Catholic Register Editorial

Catholic Register Editorial

The Catholic Register's editorial is published in the print and digital editions every week. Read the current and past editorials below.

July 25, 2012

Virtue of sport

Blessed John Paul II, an avid sportsman in his youth, once lauded the moral value of sports. “They are a training ground of virtue,” he said.

His wisdom is worth contemplating during a busy summer that, in addition to the usual menu of baseball, football, tennis, golf, etc., offers the Olympic Summer Games in London, England.

Unfortunately, virtue can sometimes be difficult to find in modern sport. Multi-million-dollar professional salaries, bloated  TV ratings and lucrative endorsements frequently breed a cult of celebrity that often spawns immoral behaviour both on and off the playing field.

The Olympics are supposed to represent sport in its purest form but, even if that was once the case, that purity has been compromised. Commercialism is rampant and, in many glamour sports, the financial stakes are high. Organizers in London will spend millions of dollars on drug testing and it will be a shock if they fail to expose some cheaters.

But those inevitable incidents shouldn’t detract from the overall celebration of virtue that Pope John Paul II believed was the essence of sport.

John Paul II was affectionately known as the “athlete pope.” As a student he was a runner and soccer player and later became an ardent swimmer, skier and hiker. He believed that sport, in its pure form, could provide an arena for evangelization because the attributes required to become a champion — sacrifice, passion, obedience, discipline — were similar in many respects to those required to become a saint.

Sportsmanship, as an ideal, is all about character. It’s about humility, honesty, loyalty, respect and generosity. It is not a quest for perfection but, like a faith journey, is a quest for virtue. There will be moments of temptation and times of failure but the true sportsman, like the faithful person, will acknowledge setbacks with integrity and strive to become better.

John Paul II once said the Church values sport because it advances the complete development of the body and soul and contributes to the advancement of a more human society. He believed the virtues evident in true sport could cultivate harmony among cultures and peace among nations.

“Sports have, in themselves, an important moral and educative significance,” said John Paul II. “They are a training ground of virtue, a school of inner balance and outer control, an introduction to more true and lasting conquests.”

He called sport a gift from God to mankind. And like the late pope, the 19th-century founders of the modern Olympics believed in sport as a training ground of virtue.

That noble ideal may have taken a beating over the past century, but the pursuit of virtue is still worth championing and, when it bubbles to the surface in a young athlete, well worth celebrating.

At first glance, the appointment of Julian Fantino to replace Bev Oda as Canada’s Minister of International Co-operation seems an odd choice.

Fantino inherits responsibility for overseeing a $5-billion aid budget co-ordinated through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Becoming the public face of Canadian charity is a big leap for someone best known as a hard-nosed cop who, if he has a soft side, keeps it well hidden.

Then again, Fantino may be exactly what CIDA needs.

Canada Day is a time to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as Canadians. Few nations are so fundamentally committed to freedom, democracy and peace. These common values are the building blocks of a society of unparalleled diversity and tolerance that, while still a work in progress, deserves a national celebration.

But we shouldn’t allow the fireworks to divert our attention from a troubling trend. A belligerent secularism has a hold on popular culture and is causing a re-interpretation, if not a re-definition, of two fundamental Canadian rights — freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

And so it begins.

The B.C. Supreme Court has overruled Parliament to decree it lawful for a doctor to kill Gloria Taylor. Canada’s first legal physician-assisted suicide will occur when (and if) Taylor decides to proceed, despite Criminal Code statutes forbidding assisted suicide and valid concerns that Canada is on a slippery slope towards indiscriminate euthanasia.

According to the legal logic of Madam Justice Lynn Smith, a disabled person’s constitutional rights must include an equal opportunity to commit suicide. Suicide is legal in Canada but aiding suicide is not. But when illness or disability makes someone physically incapable of killing themselves, they deserve a helping hand,  Smith ruled.

The Ontario government’s so-called anti-bullying legislation, Bill-13, is a failure of lawmaking.

It mocks religious freedom and disrespects parental rights. It undermines the authority of elected trustees and school principals by giving veto power to children and teens with respect to some after-school clubs. It awards special status to certain types of bullying rather than uniformly attacking bullying in all its forms.

Dalton McGuinty may not trust high school students to make smart choices about what to eat for lunch but he believes they are mature enough to overrule parents, principals and trustees on serious matters pertaining to sexuality and bullying.

At noon McGuinty insists adults must impose healthy food on kids in cafeterias. But if those same teenagers, who could be as young as 13, meet after school to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity and bullying, McGuinty will let them impose their will on their adult supervisors.

Welcome to the bizarre world of Ontario education, where vegetables may be mandatory but respect for religious tolerance and diversity is optional.

Canada joined the war in Afghanistan in 2002 for just reasons but now it’s time to bring the troops home. So Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the right call in finally ending Canada’s physical engagement in that war-weary nation.  

Actually, it was overdue. Canadian troops still in Afghanistan on training assignments, about 900 of them, will all be home by March 2014, despite neither the surrender nor defeat of the Taliban.

Compared to most other larger, richer NATO allies, Canada contributed more than its fair share in lives and resources to the cause of the beleaguered Afghans. But exiting a war is more difficult than entering one.

Cardinal Thomas Collins is puzzled and troubled by the Ontario government's reversal on a key aspect of Bill-13 but says it's premature to speculate on a court challenge to keep gay-straight alliances out of Catholic high schools.

Collins responded on May 28 to Education Minister Laurel Broten's announcement three days earlier that the government's anti-bullying Bill-13 will be amended to prevent Catholic school boards from blocking clubs called gay-straight alliances (GSAs). Under the amended legislation, the naming of such clubs will be solely up to students. Previously, the bill said clubs that deal with sexual orientation and gender issues could be called a gay-straight alliance "or another name."

Canada’s bishops have called on Catholics to become courageous defenders of freedom of conscience and religion.  They call these rights inalienable, universal and precious, and urge Canadians to profess and safeguard them with the steadfast fidelity of Thomas More.

Their message needs to be heard and heeded.

Speaking recently about priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI said a priest must not ask what he can gain for himself but ask what he can give back to Christ and others. That sentiment, if not those very words, will be evident this week as St. Peter’s Seminary celebrates its 100th anniversary.

It has been a century of forming men to follow faithfully and selflessly in the footsteps of the first disciples. By their work in parishes and missions across Canada and throughout the world, graduates of St. Peter’s in London, Ont., have helped write the history of the modern Church in Canada.