The Football World Cup is in full swing in Russia. Footballers from thirty two countries are literally putting their best foot forward to carry away the coveted trophy.
In the midst of great joy, multiplied by television, there would certainly be some who would return heartbroken because their favourite team could not make
it to the finals.
“Tell me Dominic, is this competition among football teams with their fans fervently praying to God for their team’s victory, not causing God headache, in that He must be at a loss not knowing which team’s prayers He must answer”?, a lad in my parish asked me in all earnestness. I told him a story I had heard a long time ago.
“Jesus was at a football match. And each time a guy did good tackling and a fine kick, he would cheer. A guy standing next to him, totally confused about his ‘cheering’ behaviour asked him which team he was actually supporting. ‘Oh! Me. I am just enjoying the game and cheering everyone who is brilliant,’ Jesus shrugged.”
FIFA matches, far from causing God headache is bringing Him as much, if not more, joy than the teams and the fans.
The Vatican, mouthpiece for Jesus’ message of encouragement and not one to be left behind, joining the FIFA exceitment on the first of this month issued its first ever document on sports: “To give the best of oneself: On the Christian perspective of sport and of the human person.”
Pope Francis, coming from the land of football icons Maradona and Messi and one never to shy away in supporting sportspersons, in a letter to Cardinal Farrel on the occasion, wrote, “In a culture dominated by individualism and the gap between the younger generations and the elderly, sports is a privileged area around which people meet without any distinction of race, sex, religion, or ideology, and where we can experience the joy of competing to reach a goal together, participating in a team, where success or defeat is shared and overcome…”.
Victory and defeat are undoubtedly facts of human life but a sportsperson knows better than most, to cherish a healthy attitude to both vicotry and defeat. But does God come into “play” only to be prayed to, for a win?
Swami Vivekananda though seems to suggest, “In kicking a ball or playing a game, you are much closer to the Divine than you will ever be in prayer”.
My own experience, however, after a good hour of sports is that I am able better to concentrate on God’s presence than at normal times.
Let us hope that at the conclusion of FIFA, both players and viewers will emerge, in Pope’s words, “This pursuit [sports]…, with the help of God’s grace, can lead us to the fullness of life that we call holiness”.