Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, “A Triumph and a Tragedy,” is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine, and a weekly guest on “Catholic Answers Live.”
He’s not Catholic, but Tim Tebow has generated a lot of controversy by publicly praying at sporting events. Even I know that, and I know nothing about sports.
Praying at sporting events has been around for a long time. I remember being incredulous when I first heard about it, years and years ago (possibly even before I was Christian). I was assuming, as do many people, that the athletes were praying for victory, asking God to take the side of their sports team, which is preposterous.
But a new light was cast on it when I learned that many of those praying were not asking for victory but that all would play well and safely, that nobody would get hurt.
As Emily Litella would say, “Well! That’s different!”
I don’t know whether Tim Tebow has shared what he prays for at sporting events. Sorry; it’s that whole “I don’t know about sports” thing. But I do happen to know a good bit about the Church, and I happen to know something that sheds a good bit of light on what a Catholic might want to think regarding praying at sporting events.
It is this: The Church has an official blessing for athletic events.
It’s found in the Roman Ritual (an official book of Church rituals, as the name suggests), and it is published in English in the Book of Blessings (you can find it on pages 437-438 of the current edition).
The introduction to it explains:
1024 This blessing is intended for those who participate in an athletic event. The blessing asks that God may protect the athletes from injury and that throughout the event they may show respect for one another.
1025 The blessing may be given by a priest, deacon, or lay minister.
The blessing includes an athletically-themed Scripture reading (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and a prayer over the athletes.
According to the text:
1029 A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched over the athletes; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined.
Here is the actual text of the prayer:
Strong and faithful God,
as we come together for this contest,
we ask you to bless these athletes.
Keep them safe from injury and harm,
instill in them respect for each other,
and reward them for their perseverance.
Lead us all to the rewards of your kingdom
where you live and reign for ever and ever.
Non-sports fan though I am, I could imagine the prayer going even further, by asking God to help the athletes glorify him by doing their best in the contest, but this still sheds light on what a Catholic might think about praying at sporting events. It acknowledges that prayer at such events is legitimate, and it gives an example of the kind of prayer that is appropriate.
As always, official prayers of blessing do not preclude individual, private prayers like those Tim Tebow is conducting. They are fine, too, provided their content is worthy.
Regardless of whether you personally are a sports fan or not . . .
What do you think?