Sometimes in the American Catholic world, there unfortunately can exist a certain attitude that is suspicious of leisurely activity, even of the most wholesome sort. This suspicion often rears its ugly head in the form of virulent opposition to competitive sports. The games, the argument goes, only distract us from what is really important. At the heart of this view is the notion that the difficult and the good are coterminous. If I'm having fun, therefore, there must be something wrong with what I am doing.
For those faced with this Puritanical opposition to sport during this greatest of sporting weeks, we present the philosophical work in defense of sports of the great Father James V. Schall, S.J., Professor of Government at Georgetown University and long-time sports fan.
Father Schall's reflections on the place of play - both as an activity and as a spectacle - are a must-read for anyone who hopes to be both a serious disciple of Jesus Christ and a serious sports fan. In his famous essay on the matter, "The Seriousness of Sports," found in his masterful work on liberal education, Another Sort of Learning, Schall writes:
Thus, in our fascination at watching a game, in reading about one, we have at least one example of something that clearly need not exist, but which, when it does, fascinates us. Games are not necessary. They are not for something else, like exercise. Can we not wonder on this basis, then, whether perhaps the higher, more serious things, such as the players themselves, also need not have existed, but when they do, they consume our attention, because of the stakes, the risk? Since we can cheat and fail, we know that in the highest things we are serious, as Aristotle seemed to have implied.
Sports are not the most serious thing in our lives. To treat them as such ruins their delightful character. Or, we might say, only when the first things are first, can the second (and beyond) things be second. Then, and only then, can sports be appreciated according their own proper nature. Father Schall concludes his essay with a similar line of thought:
Here, in a way, we near what is best in ourselves, for we are spectators not for any selfish reason, not for anything we might get out of the game, money or exercise or glory, but just because the game is there and we lose ourselves in its playing, either as players or spectators. This not only should remind us that we are not sufficient unto ourselves, but that what is higher than we are, what is ultimately serious, is itself fascinating and joyful.