The summer has long begun, not only with its official opening on June 21, but also with the many signs of it that we have here in southern Florida. Schools have been closed for over a month and some families have taken their children and gone on a well-deserved vacation away from our area. The winter residents are long gone and the heat of the summer is upon us. As we recently celebrated the Fourth of July, we know that we are truly in the midst of summer which is quickly passing.
Pope Francis gives us a good example on how to use the summer. His schedule changes for the month of July as he is engaged in less public events and activity. He still carries out a pretty busy schedule, but knows that time to be away from the usual is a good thing in helping all of us to appreciate more what we do in life and to reflect more upon the meaning of life. Last summer, in one of his Papal Audiences, Pope Francis expressed that the summer is "a providential moment to enhance our commitment to seek and encounter the Lord." His words are significant for all of us in understanding that the summer helps us to encounter the Lord especially by taking more time to be with our families, by enjoying the splendor of creation which God has given to us, by participating more in the activities and hobbies that we enjoy, and by taking time to pray and encountering the Lord in the many things that are around us in our lives. Pope Francis stressed that, "In this period, students are free from scholastic duties and many families are taking their vacation; it is important that in this time of rest and attachment from daily concerns, they can re-energize the forces of body and spirit, deepening their spiritual path."
In June of this year, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which Pope Francis formed two years ago, published a new document entitled, To Give the Best Of Oneself. It is an insightful reflection on the Christian perspective of sports and the human person. We encounter sports in so many aspects of our lives and families. The following of sports is a vivid pastime for our country and our world. We participate in sports ourselves and make them available for the children and young people of our families. The Pope wrote an introductory letter to the document expressing his gratitude for its insights regarding how sports can be an instrument of encounter, formation and sanctification. During this summer as we take some times for ourselves it is good to reflect upon the insights of Pope Francis in his letter introducing Giving the Best of Oneself. We can sometimes think of sports as something on the side of our lives as we can also think of the summer as days which pass by without too much meaning. However, the Pope's words regarding sports as an instrument of encounter, formation and sanctification are good ones to reflect upon during the summer and to realize that summer gives us these opportunities.
Pope Francis emphasizes that sports are an encounter, a meeting place where people of all levels and social conditions come together for a common cause. The summer is an opportunity for all of us to realize our common humanity, no matter what our background may be, and to encounter that humanity in the diversity of each other. We all look forward to the summer as a time to give us some rest and energy. We become more of a family and more of a team in the human race. The Pope's words regarding sports as "a catalyst for experience of community, of the human family" fit well with the opportunity that the summer affords us. The Pope speaks of a father playing with his son, of children playing together in the park or at school, of athletes celebrating a victory with their supporters and of many other experiences that sports provide. He says that in all of these we see the value of sports as "a place of unity and encounter between people." These are appropriate words for the summer.
Pope Francis explains how sports are a formative vehicle. When we engage in sports, we develop the best of ourselves for the sake of the team of which we are a part. We develop ourselves the best we can in order that we might experience the goodness which God has placed in us for our own sakes as well as for that of others. The Pope speaks of the virtues of "generosity, humility, sacrifice, constancy, and cheerfulness" as those which need to be developed to be good people of sports. Truly, the summer offers us a wonderful opportunity to grow in these virtues as we have more time to spend with our families and to appreciate what life is all about. The summer does indeed offer us an opportunity for deeper formation.
Finally, the Pope emphasizes that sports are a means for sanctification. As the Church is called to be a sign of Jesus Christ in the world, sports practiced in our parishes, schools and associations offer that opportunity to be available. He stresses that "Every occasion is good for announcing the presence of Christ." Summer is a good time for us to carry out our mission and sanctification. We have time for prayer with our families, by ourselves and with our parish communities. We must never think of summer as a time to get away from church but a time in which we have more opportunity to celebrate, especially on Sundays, with our parishes and families. There is never a vacation from church. Summer does indeed offer us a more vivid time for mission and sanctification.
Last June, Pope Francis placed on his door a sign which read “Complaining is forbidden!” It was given to him by an Italian psychologist for whom the Pope has great respect after a June Papal Audience. He promised he would put it on the door of his office during the summer for a laugh. The sign has great significance in regard to the lack of peace which complaining can cause in our lives and among others. Not complaining is a very fitting exercise during the summer months especially when we may be faced with less things about which to complain. The sign gives good advice as to what the summer affords us the opportunity to do. It warns that "Violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim with the consequent reduction of a sense of humor and capacity to solve problems." It adds that "sanction is doubled if the offense is committed in the presence of children," and concludes," to become the best of yourself, you must focus on your own potential and not on your limits, so stop complaining and actively change your life for the better." These words fit in very well with the Holy Father's words regarding sports and fit in very well with the opportunity that summer offers us.
May summer be a time that affords us all the opportunity to encounter ourselves and others, to be energized by our formation and to be sanctified especially by going to church. May it be a time of generosity, constancy and cheerfulness and may it afford us the opportunity to grow more by not complaining!
A blessed summer to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 13, 2018