At the start of 2021, we ran a story entitled “What would Jesus play?” We asked Catholics which sport they thought the Lord would prefer. I believe it would be baseball, given the slow pace that fosters communing, to say nothing of the profound meaning of the sacrifice bunt.

Whether baseball or badminton, sports, played with dignity and courtesy, can electrify the evangelizing mission of the church.

We think of Central Washington University softball players Liz Wallace and Mallory Holtman, who in 2008 carried rival western Oregon home run hitter Sara Tucholsky around the bases after she injured her knee at first base. That act lost the important game for Central Washington, but won them millions of fans who have been touched by the selflessness for more than a decade. What if that had been a Catholic college? Evangelization gold.

Games bring people of the church into contact with people who are not Catholic. Catholic Youth Organization and Catholic high school sports hold up the values of teamwork and selflessness; the way Catholic school teams and fans conduct themselves is a peerless opportunity for witness.

Last, sports offer a healthy diversion from the serious business of life. Our old friend, the late Father Edmond Bliven, was right when he told us that religious people with no sense of humor are a counter-witness. Sports belong in the same category. If we primly eschew the sporting life, parts of society will be closed to the message of salvation. Think of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a loving Italian Catholic activist whose work was helped along by his hearty mountaineering, swimming and prowess on the soccer field. Athletics should not interfere with our worship, but are too important to ignore.