Praying with the pope in August
This month, Pope Francis has asked us to join him in a prayer for, and about, sports – that sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world. Do we ever think about sports as a topic for our prayer? Maybe, only when our favourite team is about to participate in a big match or prestigious tournament! Maybe the only time we ever might link our prayer and whatever sport we follow, or play, is at that moment, and it’s commonplace to spot a player making the Sign of the Cross or raising his arms heavenwards at that point. Leaving aside the awkward question of what happens if an equal number of players and supporters for each team prays to God before a game, yet only one side can win, suggesting that God favours one side over another, we can reflect on whether sports and prayer are totally separate concerns. The Universal Intention this month offers us just that opportunity.
One journalist, active some years ago, famously wrote of the “magnificent triviality” of sport. He captured a core truth and, perhaps inadvertently, points us towards a very good reason for not excluding sports from our prayer. It is, indeed, frequently magnificent and each of us, unless we have no sporting interest at all, will have our own idea of that magnificence – a sweetly-struck bending free kick in football, a sweeping three-quarter attack and try scored in rugby, a hole-in-one in golf. We can readily think of many more examples and we can conjure them up in the imagination.
What is the magnificence that stirs our hearts and raises the spirits when we ponder these great moments? To think about that is maybe a kind of daydream but St.Ignatius had no problem with using his own large capacity for daydreaming! As a younger man, he would frequently dream about what he would achieve when, after recovery from injury, he might return to the battlefield. Later he learned to use that capacity to dream about doing great things for God’s people. He learned how to recognise how the “magnificence” he dreamed of was moving his heart.
We could do something similar, asking ourselves if our sporting fantasies and great memories are touching something deeper about ourselves, something in our souls. We might well come to see that we are marvelling at a manifestation of the best of humanity, sportswomen and men striving to make the best of their talents and gifts, often surprising themselves with what they can achieve with honest dedication and hard work. As our journalist hinted, we might then come to realise that any triviality is only on the surface and that sport grabs us, not unlike great art, in a way that is deeply human and, therefore, anything but trivial. It can actually give glory to God.
Sport, at any level, has a wonderful capacity to foster friendships and honest rivalry. How good it is to see players shake hands after a game that might have been intensely, ferociously contested. There will always be dark sides, weeds among the wheat. That might be when emotions are engaged but not controlled – sport can teach us how to do one and avoid the other. It might be when team or national rivalry mutates into hatred for the other, or even xenophobia. The Pope’s Intention specifies how sport could be an “opportunity for friendly encounters”. Sport is not the continuation of politics by other means; sport can enhance politics and it can foster dialogue. It can advance peace and it can bring about lasting friendships and mutual admiration rather than hatred. Sport, at the top level, is often prone to corruption, so can even teach us how those weeds are always a threat and helps us to stay
vigilant, lest something beautiful and wholesome be spoiled by corruption. In this, sport surely mirrors human life itself. Goodness is fragile but it is the deepest truth about ourselves.
Prayer moment: ask the Spirit of God to take us to a place of quiet and calm, and to help us let go of at least some of the distractions and noise of the day. Ask that same spirit to help you to ponder the place sport has in your life or in the life of someone you know and care for. Notice the feelings and inner reactions that might arise. Which give you joy? Which engender sadness in your soul?
Moment for reflection: Am I aware of any moments when I have let my love of sports, whether as a participant or spectator, get out of hand? Have I let my good and healthy love for my team, club or nation turn into something less wholesome, or used sport as an opportunity to indulge in language or even behaviour that degrades and insults other people? Or, have I been able to rejoice in the triumphs of human endeavour and God-given talent that I have witnessed in sports? Reflect on, and give thanks for, those sporting moments that have revealed to you the wonderful depths of human capacity.
Scriptural moment: 1 Peter 3:15, always being ready to give an account of the hope we have; 1 John 5:21, the risk of idolatry; Heb. 10:25, encourage one another!
A Traditional Daily Offering to the Heart of Christ (taken from the Living Prayer 2016 booklet of the Pope’s Prayer Network, copies still available on request):
Merciful Jesus, I consecrate myself today and always to your most Sacred Heart. Most sacred heart of Jesus, I implore, that I may ever love you more and more. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you! Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Sacred Heart of Jesus, I believe in your love for me. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like Your heart.
A Morning Offering, that changes every day, can be found on our App and website, www.clicktopray.org