4 Things Sports Teaches Us About Gaining Heaven
Has it ever occurred to you that far from being a mere hobby or fun activity, your sports activities are preparing you for your journey to Heaven?
St. Paul says, “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one” (I Cor. 9:24-25).
The journey to eternal salvation is like a race to the goal line, your soul is the precious cargo you carry in your arms as you go for the touchdown. In this passage, St. Paul shows how sports training can tell us a lot about attaining our eternal goals.
First, sports teaches us that the spiritual life requires total dedication. Anyone who’s ever been on a swim team, or a hockey team, anyone who’s ever done ballet or figure skating knows that it takes great dedication, effort, and training, a whole lifestyle change to get to the top. In our journey to eternal life, nothing can be allowed to get in the way or distract us.
We may need to give up bad habits or even sacrifice good pleasures, just as athletes give up junk food and sleep. As Pope John Paul II said, “Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to His Gospel. But to succeed in this, he must persevere in prayer, be trained in virtue and follow the divine Master in everything.” The race to Heaven must be all-consuming because nothing is more important than attaining salvation.
Secondly, sports teaches us that the spiritual life takes teamwork. A basketball team won’t win without the effort of all its players. The B-team will win every time if the A-team outfielder always insists on playing the big play. Rugby teams need a coach to improve their game. In the spiritual life, we also need our coaches, our confessors and spiritual directors to help us improve our spiritual game. We need the angels and saints, who can pray for us. We need good friends, team mates who will support our efforts to be faithful, who will watch our backs and help ward off temptations and distractions.
Thirdly, sports teaches us that giving up is not an option. The hope of winning lies in perseverance. Few soccer stars make the winning goal their first day in the game. Few teams win the game their first day on the field. If everyone gave up after that first failure, there would be no game left, and there would be no winners.
In the race for Heaven, we must not be defeated by falls. Rather, in hope, trust, and courage, we must pick ourselves up after each fall, and take another step after every mistake, until finally we set foot in eternity.
Last but not least, sports teaches us that charity must guide our every action as spiritual athletes. St. Paul also said, “If I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:3). In any game or competition, the rude and unruly athletes are removed for unsportsmanlike behavior, losing the chance to play for a few minutes, sometimes for the game, sometimes for a season, and sometimes even for the rest of what would have been their careers.
The highest law is the law of charity, to love God and love neighbor as ourselves for God’s sake. There is no room for pride, greed, or selfishness. We cannot afford to forget the law of charity in our pursuit of salvation, lest we lose the opportunity to stay in the game to its finish.
John Paul II, a great sportsman in his own right, a man who loved soccer and skiing, prayed in his October 2000 homily on the jubilee of athletes that athletes everywhere “be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever.”
Let us pray with him, remembering that only the best athletes win the prize, but that everyone has a chance to be the best in his own spiritual race. With perseverance and by the grace of God, we shall all be able to say with St. Paul on the last day, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7).
About Christine Smitha
Christine Smitha holds a B.A. in English and Literature from Christendom College. She has taught Literature for nine years, and enjoys dabbling in journalism when she gets a chance. She is currently Seton Home Study School’s Accreditation Manager. See more by Christine