Strength and weakness

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time .

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

In response to the favorable comments I received, I publish an additional fragment of the Holy See’s document on sport.

“Sport exposes the tension between strength and weakness, experiences which both belong indispensably to human existence. Sport is a realm within which humans can authentically live out their talents and their creativity but at the same time experience their limitations and finitude, as success is by no means guaranteed.…

““Freedom –says Pope Francis –is something magnificent, yet it can also be dissipated and lost.” Sport respects human freedom in that within the confines of a specific set of rules, it does not prevent creativity but rather fosters it. Thus, the experience of being freely oneself is not lost.

The intrinsic relation between individual freedom and the acceptance of rules also shows that the person is directed toward a community with others. In fact, the person is never an isolated entity but “a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential.” Team sports and the presence of spectators reveal the relation between individuals and the community. Moreover, even individual sports cannot be exercised without the contributions of many others. Thus, sport can serve as a paradigm that illustrates how the person may become himself through the experience of community.

Finally, in the context of the modern world, sport is perhaps the most striking example of the unity of body and soul. It must be stressed that a one-sided interpretation of the experiences just mentioned leads to a false notion of the human being. Only focusing on strength, for instance, might suggest that humans are self-sufficient beings. A one-sided concept of freedom entails the idea of an irresponsible self who may only follow his or her own rules. Likewise, too strong of an emphasis on the community leads to an underestimation of the dignity of the individual person. And lastly, neglecting the unity of body and soul results in an attitude that either entirely disregards the body or fosters a worldly materialism. Hence, all the dimensions have to be taken into account in order to understand what actually constitutes the human being.

To summarize, we thus can say that in sport human beings experience in a particular way the tension between strength and weakness, the freedom to submit to general rules which constitute a common practice, individuality as directed toward community, and the unity of body and soul. In addition, through sport human beings can experience beauty. As Hans Urs von Balthasar rightly pointed out, the aesthetic faculty of the human being is also a decisive characteristic which stimulates the quest for ultimate meaning. If such an integral anthropological view is applied, then sport can indeed be seen as an extraordinary field where the human being experiences some significant truths about him- or herself on his or her quest for ultimate meaning.

Human beings find our deepest truth of who we are in God’s image and likeness, as this is how He created us. Although it is true that sport embodies the pursuit of a certain kind of happiness, which the Second Vatican Council characterized as “a full and free life worthy of humanity; one in which [persons and societies] can subject to their own welfare all that the modern world can offer them so abundantly,” it is also true that we were created for a happiness that is greater still. This happiness is made possible by the free gift of God’s grace. It is important to emphasize that God’s grace does not destroy what is human, but rather “perfects nature” or lifts us up into communion with God who is Father, Son and Spirit and into communion with one another.

One of the important ways we experience God’s grace is in His mercy. As Pope Francis has emphasized throughout his papacy, and especially in the Year of Mercy, God never tires of forgiving us. God loves us unconditionally. Even when we make mistakes or commit sins, God is patient with us and always offers us forgiveness and a second chance. God’s forgiveness – as well as our forgiveness of one another – brings about healing and recovery of the image and likeness of God in us. As St. Paul put it in his letter to the Colossians: “Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.” (Col 3:10). And again, to the Corinthians: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). If the process of redemption means we are being renewed and changed into the image and likeness of God who is Father, Son and Spirit this means realizing that we are fundamentally relational and are made for communion with God and one another.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid