Anima sana in corpore sano! For centuries connections between the body, mind and soul have been made. A sound mind and body lay conditions for the soul to flourish because the human person is a person through his or her body and soul. “Sport”, says St John Paul II (1987), “reveals … the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit.”
Every week the Dolphins meet for a game of football, and two or three times a term we play a match with a team from within the city or beyond in London or Oxford. We have good fun running around after the week’s work, competing, rivalling, and celebrating team goals: we have a chance to regenerate. That’s already a lot, but is that all?
In coming together as athletes, in coming together for the ‘beautiful game’, we want it to be exactly that – a beautiful game. Because what we learn on the pitch about ourselves and in being together with others, as teammates or in opposition, is a reflection of the ‘beautiful game’ we want to make of our lives.
There are virtues that are indispensable to being a good athlete and being a good competitor, in their full sense, and these can be keys to the full Christian life we desire to live. We meet, as the Dolphins, because we know that the faith we fight for can inform what we fight for on the pitch, and what we discover on the pitch can help us live our faith. We want to get to know Christ through getting to know ourselves and building our character on the pitch, and in our encounter with our teammates. We know that the Gospel can transform the game we play!
Addressing the Barcelona Football Club, St John Paul II (1999) said that in football: “it is necessary to promote a strong will, patience, endurance, balance, simplicity, a spirit of sacrifice and self-control, basic elements of every sporting effort, that determine the success and class of the athlete” and that sport “very often also requires a good team spirit, a respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one’s own limitations” (2004).
Our Christian virtues develop when “these values are assumed with interior conviction and are encouraged with the love of Christ” (St John Paul II, 1999).
Striving to live the Christian life requires a commitment – this commitment is the beginning of the whole adventure of living life with Christ. A commitment like this often requires effort, the kind of effort we put in to get to the end of a football training or match, but it is through the effort that we can taste real joy. When we make an effort, small or big, we are training ourselves. And this sets us up for ‘competing well’ (2 Timothy 4) and ‘running the good race’, the race that St Paul the Apostle alludes to, of our lives in faith. Sport, understood and realised in this way, can be a means in building and fortifying our spiritual character. Sport teaches us determination, moving towards a goal with purpose while being ready to make sacrifices, having faith to overcome obstacles. And it prepares us because “Christian life is like a rather demanding sport” (St John Paul II, 1990).
Sport, then, can be a means to train to become the “surfers of Love” that Pope Francis encouraged us to be at the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon. In the way that we let it shape our characters, it can prepare us to “keep riding the waves of love and of charity” because with “each wave of goodness…you will be carried higher, closer to God” (Pope Francis, 2023).
May our Patron Saint of the Dolphins, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, intercede for us that we do not lapse from ‘running the good race’, from “running in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9), and making of our lives (and every minute we spend ‘playing as Dolphins) a ‘beautiful game.’