Just a few days ago Katy Perry released the video for her Olympics song “Rise.” An anthem of overcoming and obtaining victory, the song also has spiritual metaphors running throughout.
And it’s no surprise; athletic metaphors are as old as Christianity. In the New Testament we are called to run the race with perseverance (Heb 12:1) and to fight the good the fight (2 Tim 4:7).
But athleticism goes beyond a metaphor, a convenient tool for teaching the faith. The Church has long recognized the value of sports, particularly in the formation of the human person and in working for peace.
John Paul II, himself an athlete, was especially outspoken on the subject: “Athletic competition develops some of the noblest qualities and talents in people. They must learn the secret of their own bodies, their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and breaking points. They must develop the capacity to concentrate and the habit of self-discipline through long hours of exercise and fatigue as they learn to take account of their own strength. They must also learn how to preserve energy for the final moment when victory will depend upon a burst of speed or a last push of strength.”
Thus it is likewise no surprise we are seeing stories pop up in our newsfeed of the strong Catholic faith of some of the top Olympic athletes: Simone Biles, the gymnast who is busy seeking gold but still manages to make Mass(…and pray her rosary, too!); and Katie Ledecky, labeled by some as the most dominant swimmer on Earth, who prays a Hail Mary before each race and says her faith helps her “put things in perspective.”
These athletes have a great task ahead of them, on an off the field, court, mat, and wherever their sports take them, thus we pray for them with the words of John Paul II:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul…May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize; an imperishable crown that lasts forever.”