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Glorifying God on the footy field

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Sportsmanship is a virtue in itself because it also transfers into life as well says Fr Dan McCaughan. Photo: Supplied
Sportsmanship is a virtue in itself because it also transfers into life as well says Fr Dan McCaughan. Photo: Supplied

It’s no secret that Australians follow their sport religiously, but could there be a deeper relationship between spirituality and sport?

Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) Conference 3 patron, Fr Dan McCaughan, explains that having a friendship with God is not just about the prayers we say in church.

“God is like the best of dads, there isn’t a single moment in our life that he’s not interested in or doesn’t want to be a part of. What gives us joy gives him joy, and he gifts some people great athletic ability,” Fr McCaughan said.

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“When they use that talent well, it also glorifies him. Playing sport well can be turned into a beautiful prayer.”

Father McCaughan has been a priest for over 10 years after hearing the call after Mass as a highschooler. He is now the Parish Priest at St Patrick’s Sutherland.

” … it helps people be prepared to make sacrifices for one another and you’re putting yourself out there for the sake of your teammates, so there’s a selflessness there.”

However, faith is not the only thing he holds close to his heart.

“Sport was part of my life. I have a big family with eight boys and three girls. We used to play 4-a-side tackle footy in the backyard without having to invite a single friend over,” he said.

Fr McCaughan has both mastered and dabbled in many sports during his childhood and priesthood, including rugby union, cricket, ultimate frisbee, oztag, soccer, golf, and tennis.

He also describes himself as a “die-hard Bunnies fan.”

When asked about the marriage between sport and spirituality, Father Dan remarked that “sport, firstly, is an imitation of life.”

Fr Daniel McCaughan at the 2015 Vianney Dinner for clergy. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“There is much about real life that gets transferred onto the sporting field and vice versa. In sport there’s competition, a mountain to climb, something to overcome. It’s not only an external battle but internal as well, overcoming self doubt, overcoming confidence issues.”

The spirit in which we compete is also important, and sport gives players the chance to exhibit virtues like humility and magnanimity, which shine through when we win or lose with grace.

“I remember playing rugby, it was play for keeps. The guys really went hard and I got banged up so many times,” Fr McCaughan said.

“But it has the capacity to unite, it helps people be prepared to make sacrifices for one another and you’re putting yourself out there for the sake of your teammates, so there’s a selflessness there.

“Sportsmanship is a virtue in itself because it also transfers into life as well, how you go about doing your best competitively but at the same time always treating whoever comes into your life as a person and not as a stepping stone or someone to put down.”

“When I go to the games the teams will ask of their own accord if I can lead them in prayer before they play.”

Fr McCaughan believes that any activity in which we take part can be a way of relating to God.

SCS emphasises the importance of physical activity in schools through their sports program, and Fr Dan has seen that initiatives such as interschool sport become a producer of school spirit and pride.

“On Thursday sport I usually try to go watch St Patrick’s. When I go to the games the teams will ask of their own accord if I can lead them in prayer before they play,” he said

“Some people find it hard to sit down and talk about deep things. But if we have a third thing that we mutually love and are engrossed in, like footy, then that becomes a safe space to talk about important things.

“It builds a bridge to talk about relationships with God, I’m so grateful for something like sport for being that vehicle.”

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