To answer these questions, it is helpful to recall 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
St. Paul was always fascinated by the picture of the athlete. An athlete must train with intensity if he is to win his contest. And Corinth knew how thrilling contests could be, for at Corinth the Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games, were held. Furthermore, the athlete undergoes this self-discipline and this training to win a crown of laurel leaves that within days will be a withered chaplet. How much more should the Christian discipline himself to win the crown, which is eternal life?
Brief Philosophy of Life
In this passage, St. Paul sets out a kind of brief philosophy of life:
The Vatican’s first published document on sport: "Giving the Best of Yourself: A Document on the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person” provides Catholic teachings that support athletic competition.
Competition has often been one of the most difficult aspects of a Christian understanding of sport. Can one love their neighbor while trying to block their shot, tackle them behind the line of scrimmage, or check them into the boards?
To respond to this question, it is helpful to step back and look closely at the etymology of the word “competition.” The Latin com-petito, literally means “to strive together,” rendering sport a “mutually acceptable quest for excellence.” As iron sharpens iron, competition enhances play.…True competition is cooperation, not rivalry, that is at the heart of competition: “In sports, teams or individuals agree cooperatively to oppose one another within the stated goals, rules, and obstacles of the game.” Within this context of playfully developing and delighting in God’s creation we can say that sports are part of God’s intention and design for creation.
It is also helpful, for the purpose of clarity, to look at the Cambridge Dictionary for a definition of sport as a game, competition, or similar activity, done for enjoyment or as a job, that takes physical effort and skill and is played or done by following particular rules…Sport also includes, all types of physical activity that people do to keep healthy or for enjoyment.
Sport an Arena for Evangelization
St. John Paul II affectionately was known as the “athlete pope.” He believed that sport, in its pure form, could provide an arena for evangelization because the attributes required to become a champion — sacrifice, passion, obedience, discipline — were similar in many respects to those required to become a saint.
“Sportsmanship, as an ideal, is all about character. It’s about humility, honesty, loyalty, respect and generosity. It is not a quest for perfection but, like a faith journey, sportsmanship is a quest for virtue. There will be moments of temptation and times of failure but the true sportsman, like the faithful person, will acknowledge setbacks with integrity and strive to become better.”
St. John Paul II continues, “Sports have, in themselves, an important moral and educative significance. They are a training ground of virtue, a school of inner balance and outer control, an introduction to more true and lasting conquests.” He called sport a gift from God to mankind.
He wrote: “St. Paul the Apostle proposed the image of the athlete to the Christians of Corinth in order to illustrate Christian life and as an example of effort and constancy (cf. I Cor 9: 24-25).”
Indeed, the correct practice of sport must be accompanied by moderation and training in self-discipline. It very often also requires a good team spirit, a respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one’s own limitations.…
The Christian can also find sports helpful for developing the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance in the race for the wreath that is “imperishable,” as St Paul writes.
“Giving the Best of Yourself"
Pope Francis commenting on the Vatican publication of “Giving the Best of Yourself: A Document about the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person” wrote:
Sports a Training Ground of Virtue
Archbishop Jurkovic, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva at the SIGA (Sport Integrity Global Alliance) Special Session Geneva, in Geneva (November 28, 2017), continues:
The core identity of a Christian is that he or she is “in Christ” by the work of the Spirit. This truth flows from the fountain of the gospel: the Christian’s identity is based not on their performance but on God’s grace. One is not a soccer player who happens to be a Christian. He or she is a Christian who plays soccer. The follower of Jesus does not need to build an identity through their accomplishments, for they have been given an identity because of Jesus’s accomplishment. Sports matter, but they must be understood from the right perspective. Because of the gospel, we are not defined by our sin nor by our success, but by our savior.
Sports ethics plays out on the field and off the field. The church does not need more athletes who cut corners so they can get to the top and thank God, but rather athletes with integrity who are unwilling to compromise their conduct because they care more about what God thinks of them than what the world does.
The purpose of sport is a godly endeavor when approached in prayer and love, and played with dignity and passion. With your witness of joy in playing the game with your absolute passion and your utmost dignity, you can be messengers of the Good News, setting a good example on how sport can be the school of virtue.
Learn well these lessons of sport and faith that you may be found trustworthy — with good team spirit, respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and in life, and humility to recognize one’s own limitations. They will serve you well on your journey of life.
Give it Your Best!
Finally, Pope Francis, in his talk to the Italian Sports Center in 2014, encouraged his listeners, and us today, to give the very best of ourselves, not only in sport, but in the rest of our lives as well:
it Your Best!
Rugby Team Prayer
University of Steubenville
“May the Lord
bless you and keep you;
. The Letters to the Corinthians, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily Study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 86.
. Stuart Weir, “Competition as Relationship: Sport as a Mutual Quest for Excellence,” in The Image of God in the Human Body: Essays on Christianity and Sports, ed. Donald Deardorff and John White (Lampeter, Wales: Mellen, 2008), 101–22; See also Watson and Parker, who add, “Etymologically, sport competition can be understood as a ‘mutual striving together for excellence’ (Greek, arête) in which opponents honor their opponents and cooperate to bring out the best in one another” (“Sports and Christianity: Mapping the Field,” 32, cf. 53).
. Goheen and Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads, 154. Ellis adds an important point regarding competition: “If competition is an evil that Christians should avoid or discourage such a judgment would place a ban on a great deal more than our sporting activity. It would affect business (and the creation of wealth) and education very clearly, but its impact would have much wider reverberations” (The Games People Play, 198–99).
. Pope Francis, “Letter to Cardinal Farrell on the New Document on Sport ‘Giving the Best of Yourself. A Document about the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person’,” June 01, 2018, ZENIT, /
. Op. Cit., Treat, “More than a Game: A Theology of Sport.”
. Pope Francis, Address to members of the sports associations for the 70th Anniversary of the Foundation of the CSI (Italian Sports Center), 7 June 2014)