength from resolving to imitate them. The Christian reminds himself the goal is Heaven, to be with God, and reminds himself of the lives of the Saints who have gone before, who have succeeded in spite trials and difficulties.

  2. Sports requires math. Christian life requires prudence. You gotta know when to do certain moves or use certain techniques in sports using math, and you gotta know what to do in moral situations using prudence. Also, taking the analogy literally, you gotta know how to count in the Christian life: three Persons of the Trinity, two Natures of Christ, one God, and zero hobbits.

  3. Excellent commentary Monsignor. I will try and follow this as much as possible. Whats your view on the 15 prayers Jesus gave to
    Saint Bridget of Sweden in the Church of St. Paul in Rome. I have been saying this for some time and I can notice real changes in my life and my senses

Comments are closed.