The Games are coming and they are a great opportunity.
‘The Games are coming and we need to make the most of this unique opportunity’ With fewer than 200 days left until the Olympics, a good monk’s thoughts turn to the martyrology for Christmas Day. The English translation reads: “In the 5,199th year of the creation of the world … the 1,032nd year from the anointing of King David … in the 194th Olympiad … the forty-second year of the rule of Augustus … Jesus Christ, the Eternal God … was born in Bethlehem of Juda.”
The liturgy uses a series of religious and political reference points to highlight the historical bite of the Incarnation but there is just one cultural point of reference, the Olympics of AD 1. This liturgical reference to the Games (yes, I’m well aware that the liturgy also refers to Pontius Pilate) inspires me to leave aside the negative aspects that some critics have raised: the enormous cost, the questionable legacy for the needy, the environmental footprint, the security risks and the disruption to normal life in London. These problems need continuing action to mitigate them, but the Games are coming and we need to make the most of this unique opportunity. Providentially, Churches in Britain have combined to embrace the Games through “More Than Gold”, an organisation offering chaplaincy support not only to the 25,000 athletes but also to the 25,000 journalists. Local churches are housing the families of athletes who could not otherwise afford to come.
Then there is the evangelical outreach being organised by numerous groups, with the Sion Community taking the lead among Catholics. Hundreds of thousands of spectators from home and abroad will be open to new experiences, a moment when the Word might touch them in unforeseen ways on what could become an unexpected pilgrimage. Add to this the tradition of the Olympic truce, which is being revived in 2012. In origin, this was a period without war to facilitate travel to and from the Games but the Olympic truce will now promote peace on a wider scale. The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is another organisation building on the Games, supporting sport in schools.
You will recall that Our Lord and the Samaritan woman in John’s gospel discussed the rivalry between the Jewish Temple on Mt Zion and the Samaritan one on Mt Gerizim. In Catholic schools, the competing demands of the chapel and the sports hall can sometimes feel like that ancient rivalry of the temples.
The Games is a wonderful opportunity for PE and sports departments in Christian schools to show how, in the words of Our Lord to the Samaritan woman, everybody including sportsmen and –women can “worship in spirit and in truth”.
School sport is a place where so many Christian beliefs can be learnt and expressed but two in particular stand out: communion and integrity.
Communion is the central reality of contemporary Catholic theology, a reality much more profound than contemporary understandings of community. It is a personal connection with those who share our life. As an example of communion in practice, the modern sports team serves well. Yes, of course, it can go badly and the sports team as commercial company sometimes undermines sport, but a sports team comprising boys or girls from different ethnic groups and diverse neighbourhoods playing together in amateur leagues shows real communion in action.
Sport also requires integrity. The basic meaning of integrity is conforming to both the rules and the spirit of an activity, no matter what the cost to your personal interest. Sports rules and conventions teach that well: you are penalised if you cheat and you’re scorned if you act in a way that goes against the spirit of the game. Learning to live in communion and with integrity is a profound training programme for life. Bankers ought to take sport rather than gambling as their working model.
The Olympic Games – the athletes and coaches, the officials and spectators – do not always conform to this idealised picture of sport but the Games can still inspire the best not only in sport but also in humanity. The modern Olympics restarted the numbering in 1896 so let’s adapt the martyrology and say: in the 2,012th year of our Lord … in the sixtieth year of Queen Elizabeth II … in the thirtieth Olympiad … in Britain … the followers of Jesus Christ, the Eternal God welcomed the world in his name.
Christopher Jamison OSB is director of the National Oice of Vocations of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. 4 February 2012 | THE TABLET
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