Frs. Mike Walker, Theodore Lange, Don Gutmann and Lucas Laborde pose with their boards during a 2017 surfing excursion along Oregon’s central coast. Each year a group of priests from the Archdiocese of Portland surfs together when gathered for the Convocation of Priests, an annual event with continuing education sessions held in Newport each fall. “I’d love to surf with Jesus because there would be no fear of sharks,” said Fr. Jeff Eirvin, part of the surfer-priest posse. (Courtesy Fr. Jeff Eirvin)
Frs. Mike Walker, Theodore Lange, Don Gutmann and Lucas Laborde pose with their boards during a 2017 surfing excursion along Oregon’s central coast. Each year a group of priests from the Archdiocese of Portland surfs together when gathered for the Convocation of Priests, an annual event with continuing education sessions held in Newport each fall. “I’d love to surf with Jesus because there would be no fear of sharks,” said Fr. Jeff Eirvin, part of the surfer-priest posse. (Courtesy Fr. Jeff Eirvin)

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall never use foul language when a ref makes a crummy call or fake the number of laps you run at track practice.”

OK, maybe those aren’t Jesus’ exact words. But we know he commends self-control, hard work, good sportsmanship and other qualities possessed by athletes strong in body and soul. And if God Incarnate decided to dwell among us in the 21st century, it’s not hard to imagine he’d dribble down a basketball court or sprint across a soccer field. Our Lord evangelizes in creative ways, after all.

But what sport would Jesus like best?

Using highly unscientific methods, the Sentinel found the majority of western Oregon Catholics believe the Son of God would favor a team sport. Basketball inched toward the top of the list, with soccer, baseball and volleyball getting shoutouts. In the solo-sport category, track, golf, snowboarding and surfing were contenders.

Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard, feels confident Jesus would appreciate all CYO offerings.

Yet Jesus liked “to shake it up a little, engage in conflict and have deep, meaningful conversations with people,” said the St. Mary of Oregon sister. He’d enjoy track and field and swimming, “but they are calm, gentle sports with very little conflict.”

She could see Jesus playing volleyball and enjoying the athleticism and precision of jumping, spiking and setting the ball. “There again, not enough conflict,” said Sister Krista.

Her conclusion: Jesus would like basketball best.

“The running, jumping, shooting, guarding, and offensive and defensive strategies would play to his strengths,” she said. Plus good sportsmanship juxtaposed with the conflicts that erupt would give Jesus “a depth of opportunities to engage.”

“His real enjoyment with basketball,” she added, “would come in engaging the youths who participate with words of encouragement and love.”

Bennett Waage and Gabby Healy are themselves CYO athletes. The sixth grade classmates at St. Rose School in Northeast Portland play volleyball and basketball and love dance, as well.

Gabby agreed with Sr. Krista that Jesus would be most drawn to basketball “because you have to really work together to do well,” she said. You also get to spend time with friends, which she thinks Christ — who traveled with his disciples — would find appealing.

Ever ready to embrace challenges, Jesus would also enjoy golf because it requires extreme patience and hard work, added Bennett.

Mike Hughes, athletic director at Jesuit High School in Southwest Portland, was among those who resisted singling out one sport for Jesus.

It depends what qualities a coach draws forth from his players, but the most inherently virtue-forming sports — thus the most pleasing to Jesus — are those in which athletes must “swallow their pride and act in ways that are best for their teammates, for the common good,” said Hughes, a former Jesuit High and collegiate athlete and a longtime theology teacher.

“If you look at a bench of a winning team, in basketball, for example, you’ll see a group of guys or women during timeout sprinting out of the chairs to hug and congratulate those who’ve been going hard on the court,” Hughes said.

“There are only seven or eight players in the regular rotation; the others rarely get to play, but they can make or break a team with their enthusiasm during games, their hard work during practice.”

Father Jeff Eirvin, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Portland, said the reason Jesus would gravitate toward team sports is there’s “a coming together in fraternity and an opportunity to build bonds with one another.” There’s also the chance to be competitive, which need not be a bad thing, said the priest.

“I think Jesus had a competitive nature, in a good way, and sports are a chance to be competitive and have fun.”

Father Eirvin grew up playing a slew of sports but has a special affinity for soccer. While a seminarian in Rome he participated in the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament with teams of men from seminaries in the Eternal City. His team took the cup two years in a row.

The competition is put on by the Vatican, “showing that it sees the value of sport and exercise, that we are body and soul, and sports can glorify God through our bodies,” said Father Eirvin.

When pressed, the priest said Jesus might like soccer best.

“It’s a contact sport but not as much real contact as in football or hockey,” he said. “Athleticism is needed, and you can’t just be the best player on the team — you must use the skills of teammates and build upon those. It takes everyone to win.”

Jesus probably would not be a fan of sports like ultimate fighting or those with a “real chance of someone getting seriously hurt,” added Father Eirvin.

The priest encourages seminarians to make physical fitness a priority, and he now stays in shape walking, hiking, jogging and occasionally snowboarding and surfing.

“Surfing is a unique sport in that you are utterly reliant on Mother Nature,” he said. “You cannot control the waves and their power.” Though it might not be his top pick, he thinks Jesus would enjoy surfing “because of this abandonment to his own creation.”

“There is something beautiful about being out in the ocean alone beyond the breaking waves; it’s peaceful,” said Father Eirvin. “And I’d love to surf with Jesus because there would be no fear of sharks.”

Deacon Dustin Busse, in his pastoral year at Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, was raised in an outdoorsy family and has played many team sports. He’s also an avid snowboarder and often joins Father Eirvin on the slopes.



Deacon Dustin Busse, a skilled snowboarder, visited this Marian chapel in Austria last year. (Courtesy Deacon Dustin Busse)

While studying in Rome last year, he spent Christmas break on a pilgrimage/snowboarding trip to Engelberg, Switzerland. There he and fellow seminarians stayed with the Benedictine monks. In 1882, monks from Engelberg founded Oregon’s Mount Angel Abbey.

While snowboarding is not a form of prayer, “I can give thanks to God for the beauty of the environment, the opportunity to take time for leisure,” Deacon Busse said.

When it comes to an ideal sport for Jesus, however, the deacon considers soccer and baseball strong choices.

“Sports that build up virtues such as teamwork and comradery can be a training ground for our ultimate end of living a Christian life — as long as we don’t make the sport an idol,” he said.

The transitional deacon also pondered what athletic endeavors Jesus could have performed during his actual dates on earth.

“Every Jewish boy probably wanted to be like King David,” said Deacon Busse. “He could’ve played with slings, engaged in target practice or used a bow or spear. We know he felt comfortable out at sea, so maybe he could’ve been a crew captain.”

Among those who believe Jesus would opt for a solo sport was Isaac Forquer, a CYO track and field coach at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton.

To excel at the 400-meter dash, a painful longer sprint, requires “oodles of hard work and discipline,” said Forquer. If these requirements can make humans more Christlike, wouldn’t Christ himself be drawn to it?

Forquer offered a final thought: Perhaps Jesus could stick with water sports but run?

katies@catholicsentinel.org