And the winner is….. Faith!

There have been many observations and narratives made around the world about COVID-19 and how the world is currently struggling to cope. Expert and not so expert opinions are expressed, research findings disclosed, hopes for a vaccine are emerging and the anticipation of lifting restrictions are all part of the daily conversations we are engaging in.

In Australia we wake up each day to three certainties whether online, in the print media, on the screen or on the airwaves. These are a message from Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison; an update from Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Brendan Murphy and the latest from the National Rugby League (NRL).

The NRL? This may have you annoyed, tuned out or simply over it. But The NRL are supposedly offering fans hope that they will be back on May 28 and many people (I’m even surprised by how many closet fans there are out there) who  can’t wait for the games so they have something to watch and talk about. The NRL is driving the agenda and at times defying medical advice and government rulings. But at least they are on the front foot.

Therefore, I question why isn’t the daily news about the PM, the CMO and the Church? We are able to watch the mass live streamed from anywhere in the world but apart from our parishes doing what they can to support their people, where are the members of the church ‘hierarchy’ during this time of need?  What meetings are they having with government officials and then passing updates onto their communities and having a front and centre media position?

However, with those sentiments out of my control, there has probably never been a more important time in many of our lives to take a health check on our faith. At this time there’s many Jesus examples of faith communities supporting their lonely people; supplying meals to those in need and children in parish schools sending letters to those isolated in aged care facilities. 

This somewhat fallow sports time has presented me with an opportunity to reflect on my volunteer ministry as a sports chaplain and in some ways to watch the NRL situation and to identify parallels between faith and sport and the messages that the scripture presents so we encounter Christ.

In an article by Matt Hoven he identifies sports chaplains as practical theologians who promote sports as ‘serving the common good in society’ and how they can help the development of the whole person through honest reflection.  As a chaplain it’s important to reflect theologically on whatever the circumstance you are addressing that can lead to ‘faithful living of the gospel in sport’.

A number of Bible verses also tell of how athletes can be a metaphor for matters of life and faith. Scripture also highlights character traits athletes can develop through their sport under the guidance of the sports chaplain. Also, the Fruits of the Spirit, which in many ways are the faith road maps of life, are an essential part of training for sports.

Here are a few examples of how some scripture passages draw a parallel with sports performance. Self control is vital for the preparation for sport 1 Peter 1:13-6 “therefore prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled; set your hopes fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”.

Whilst winning can be an essential part of sport, sadly commercialisation and betting can diminish sport and lead to corruption which is when a faithful alternative is required. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 9;24-27 he questions “do you not know that in a race, all the runners run but only one gets the prize?...They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever’. John expands on Paul’s words in 5;4b with ‘this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.’

What happens if you get caught up in sport – as a player, an official or even a spectator - that you lose track of your faith and values? Worldly glory is short-lived, but your faith is endures for eternity. In Mark 8:34-38 we are reminded that Jesus called his disciples and the crowd saying ‘for whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” This is why as a chaplain we particularly teach children that sport is more about having fun.

 Many people excel in spectator sport. They are the armchair critics or those who win the game after it has been played. But athletes need support especially when they begin to wonder if all the training and all the sacrifices are worthwhile? But their perseverance is buoyed on by Philippians 4;13 when they know they ‘can do anything through Christ, who gives me strength’. Social media has opened up new opportunities for sportspeople to be the targets of vitriolic comments but are reminded ‘…in humility consider others better than yourself’ (Philippians 2:3)

When sport returns to a semblance of what people love to watch and as athletes prepare for competition, together we should ‘…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called …’ (1 Timothy 6:11-12.

More than ever let us remember that sports are not all-encompassing. Let us be like St Ignatius and keep a sense of balance and a sense that God is leading us, not our own self interests. Let’s look ahead with fresh energy as we generate a youthfulness of spirit.


Are Sports a Religion? Brandon Anderson /Gotham Chopra Nov 23, 2016.

Is Sport a Religion? Nigel Barber The Human Beast Nov 11 2009

“Sport as a Celebrative and Worshipful Act’: Taking Back Sport   Through Theological Reflection Matt Hoven Religion and Education St Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G


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Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.