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Bruise-free ministry

  • 01 July 2024
  The term ‘bruise-free football’ sometimes comes up in sports commentary. It’s generally used in a derogatory sense, to describe players who are afraid to go in hard to win the ball. Implied in the term is the idea that if you want to win you can’t have a timid mindset; you need to be willing put yourself at risk.

Last month, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a pastoral statement on religion and sport, titled ‘Open the Way to Christ’. I was interested to read the document. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so many years seeking to build bridges between faith and daily life in Australian Catholics, but I’m always encouraged by Church initiatives that try to connect with people in new ways.

One of the things I look for in these initiatives is how much they go along with contemporary attitudes, and how much they seek to engage in some of the more difficult aspects of society. An initiative that engages with only of what’s ‘good’ about life (whether it’s sport, or work, or family life) might be encouraging, but it’s unlikely to bring solace to those suffering or inspire change for the better. To use the above analogy, it’s ‘bruise-free ministry’.

Unfortunately, I had a mixed response to ‘Open the Way to Christ’. In saying that, I should acknowledge two things: Firstly, the document points to the bishops 2014-15 Social Justice Statement which explores justice issues related in sport in depth, and notes that it needs to be read in conjunction with that statement. Secondly, the document does touch on several helpful points for those involved in sports.

What the statement does well is commend sport’s ability to promote growth in individuals and foster healthy communities. It highlights values sports fosters such as humility, justice and fortitude. It offers caution around the effects of ‘win at all costs’ approaches, and notes issues such as the commodification of sport and the exclusion of vulnerable groups. It also offers some considerations around the importance of sportsmanship, refraining from verbal abuse, and accepting outcomes with graciousness. It ends by encouraging Catholics to consider more deeply how they might engage with sport, either formally as chaplains, or as volunteers and members of sporting communities. These are helpful topics.  

However, if sport is to be a field of mission, as the statement says, I wonder if we need to more willing to dive into those places where the bruises