The Olympics are almost over and Michael Phelps will soon be on a Wheaties box. If you have watched any of it: from swimming and track to basketball and softball, you might have heard about the Olympic spirit. The modern Olympics were founded in the early 20th century to build a “better world [through] mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.” This is certainly something we all can aim towards, isn’t it? But how well do the Olympics accomplish its goal?
While I was in Sydney, Australia, for the World Youth Day, I figured I would ask Sydney’s residents how this event compared with the 2000 Olympics that were also held in Sydney. It turned out to be an interesting question as the 2008 Olympics were on their minds already.
An interesting pattern emerged. It didn’t matter whether I spoke with Catholics or non-Catholics for all of them found the World Youth Day to be friendlier, more unified, and more inviting than the Olympics. Why? What is different from a World Youth Day and an International Olympics? Aren’t they both large international gatherings of friendship and solidarity?
One Sydney resident said that the Olympic athletes, while friendly and jovial at the beginning, soon focused on themselves. They had their events, their work, and their country to honor. World Youth Day pilgrims, on the other hand, didn’t care which flag you carried or which language you spoke, they all came to worship Jesus Christ.
There is the difference and there is the gift! As Catholics we can offer the world something that no one else, not even other Christian denominations can offer. We can offer them a real, in-the-flesh person to represent and to point us toward Jesus- the Pope.
World Youth Day pilgrims were united because we had a short, quiet, bookish 81-year-old celibate man to rally around. We rallied around Pope Benedict because he pointed us to Jesus Christ. Olympic athletes rally around human triumph or amazing human achievement-, which is good-, but they stop at the human. A pope points to something beyond human experience. A pope represents Jesus Christ. At the final Mass, with 500,000 souls attending and praying, you could look out over the crowd and see thousands of flags: African, South American, Asian flags, and flags from everywhere. Every tribe and tongue, people and nation was united in praise of Jesus Christ, united with Pope Benedict.
In today’s Gospel we hear about how Simon becomes Peter, about how Jesus Christ gives us his representative; we hear about the Pope. Peter becomes the Pope not because he is smart, good looking, witty, or athletic. Peter becomes the Pope because he identifies Jesus as Lord of Heaven and Earth, as the Messiah. Peter becomes Pope to lead, guide, and strengthen the one Church of Jesus Christ.
It is because of the gift of the Pope that we can be united on earth worshipping Jesus Christ. As Catholics we receive a foretaste of heavenly unity when we gather around our Pope and Bishops. We don’t have to worry whether we speak English, Spanish, or Swahili; we have one Lord Jesus Christ and One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. We don’t even have to worry if we are from Groton, Fredrick, or Warner- we have one Lord Jesus Christ and One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. Every tribe and tongue, people and nation in the Church is led by one Pope to worship one Lord.
Let us pray for our Pope Benedict, that after preaching to us about Jesus he may live that same faith. Let us pray for Catholics and Christians who don’t like or understand the gift of the Pope, that they see him as Christ’s gift for our unity of faith and action. Let us pray for ourselves that we may be grateful for our Holy Father and that we too may join with St. Peter and the whole Catholic Church as we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and God.