Last year my predecessor as sports editor, Rory MacCallum, wrote an article which argued that University of Dallas athletics should be supported because athletics help bring the community together. This article was published following the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) men’s soccer tournament. In this article, MacCallum said two striking things: first, “the foundation of team sports is in bringing people from different backgrounds together for one common goal,” and second, “UD students typically aren’t well represented at athletic events.”
While I agree with both statements, I will take it one step further and argue that we have a theological duty to support our athletes.
In another of MacCullum’s articles about then-UD basketball star Spencer Levi, MacCallum alluded to the point that I will make; he said that while “we strive for intellectual and spiritual excellence, but to be a fully developed person we must also pursue physical excellence.” The connection between mind, soul and body is a concept that is familiar to many different cultures and ideologies. However, as a predominantly Catholic population at a Catholic university this connection should find an even deeper appreciation in all of us.
When one considers the body from a Catholic perspective, it is necessary to return to the founding of the Church. In the beginning, the Church was violently persecuted; as we know well, many martyrs gave their lives for their belief in Christ. Martyrs such as St. Peter and St. Paul had their remains gathered by the faithful and were revered and venerated. The Church has come a long way since the early persecutions, but the reverence and love of the human body remains.
When we consider the saints, we do not have to think of only the early church martyrs, we should also think of saints who themselves were athletes. Many of the saints participated in athletic endeavors, such as St. Francis Xavier who was an accomplished athlete at the University of Paris. Other members of the Church Triumphant also participated in less formal athletic undertakings, such as St. John Bosco, who was a tightrope walker, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, who was an avid mountain climber and swimmer.
So why do I bother bringing up these examples? It is to show that the Church possesses members that have not only cultivated their minds and souls, but also enjoyed the gift of their bodies. As Catholics, we regularly honor the saints by remembering their feast days and praying for their help in our lives.
What should be remembered, most importantly, is that the saints were once just like us, weak and fallible. However, despite their weaknesses, they answered Christ’s call and made the best use of the gifts they were given, including their bodies. Christ gave the greatest glory to the human body by assuming one himself. Additionally, Christ himself was a great athlete. Consider the difficulty of carrying a heavy wooden cross uphill, after being scourged and sleep deprived. The carrying of the cross was the greatest athletic achievement in history.
I know my argument will not appeal to everyone, but I am compelled by my faith and the love for my brothers and sisters in UD athletics to address this topic. I think athletics is worth supporting. We are not all given the same gifts; we are not all called to be doctors or scientists or friars, but we are all called to use the gifts we have been given and to support our brethren in their own callings.
St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, pray for us.