Other than religion and theology, sports is probably my greatest love and the thing that consumes most of my time and energy. I can no longer play competitive sports like I used to, but I do spend countless hours as a fan watching sports. I think it was because when we were younger, it was the one thing that united us.
Back in the 1970s, before ESPN and cable sports, watching football meant watching network TV on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. At that time, Memphis was considered part of the Dallas Cowboys network area, so we always watched Dallas. Since they were “America’s Team” and since they won – a lot – we didn’t mind. My family and most of my friends were Cowboys fans.
Everyone in Memphis was a St. Louis Cardinals fan back then. We could pick up the KMOX station out of St. Louis on our AM radio, so we grew up listening to local Memphians like Tim McCarver and Phil Gagliano, as well as future Hall of Famers like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Even though the team was not that good in the 1970s, it was still “our team.”
When it came to basketball, there were no NBA teams close, and so we were happy with rooting for our Memphis State Tigers. As always, it united our city, our community, our schools and our family.
What is it about sports that unites us? It is a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. That’s why we take ownership of this identity, whether we are playing or watching, saying, “It is my team.” Insulting my team can be like insulting my family. I noticed early on in my priesthood that if I can use sports analogies in my preaching, people take notice and it affects them on a personal and practical level. Maybe it is because sports and religion are more similar than we think.
“Christianity unites us with God and the community of believers: the Church. They are our team. United with them, we compete, we strengthen our teammates and we cheer on our team.” – Father Mike Werkhoven
Religion is the organized practice of worshiping a supreme divine being, no matter what your faith is. Christianity believes that religion is the answer to an invitation to take part in the divine life, a relationship with God and that each one of us is called to that “Communion.”
Isn’t that what sports are? An invitation to use the talents that God has given us to better our life and build up the world around us. Whether it is as an individual or a team, we have a desire to win, because we desire to be the best we can be. As St. Paul says, “We run the race to win it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Religion is competing on a spiritual scale, competing with the help of God and the Church, so that good will win out over evil and so that we will achieve the victory we all truly desire: a victory of life over death and an imperishable crown of eternal glory.
To be honest, we compete to win glory, to win praise, to be adored and to be loved. That is our goal and that is what God offers. Christianity unites us with God and the community of believers: the Church. They are our team. United with them, we compete, we strengthen our teammates and we cheer on our team. May that love and unity we share win us the victory we desire.
Father Mike Werkhoven
Church of the Incarnation