Recently, a friend candidly shared with me her worries about the amount of faith her son was getting in our Catholic school. It concerned her that every single subject was neatly tied to Catholicism. She expressed frustration that it all funnels back to the faith.
“Religion in Phys. Ed.?! I mean, are they just peddling the Catholic kool-aid?”
This was my chance. Very rarely in life do you get lobbed the absolute perfect pitch, just standing at the ready, anticipating the moment you are about to connect with the sweet spot. While I didn’t share this mom’s concern AT ALL, I understood it completely. More than understood it, I had lived it. Growing up, I picked up on the mistaken and misguided message that our Catholic faith was something that we trotted out for religion class and at Sunday mass, but once you entered the parking lot, AKA real life, all bets were off. You hopefully lived life as a decent human being—read: good enough, but not aiming all too high, making sure not to murder or maim, intentionally anyway. Under this pervasive philosophy of Catholic-lite Christianity, the faith never truly informs the ins and outs of day-to-day-life. People whose lives were always guided by faith, we called priests, nuns or just plain cuh-razy.
Gaining some newfound perspective over the years, by God’s merciful grace, I was able to point out to my friend that true Christianity is not a prop that we use when it’s fashionable or expedient. If we are the real deal, it is the guiding principle in every aspect of our lives. Most of us fall short of this goal, but it’s what we should be striving for. In order to live our faith, we must begin to embrace it in everything we do. It informs our quest for knowledge of science, math, history. And through my blossoming faith, I’ve learned that it is also profoundly inseparable from Phys. Ed. and sports. “Where is God in basketball?” you ask incredulously. Up until a couple years ago, I’d have given you some lame answer about good sportsmanship etc., but that’s merely scratching the surface.
I played CYO basketball in junior high and there was sadly no faith component other than an occasional “St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us,” as we ended a time-out huddle. As quickly as our team sent up that incidental prayer to our school’s patroness, we were reminded by our coach to mop the floor with the competition. And if we weren’t successful at that we would just snicker at our opponent’s lame uniforms or awful hairstyles. Remember, this was junior high. I didn’t yet understand the idea of my faith shaping how I behaved on the basketball court or more precisely in my case, the bench.
The killer competitive spirit, which seems such a staple of our culture today, has always confounded me. Hello, super angry parents in the stands! Reality check: they’re not going pro! Not that I don’t also hold out high hopes for my kids. But it’s hard to be too hopeful when your son routinely runs AWAY from the soccer ball as if it were a dirty bomb—and the other nearly dies by line drive while absent-mindedly searching for bugs in short right field. “I found a praying mantis!” THWACK!
My husband and I still understand the importance of physical activity and team sports, but we will just never be a super sporty family. It has been hard for us to find our niche with extracurricular activities. We’ve put the kids in swimming, Tae Kwon Do, baseball, soccer, basketball—all with lackluster results unless you consider yelling “get out there and have fun! RIGHT NOW!” a good thing. Let’s just say it doesn’t rank in my top five most memorable parenting moments. A couple summers ago, we landed on something that changed everything.
That’s when my sons took part in a Frassati soccer camp. This Denver-based Catholic sports organization has been an answer to prayers. For goodness sake, their motto is “training for Heaven.” I’ll take three saints, please! The group takes their name from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a 20th century Saint, who was an avid mountain climber and athlete. Pier Giorgio said, “By yourself, you can do nothing, but if you have God as the center of your every action then, yes, you will reach the goal.” This is what the sports camp expresses to the young campers. Christ is obviously in our Church. But he is also on the basketball court and the soccer field. He must be at the center of everything.
The Frassati camp leaders shared with my boys compelling stories of men and saints who continually turned to God for guidance as they challenged themselves to overcome insurmountable barriers. These inspirational stories of Frassati and Jose Luis Sanchez and others like them filled my boys with excitement and purpose as they took to the field. They came home bursting with enthusiasm and awe. For the first time, they looked forward to the competition. My sons began to understand their part of the team as contributing to God’s greater glory. They engaged in challenging exercises to the stations of the cross in order to appreciate Christ’s suffering. A million squats suddenly didn’t seem so hard. My kids played their hearts out as they simultaneously delved deeper into their Catholicism. They even took time out of their practice to go to confession. Wow.
No news bulletin here, my kids may never be the most coordinated or greatest athletes out there, but for the first time they are challenging themselves to seek their personal best, not in comparison to anyone else, but in their own greater purpose as children of God. They’re experiencing something I lacked as a kid: wholeness in their Catholic identity—the perfect marriage of athleticism and faith. Not only do they go beautifully together; they must never be separated. My kids are beginning to understand that Christian virtue is the foundation for all competition. Their faith is hopefully embedded in their DNA where it belongs, not just an article of clothing to be worn or shed as needed. And in turn, it has made them better athletes and human beings!
I swung for the rafters that day as I very calmly, but eagerly explained to my friend that Catholicism is actually very much in Phys. Ed. and sports. In seeking to know or learn anything, whether baseball or basketweaving we are growing in intimacy with our creator who deeply longs for our union with Him. To be a true disciple of Christ means by His grace we can strive to be better at everything else, school, citizenship and quite possibly hitting home runs. CRACK! Going… going… GONE! And the crowd goes wild!
To learn more about Frassati Sports & Adventures, check out their website where they offer a variety of summer camps and clinics. https://www.frassatisports.org What they are doing for sports and Christianity is revolutionary and I pray it catches on for the rest of the country!