Saint John Paul II: Sports offers opportunity for Spiritual Elevation
Note: A copy of this address was published in the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Weekly English Edition It was given during the 1984 Olympic Games. Abbreviated copies are available all over the Internet, but I found a copy of the whole thing via a PDF booklet titled Blessed John Paul II Speaks to Athletes: Homilies, Messages and Speeches on Sport, assembled and distributed by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
ADDRESS TO ITALIAN OLYMPIC MEDAL WINNERS: SPORTS OFFERS OPPORTUNITY FOR SPIRITUAL ELEVATION
November 24, 1984 (L’Osservatore Romano Weekly English Edition, N.50 December 10, 1984, 4.)
Beloved Olympic Athletes,
1. I am grateful to you for this visit you have wished to pay to me on the occasion of your meeting in Rome, sponsored by the Administrators of the Lazio Region. I greet each and every one of you: managers and athletes! I thank Mons.Emanuele Clarizio for the cordial words which he has just addressed to me as an expression of the sentiments of all of you. A few months since the splendid records you set in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, arousing the just pride not only in athletic circles but of the entire Italian nation, which enthusiastically followed your successes, you offer me the fine opportunity to express to you congratulations and my joy for the skill you demonstrated in those competitions and for the number of medals with which your athletic performances were crowned. And I add fervent wishes for further achievements in your exalting athletic activity.
2. While I express my sincere thanks for this courteous gesture, allow me to offer you during this brief meeting, some considerations that may help you live in depth your commitment that is so thrilling but also arduous. You know well that sports, in all its expressions, before being an athletic exhibition, is a mortal tension. It demands an ideal task. Sport runs the risk of degrading man if it is not based on and supported by the human virtues of loyalty, generosity and respect for the rules of the game as well as respect for the player. These are virtues that harmonize well with the Christian spirit because they demand a capacity for self-control, self-denial, sacrifice and humility, and therefore an attitude of gratefulness to God, who is the giver of every good and therefore also the giver of the necessary physical and intellectual talents. Sport is not merely the exercise of muscles, but it is the school of mortal values and of training in courage, in perseverance, and in overcoming laziness and carelessness. Besides, it is an antidote for weakness, discouragement and dejection in defeat. There is no doubt that these values are of greatest interest for the formation of a personality which consider sports not an end in itself but as a means to total and harmonious physical, moral, and social development.
3. Your profession as athletes offers you, among other things, also the opportunity to improve your own personal spiritual state. Called as you are frequently to engage in your competitions in the midst of nature, amid the marvels of mountains, seas, fields and slopes, you are in the best position to perceive the value of simple and immediate things, the call to goodness, the dissatisfaction with one’s insufficiency, and to mediate on the authentic values that are at the basis of human life. Discipline too, necessary for engaging in athletic performances, can be considered a prerequisite for spiritual elevation. In fact, it creates a certain type of personal check which every step towards perfection absolutely needs. In this regards the Apostle Paul says:” Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable. I do not run like a man who loses sight of the finish line. I do not fight as if I were only shadowboxing” (1Cor 9:25-26). With these words St. Paul instills the necessity not only for a training of muscles but also for a training of the spirit through the exercise of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Beloved young athletes, if you do all this you will be not only excellent athletes but also good Christians and exemplary citizens who can witness to a certain lifestyle both in the sporting arenas and in the environments, even more demanding, of your family and society.
To this end I invoke upon you abundant heavenly favours, while I impart to you the Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to your loved ones.
(Featured image) Thomas J. O’Halloran, photographer, U.S. News & World Report magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pope John Paul II in Gdynia on June 11 1987, during his third apostolic visit to Poland. Picture from Babie Doly neighbourhood forums, obtained with the GFDL License, by Arek1979. Wikimedia Commons.