Athletes Encounter Christ Through Helping Others - A Spiritual Reflection


Over the past few weeks, I have been delving into Pope Francis’ “Letter To Cardinal Marc Ouellet” (President Of The Pontifical Commission For Latin America) after the Holy Father met with the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Pope was musing on a phenomenon he calls “clericalism.” This issue has plagued the church, in one form or another, since the beginning of the Church. Pope Francis pointed out some unfortunate characteristics of the “latest version.” First, priests are doing tasks that are better suited for the laity. In such cases the tasks are being performed by clergy who own less talent that their lay counter parts. This leads to lower quality of work. The other issue is that when the priests “stand up” to do the work, the laity “sit down.” Second, priests deny the “People of God“ their rightful opportunity to exercise their “baptismal call” which is to perform quality work in all spheres of human endeavor. Finally, this denies the laity a chance to evangelize through their work. When God’s People perform activities of high quality with a sense of duty and love, this acts as a witness to others about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The Pope points out that too many people have a narrow idea of what it means to “work for the Church.” He writes,

Often we have given in to the temptation of thinking that committed lay people are those dedicated to the works of the Church and/or the matters of the parish or the diocese, and we have reflected little on how to accompany baptized people in their public and daily life; on how in their daily activities, with the responsibilities they have, they are committed as Christians in public life. Therefore we must recognize that lay people need new forms of organization and of celebration of the faith.

A more positive approach would be what Pope Francis calls ”Inculturation.” He writes that,

“This challenges us to imagine innovative spaces and possibilities for prayer and communion which are more attractive and meaningful.” As St. Ignatius would say, “in line with the necessities of place, time and person”. In other words, not uniformly. We cannot give general directives in order to organize the People of God within its public life. Inculturation is a process that we pastors are called to inspire, encouraging people to live their faith where and with whom they are. Inculturation is learning to discover how a determinate portion of the people today, in the historical here and now, live, celebrate and proclaim their faith. With a particular identity and on the basis of the problems that must be faced, as well as with all the reasons they have to rejoice. Inculturation is the work of artisans and not of a factory with a production line dedicated to “manufacturing Christian worlds or spaces”.

Last week I wrote how “your” Philadelphia Eagles are providing a model of “Encountering Christ through Scripture.” Another emphasis of the Parish of St. Monica is ”Encountering Christ Through Reaching Out and Helping Others.“ Here, Pope Francis’ call described above is being answered by “The Birds” in creative ways.

Meg Storm, writer for, wrote a moving piece on The Incredible Story Behind Eagles QB Carson Wentz’s Bracelet. The story involved Lukas Kusters, who sadly succumbed to stomach cancer in June. This was just weeks after meeting his idol Wentz through the Make-A-wish foundation. As Meg’s story recounted, “ Eagle-eyed Eagle fans may have noticed their MVP candidate-quarterback sporting a gray rubber bracelet with the words “Dutch Destroyer” stamped on it this season. The bracelet was a gift from Lukas (who is of Dutch descent) who earned the nickname while tearing up youth football for years. The courage of Lukas clearly inspired Wentz and the story of the two athletes - one young and one younger - was featured in an original report on ESPN video.

An article in the Washington Post: In a Tough Sports Town, Baptisms and Bible Studies Fuel Many of the Eagles’ Stars recounts another creative way Carson Wentz is combining his “job” modern media to evangelize. Before the Super Bowl, Wentz went to social media to say, “If you are a pastor anywhere in the world who is looking to impact the people in your community, please consider inviting me and other NFL players into your church on Super Bowl weekend.” Wentz is referencing his appearance, and that of Nick Foals and several other NFL players in promotional videos for “Football Sunday,” a national faith-based outreach effort. Steve Stenstrom, a former NFL quarterback, runs Pro Athletes Outreach, which sponsors Football Sunday and The Increase – a website where pro athletes talk about faith.

Pope Francis write that, “Lay people are part of the faithful Holy People of God and thus are the protagonists of the Church and of the world.” The Philadelphia Eagles and other NFL players are demonstrating what it means to be that “protagonist of the Church and of the world.”


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