Saturday was a busy day for Loras athletics, with almost all fall season sports having a match. This begs the question: Why are athletics such a huge part of our lives? What is it about sports that draws crowds around the globe? As a former volleyball player and track athlete, I thought I could share some insights and tie those insights into why Varsity Catholic, the division of FOCUS that reaches out to college athletes was started.
“College athletes face unique challenges, a significant amount of pressure and great influence among their teams, their peers and the culture. Despite this, they are among the most underserved students on the college campus by Catholics. Varsity Catholic works to serve college athletes who are searching for Christ. The goal is to help them realize that their deepest identity is in Christ and the God who created them,” Varsity Catholic recognizes.
Hayden and I are the two VC missionaries here at Loras, both us having been former athletes at other universities. We want Loras student-athletes to be fully served: body, mind, and soul. Student-athletes will undoubtedly take on leadership roles in and beyond college. We have a responsibility to raise up Christ-centered leaders who can bring friends and family home to the Father. We need saints. Some aspects of the nature of sport reveal the desire of the human heart to seek more than mediocrity in this life.
Many would say volleyball is a spectator friendly sport. There is a point every play; it’s fast-paced; there is skill and precision on every play; and those spectacular plays and long rallies leave a crowd cheering wildly. That is where I want to start: spectacular plays. Players are diving left and right just to get one hand under the ball, striving with everything they have to keep the game going and win. That one touch could mean the difference between winning or losing, and every point is crucial. Beneath these plays is a desire for victory and giving all that you have for something greater than yourself. You desire to have a hand in that victory, even when sacrifice is necessary. I have scars from floor burns and injuries to prove it.
What is the goal of sports? To become the best person you can be. To win. To leave everything out on the court, field, or track, knowing that you didn’t just show up, you gave your all. You don’t have to be an athlete to desire these goals, either. Yet, how do we treat our spiritual lives? In other words, do we just go work out once in awhile when we’ve had a bit too much to eat, or do we train?
St. Paul says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it for a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:24-27)
Jesus understands the human person. He was the son of a carpenter in a small town. His words and His Church are here to serve every person. We are also called to be like Him in serving one another by running the race. Jesus doesn’t just want a small part of us; He wants every part of us. Is a coach going to play an athlete who doesn’t take more than two steps from their comfort zone on the court or who only runs as fast as is comfortable? No. A coach is looking for someone who gives everything, and I know from the coaches who serve here that they have a desire to push every student-athlete out of love for them and to see them reach their potential. Jesus desires that of all of us. He gives us the freedom to choose to run with Him or not. It requires change in all of our lives, to lead a life of virtue, love and sacrifice, but isn’t change good? What is your choice? You are made for eternity and you can be a saint when you run with and for Christ Jesus.