Intervention of Fr Eamonn O'Higgins at the Press Conference launching the St Peter's Cricket Club

Sport and Formation

We are here today to mark the founding of St. Peter’s Cricket Club, which is to have as members, in its male division, priests and students in formation for the priesthood. Let me, therefore, speak briefly on what participation in sport brings to the formation of Catholic priests, which has been my field of play for the last while.

Whatever the given rules, the nature of any competitive sport implies a battle or conflict, overcoming an adversary in order to win. No one plays to lose. This inherent conflictual nature of sport teaches the future priest that there is nothing, or should be nothing, laissez faire, laissez passez about the Catholic priesthood. A Catholic priest does not simply let things happen but is called to enter a struggle and be prepared for battle with an adversary to achieve his goal.

Sport, played well, is demanding. It is not enough just to show up and think that by just being there one will achieve victory. What is required is patient and constant training and what we may call a discipline of submission to the truth of the rules of the game. You can’t do just what you like on the field; you are required to channel your energy and passion in an accepted way. I suggest that the conformation of a seminarian’s life, interests and talents to the priesthood requires a similar submission to truth as in sport. He can learn on the field the necessary inner humility in the face of truth, not playing just any old way, or just my way, but the way one is supposed to play. This, of course, may well apply not only to priestly formation but to all of us, because, whether we like it or not, we all confront the truth of reality.

Cricket is a team sport, with precise functions and roles, and in which, as in any team, each player is required to perform for the good of the team, not just for himself. It is well known that the integrated, performing team is always more than the sum of the talents of its players. For that reason, a team, a real team, will always beat the same number of individuals playing each for himself. This teaches us something about the nature of social life. I think here specifically of priests, but the analogy applies again , I think, to all of us. A priest is not just himself, but a person in necessary and essential relation with others. Not only that, but particularly a priest is called to be a centre of unity for others, a source of communion, a former of a team, so to speak. This is not easy. To form and play on a team is something difficult. A team thrives on diversity, it needs different players with different skills that need to combine. And we also know that a team is not merely a set of functions, but persons who need to learn to accept and be accepted by others, to work together, and so on. The lesson of teamwork in sport teaches us that deep down we all belong to something greater than ourselves and that life is not making the world and others suit me, but giving of myself, as I am, without losing my own identity, to something greater than my own small horizons. That is an important lesson for those who aspire to be priests.

Sport, also, hinges on winning or losing. Today, especially, you are defined by the result of the game. Your value is determined by the score. In life there is also ultimate winning or losing. The advantage in life’s game is that the result, who you become, what you have done for God and for others, doesn’t depend on something arbitrary, which is the unsatisfactory element in sport, isn’t it, like the the dubious penalty, the dicey lbw, the weather. In life, thankfully, it is merit that matters. Of course, in life, in what we know of God’s Kingdom, victory can come in strange forms. We are in Rome, the city of Christian martyrs. Now the martyrs were winners; they are depicted with the laurel wreathe of athletic or martial champions. Strange, isn’t it?

I believe in the worth of St. Peter’s Cricket Club for many reasons, one of them being the contribution it will make to the character and formation of future priests of the Church and I thank the Pontifical Council for Culture and Ambassador McCarthy for their imagination and tenacity – both important cricket playing qualities – for this initiative. Thank you.