Does God care about basketball? Is it ok to pray about the outcome of sporting events? These are questions that many avid Catholic sports fans have pondered at one time or another.
Some city’s fans are perhaps more inclined to supplicate the LORD. As is well known in the sports world, the great city of Cleveland is home to one of the most faithful, but at the same time, hard-luck sports fanbases. It’s been 50+ years since any of the city’s teams have won a championship, the last being the 1964 Browns. Since then, Cleveland fans have endured some of the most famous sports heartbreaks: The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Freakin’-Mesa, The Decision, the 2007 ALCS, and others. In many ways Cleveland is the sports version of the Old Testament character Job; enduring hardship after hardship, but still keeping the faith alive despite many hardships and heartbreaks.
Looking to reverse fortunes and break the drought, The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals again this year, behind the leadership of one particular graduate of Northeast Ohio’s Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s Catholic High School, LeBron James; the best player (still) in the NBA. In hopes of getting a little Divine edge in the series against Golden State, many members of the Diocese of Cleveland have been asking their priests if it is ok to pray for the Cavs and a victory. One priest of the Diocese of Cleveland, Father Damian Ference, wrote an article answering this particular question:
In the article Father Ference says:
“Let me start by saying that I don’t think God cares about basketball very much. And I don’t think he cares who wins the NBA Championship. But, God loves each and every NBA basketball player and each and every NBA coach as his own son, and He wants what is best for each of them and all of them, just as God wants what is best for you and for me.
But the fact that God doesn’t care about who wins the NBA Championship doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for our Cavaliers. In fact, I think it pleases God very much whenever we pray, as prayer – most simply stated – is conversation with God. And God loves to be in conversation and communion with his people. God loves when we talk to him. Of course, there’s more to prayer than just talking. Listening is important too. Just as a conversation with a friend includes both talking and listening, so too does conversation with God, so too does prayer.
Here’s another thing about prayer. Many people think that the point of praying is to change God. But if we really think about it, we’ll have to admit that if God is all-good and all-knowing and that He always desires what is best for us, then the point of prayer must be not to change God, but to change us. We pray so that our will might be lined up with God’s will for us. We pray that we might want what God wants. Jesus taught us as much when he taught his disciples how to pray in the Our Father – thy will be done.
So what might we pray for as our beloved Cavaliers play for an NBA Championship in the coming days? I’ve got a few suggestions: that players and coaches use their God-given gifts to glorify their Creator in each and every minute of play; that both teams will remain safe and that God will protect them and their families as they travel back and forth across the country; that players may be free of injury and pain; that both teams may play fair and play their best; that this competition may not only make these men better basketball players, but better and more virtuous men as well; and that players and coaches might remember that as fun as basketball may be, that there’s more to life than basketball.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the verge of winning an NBA Championship. As fans we have an important role to play. We need to scream, cheer, clap, fist-bump, charitably boo, high-five, and proudly sport the wine and gold. But we can also help our team, and our city, and the world, and ourselves, by praying. After all, a Larry O’Brien trophy never helped anyone inherit eternal life, but prayer has.
Go Cavs. Amen.