Buffalo is a sports town. The Bills, Sabres, Bandits and Bisons, not to mention college and high school teams, are the talk of Western New York. But it is a bigger phenomenon than our hometown. St. John Paul II was an avid skier, kayaker and hiker. Pope Francis is a soccer fan, especially of San Lorenzo. They even came to visit him in the Vatican to give him a team jersey. Sports are a great gift from God.
Sports are like religion in many ways. People identify with sports teams the way they identify with their religion. They gather to celebrate and sing together. Sometimes they mourn together. People dress in special clothes to play or just be a fan. There are even similarities with the halls of fame and canonized saints.
Sports show what people desire. There is a deep-seated desire for unity, for a shared goal, and for happiness. Of course, there is a desire for ultimate victory as well.
We need to start thinking of bringing people to the Church the way sports brings people to stadiums. I suggest we start using language modern people can identify with. We are a team. We need people to show up. We need players who do not just sit on the bench. We need to praise and work together for a common goal.
While sports focus merely on the body, the Catholic "team" appeals to the whole person - body and soul. When sharing your faith with sports fans, use their language, not church jargon. Eventually the sports fan in your life may realize how much more profound our "team" is, and how spectacular Jesus' victory over sin really is.
Know an athlete? Get him or her a medal of St. Sebastian. Encourage prayer before the game or match. Point out how often athletes make the Sign of the Cross. Wasn't it wonderful to see Usain Bolt wearing a Miraculous Medal in the Olympics?
Are you a coach or coordinator? You have a leadership role in the faith too. Respect Sundays as a day of rest and encourage your players to be part of their parish "team" too. It is a disservice to consume all the free time and family time of students on sports. If you love your players, train their souls as well.
Going to a game? Does your car show your Catholic faith? Is there a statue or rosary beads? Do you say grace before your tailgate party? Do you make a sign of the cross when you pass a Catholic church on the way?
Holding a Super Bowl party? Invite your guests to join you for Sunday Mass first. When the trophy is presented to the winning team, pull out this fact for your guests - the greatest coach in the history of football, Vince Lombardi, for whom the trophy is named, said, "I derived my strength from daily Mass and Communion." Boom!
St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, pray for us.