The current crisis of faith that the Catholic Church is going through, stems from the sad interpretation of faith, by secular society, as a solely feminine or anti-intellectual pursuit. Ask a young footballer today, in front of his team-mates, and he will scoff at the Ned Flanders archetypes that he feels make up the Church. Everyone is good, I love you you love me morality has past its sell-by date (if it ever had one). What holds young men back from joining the Church is not expressions of sure-footed faith, but the doubts that are cast by so many from on top regarding the genuine convictions that Catholics should hold.
Having the faith should be presented as something totally ordinary, living the faith as something totally extraordinary.
One striking example of this, especially interesting for anyone who has been following the World Cup, is the contrast between England pair Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge. Even the most partisan of Liverpool fans can agree that Wayne is a bigger star than Daniel and for most of his career, a better player too. Yet, it is Sturridge who seems more at ease with himself and more comfortable with expressing his faith. Both men are Catholic, and yet Sturridge's Catholicism seems altogether more self-assured than that of Rooney. Why? Rooney has been made delete comments on God from his Twitter account and was even told by the FA that he would not be allowed to comment on God in press conferences. This all seems a bit much for a man who otherwise seems to have some measure of faith (despite scandals in his private life). Admitting that he prays before matches, Rooney said
|Daniel Sturridge praying after scoring|
|Wayne Rooney displaying his rosary beads at training|
'I don’t pray to help me score goals. I pray for the health of me and everyone on the pitch.
'It is something I have always done. I pray at night.
'I pray for my family and friends and for the health of everyone I love.'
Rooney also wears rosary beads around his neck at training and has a large Celtic cross tattooed on him. So why isn't he bolder in his expressions of faith? Probably because he has been made to care what others think of him, whereas Sturridge reconciled himself to profess his faith regardless of what others think of him. Young men should be taught, like Sturridge, to express their faith boldly when prompted, be they in work or playing sport.
As we await the outcome of this World Cup, some food for thought. Catholic nations have won the World Cup every year, save for one. In that one year, 1966, a devout Catholic by the name of Nobby Stiles provided an image which has endured amongst England fans ever since. After a 4-2 win over West Germany, Stiles danced on the pitch, his false teeth out, like he hadn't a care in the world. His bemusement with winning the biggest prize in sport belied the po-faced nature of his fellow countrymen.
To a Catholic, football is not and should not ever be seen as a substitute religion, as many banners insinuate. The solidarity of the crowds on the terraces, of the players and of those at home should always be with a recognition that the game is not above God. It is a glorious effort to make the most of all of the talents that Our Lord has bestowed upon us. The long fight to reclaim the souls of young men in nominally Catholic countries that have become apostate, begins with reclaiming the notion that masculinity and faith are intertwined and interdependent. Whether this means forming new Catholic football clubs, instructing young men in sermons at Mass or encouraging famous players to speak boldly on their faith, the thought that the world's favourite game is ignored by the clergy makes no sense.
Sport should make a man suffer in the seeking of a greater good, a collective good. Anyone who will have seen or read about the exploits of SSPX members lately, will have read about their polite and dignified game of soccer in which they respected each other at all times, without the need for a referee. Fully dressed in cossacks.
"Perfect love means putting up with other people's shortcomings, feeling no surprise at their weaknesses, finding encouragement even in the slightest evidence of good qualities in them." —St. Therese of Lisieux
Pope John Paul II , who was by all accounts a handy goal-keeper in his youth, once declared, 'Show me what you love and I will show you who you are'. Young men have shown us, through their love of football, that fraternity, passion and masculinity are the hallmarks of their inner selves. If we wish them to grow and become at one with Christ, we need to let them know that faith and sport are not mutually exclusive. As recent convert to the faith Wesley Sneijder and countless others have found, the glory of this world pales in comparison to the glory of the next. Perhaps that is why Catholics have excelled at this sport better than any others, the innate beauty of the sport makes the most of this world, with an irreverence that keeps an eye on the next.
|Brazil's 2002 World Cup winners pray on the field after winning|
Eternal destinies of souls are at stake over the course of each of those 90 minutes. Our beloved Pope Pius XII, said it best. Football is another beautiful drama amongst the most central in the universe, the struggle of man to become everything that God intended him to be:
"Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator."
– Pope Pius XII,Sport at the Service of the Spirit July 29, 1945