I sat through the Duke vs. UVA men’s basketball game yesterday and could barely breathe. The second half in particular was a back and forth affair that was so close, so tight, that it was almost hard to enjoy. But a great game is always enjoyable even when my team comes out on the wrong side of the score. Seeing competitors going back and forth as they push themselves to the edges of their capacity is exhilarating. I wonder if we are willing to examine the areas of our lives that have yet to experience that kind of energy. Maybe we even need to look at the areas of our lives that we’d simply prefer not to speak about. Nature abhors a vacuum. Where we aren’t excelling at our highest level, we are prone to fall backward – that is not a recipe for winning in life or on the court. Maybe those are the issues we need to reflect on more regularly.
Failure to speak about difficult issues has claimed yet more victims. This past week has seen the tragic events of abuse that have taken such a toll at Michigan State University. The pain that has been caused by the actions of a few and the failure of others to address it well is sadly not an untold story. The Catholic Church and her victims are still experiencing the effects of abuse that have so changed the lives of so many. Righteous indignation, encouraging victims to speak, and calling for those in authority to accountability on our part is a help. But it is an incomplete response. The experience of high caliber athletes, college basketball players and gymnasts alike, is instructive – they push themselves in areas where others don’t in order to excel. How can we examine the give and take of life, being played out at a rapid pace, to see the areas of our lives that are sliding down the slow and barely perceptible slope of ruin. Ruin that harms not only our lives, but often the lives of those around us.
Much the same way that good athletes are wise not to place a limit on the heights of their accomplishments, so too all of humanity is wise not to place limits on the depths of our depravity. This may seem a rather pessimistic view of human nature, but the opposite sight through rose-colored glasses can be what creates environments where people permit themselves and others to do horrible things. The tragedy of abuse in all its forms is exacerbated when any of us imagines ourselves not capable of doing something so grave. Rather, we should all pray “there but for the grace of God go I” and examine the areas of our lives that are weak and potentially prey to the slow but precipitous decline in our moral fiber. All of us are capable of being abusers or those in authority who look the other way. To think otherwise is naïve and contributes to an unsafe environment for all.
College athletics teaches us excellence. It shows us where we can excel in ways that we would have never imagined. May we not see the abuses that have taken place as a referendum on sport. Rather may we see athletic competition as a Spirit filled expression of the capacity of the human person. That we are capable with God’s grace of transcending our human weakness to reach unimaginable heights. And each time we see a gymnast stick a landing or a basketball player dive for a loose ball, may we be reminded that only practice makes perfect. May we be fearless in pointing a bright light upon our darker side and explore practices that can help us to grow into greatness even there. Only then will we each be committed to a life where abuse has no place.
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