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Sports Talent

May 26, 2022 6 min read
By Dr. Luis Fernando Aragón-Vargas Professor of Human Movement Science, University of Costa Rica
A sprinter on the blocks

This article is the first in a series of nine on The Christian Athlete, authored by Dr. Luis Fernando Aragón-Vargas, professor of human movement science in the School of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Costa Rica.


From a very young age, you have probably been pushed to refine your talents and be successful in your pursuits. If you were raised in a Christian family, as I was, you were also probably told that your talents had been given to you by God as gifts and that it was your responsibility to use them well, for good and not for evil. Such gifts include your intelligence, your artistic abilities, your interpersonal skills, and of course your physical abilities: your athletic talents.

The “Parable of the Talents,” found in Matthew’s gospel, presents an excellent challenge for us. Although it refers to the currency known as a Talent (equivalent to six thousand days— or 24 years—of work), it may well be applied to the talents (skills, abilities) we have received from God. You remember how it goes. A man going on a journey entrusts his property to his servants. He gives each of the servants a different portion and heads out of town. The story then picks up:

After a long period of time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing an additional five. “Master, he said, you gave me five talents. Behold, I have gained five more. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful in small matters, I will give you much greater responsibilities. Come and share your master’s joy. Next, the one who had received the two talents also came forward and said, Master, you gave me two talents. Behold, I have gained two more. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you have been faithful in small matters, I will give you much greater responsibilities. Come and share your master’s joy. Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, Master, I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed. Therefore, out of fear I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Behold, I give it back to you. His master replied, You wicked and lazy servant. So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered! Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have gotten back my money with interest. Therefore, take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he does have will be taken away. As for this worthless servant, cast him outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14-30).
Given that the talents in the story can apply to physical abilities, how do athletes use their talents well? By glorifying God in their bodies. According to Pope Pius XII, “athletes should glorify God and seek God in their own body, a temple of the Holy Spirit. The same way the Psalms talk about praising God in the dedicated temple, so athletes should treat their own bodies in a virtuous way, because it is there that the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell.”

More recently, we have another papal statement focusing more on the type of sports we should practice, but nevertheless emphasizing the idea of the body at the service of the spirit. This is from John Paul II, speaking to a group at a water-skiing exposition:

The Church appreciates and respects those sports which are truly worthy of the human person. That is the case when they favor an ordered, harmonious development of the body at the service of the spirit, when they represent an intelligent and formative competition, stimulating interest and enthusiasm, and when they become a source of pleasant relaxation.
Yes, the body is indeed the temple of the Holy Spirit, and God must be glorified in the body: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is a very potent idea: that we worship God with our bodies, through sports, as a way to use our talents.

But can participating in athletics really be a form of worship? The word worship is often used in the Bible with a restricted meaning, related to service and bowing down. In order to please God, worship must meet several requirements: it must reflect a life dedicated to obedience and the service of God (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Micah 6:6-8). The worshipper must live in holiness (cf. Psalm 15) and must be a just person (Isaiah 1:11-17). The Old Testament is full of prescriptions for acceptable worship. Furthermore, the New Testament states that there is one way to worship God: in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). It seems a bit of a stretch, therefore, to try to fit any sports competition, and sports success in particular, into the category of worship. Perhaps celebration would be a more appropriate description for all that happens around athletic competition. Meanwhile, Christian athletes must remember that honoring God with their athletic talents involves serving him in obedience, living in holiness and justice, and worshipping in spirit and truth.

I can think of one good example in this respect: Gino Bartali, the Catholic Italian cyclist from the 1930s and 40s. Using his athletic talents, he helped to save many Jews during World War II, but very few people knew about it until he shared his story with his son Andrea several decades later. When asked about why he had kept it secret, he declared: “The good must be done, not said. And some medals are meant to be hung upon the soul, not on the jacket.”

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God(1 Corinthians 10:31).


To view the complete series with full citations as hosted by the University of Costa Rica, click here.

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