In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we have entered the time of year when we can celebrate the true joy of the Easter season and with renewed excitement watch some of our favourite athletes start growing their playoff beards.
Toronto's Maple Leafs and Raptors are both set for the first round of the NHL and NBA playoffs and, as you'd expect, hopes are high for the hometown fans. Both teams enter the post-season with solid seasons behind them, healthy star players and high expectations that they will fall firmly in the mix after the initial rounds are over.
The Leafs and Raptors have fan support behind them and the perennial question has surfaced again this year: Shouldn't we add the weight of our prayers to the effort? Is it OK to pray for our teams to win?
It should be a surprise to no one that faith has a prominent presence in sport. Hundreds of players in many different sports have symbols of their faith tattooed on their skin for us all to see. Teams often pray before a game and the Lord is often given first credits when the star of the game is interviewed post-win. And, front and centre in this year's March Madness NCAA tournament was the loveable 98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
At its best, sport is a celebration of our creation (remember that our human bodies are 70 per cent water the next time you see a rim-rocking dunk or a clean bone-rattling body check), of our God-given talents and the call to excellence in all we do. Athletes often show us the best of ourselves as a society through excellent performance, friendly-yet-competitive behaviour during the game and kindness and generosity outside the arena. Barriers and boundaries are broken down through sport to strengthen us as a community.
You need to look no further than the overwhelming international reaction to the Saskatchewan bus crash that took the lives of 16 people associated with the Humboldt Broncos hockey team to see how sport connects us. While they begin in sport, those connections are seldom isolated to the sport itself – we are called to demonstrate our faith in all aspects of our lives; on the ice, on the court and throughout our day. Sport brought the Broncos family together. And the connection through hockey has increased the attention this tragedy has received. But the thoughts and condolences that have been sent to those involved have little to do with any actions on the rink. We pray for peace for the souls of those young athletes and the others who died, for solace for their families and friends, and for the recovery for those injured and healing.
With such sombre prayers in mind, is it OK to pray for the Raptors and Leafs to win? Church teachings suggest we can, in a way. The Book of Blessings includes a prayer before an athletic event (Thanks for the tip Jimmy Akin [http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/revealed-the-churchs-official-prayer-for-sports-events]):
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.
So, the suggestion is that we pray for the athletes to do the best to their abilities, that they are kept safe and that they are good examples for us all in competition. Really, as we know we have two of the most talented rosters in their respective leagues, that would be enough on its own.
May the best Maple Leafs and Raptors teams win!