Over a lifetime, work is the single most energy- and time-consuming pursuit of most adults today, for both men and women. Work, whether paid or unpaid, is also a source of identity, community, creativity and meaning for many. The phrase meaningful work has been used to describe socially redemptive jobs like social work, church work and health care, as well as government, science and engineering jobs that attempt to solve social problems. But the term can be misleading. For honest work itself has meanings that go beyond the economic necessity to support oneself, one’s family and the local economy. Work develops and hones skills, builds character, frames time and sets up a public rhythm. Work challenges assumptions and faith.Naturally, I looked to see if one of the profiles included a statement from a professional athlete. Obviously, I am fascinated by the relationship between faith and athletics. To be a recreational athlete is one thing; to do it professionally to support one’s livelihood is another.
How, exactly, does work intersect with faith? The particularities may depend on the work itself. We have asked practicing Catholics across a variety of fields to describe briefly how they regard their faith and their work when they consider them together. What is the interplay between the two? In what ways has their faith influenced their work—perhaps strengthened certain decisions they have made, governed relationships with clients or co-workers, been instrumental in their very choice of what work to do, given them tenacity and hope, shaped their positive view of the work they do? Just as important is this twin consideration: In what ways has their work influenced their faith—perhaps caused them to understand some particular tenet, sparked certain questions or reflections, enabled them to see in their very own lives some contemporary application of biblical truths or ancient Christian wisdom?
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a parent who is a professional athlete since the time I completed my application for the University of Notre Dame. It required me to list my parents’ names and professions. I thought about what my parents did and what some other students might write. I wondered “do Joe Montana’s children write: “Four-time Superbowl Champion,” “NFL Football Player” or “Greatest Quarterback in the modern game?” When I graduated from ND, an alumni survey asked me to indicate my profession. One of the options from the drop down menu was “professional athlete.” I realized how that is a legitimate option for people—not a fantasy.
Unfortunately for my reading pleasure, America did not profile a professional athlete. But the people it did feature had some thoughtful input in the realm of business, politics, not-for-profit organizations, media and medicine.
I stared to think rather than “work” to what degree could we ask the same questions about athletics. Undoubtedly sports are a significant “energy-and time-consuming pursuit of most adults today.” One of the reasons I stopped running marathons was because of the sheer time commitment involved in training for the 26.2-mile venture. Conversely, a significant reason I believe I ought to pursue golf is because as teacher, I have the time in the summer to hit the links.Sports “is also a source of identity, community, creativity and meaning for many.” If it weren’t for the community that cross-country provides, I’m not sure why anyone, unless he or she is a glutton for pain, would join our team. Furthermore, I have come to know and love my students in a much different way through their identity as a basketball player, a rower or swimmer. Athletics “develops and hones skills, builds character, frames time and sets up a public rhythm.” The school where I teach encourages teachers to coach because we know that sports are fertile ground for instilling virtue. John Paul II said “Sports are the true school of human virtue.
I think America magazine’s piece offers questions for all of us to consider not only in work but in athletics as well. After all, that’s’ what vocation is about. What am I called to do? Who am I called to be? Vocation demands a response to both. So do work and sports.
Catholics at Work
Catholic Community of Sports