There is perhaps no seemingly innocuous issue which polarizes Catholic men like the worthiness of athletics. Some see it as a useless waste of time, a diversion which lends no intellectual fruit or philosophical understanding. Others see it as a way to practice virtue and earn respect in modern society. I rather firmly believe that the practice of athletics is important to the development of the Catholic Gentleman.
Athletics have been part of the classical education system since ancient Greece. Some of the ancient Greek philosophical schools, including the Peripatetics, actually believed that walking while thinking helped make lectures simultaneously deeper and more lucid. These ancient beliefs are backed by modern studies which tend to show that participation in athletics boosts classroom performance. While athletics might not directly be as intellectually fruitful as reading G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis, regular participation in some athletic activity might help the Catholic Gentleman understand philosophical works better.
Participation in athletics allows the Catholic Gentleman to practice virtue. Athletics foster a certain amount of healthy competitive drive that helps the Catholic Gentleman become more manly. This competitive drive can bring about virtue through the desire to go the extra mile at work, foster a renewed focus on beating that nagging venial sin, or finally hitting that early morning Mass you can never quite get up early enough for. A focus on perfection in athletics spreads to other areas of the Catholic Gentleman’s life.
Athletics are also a great way to stay in shape. While this seems obvious enough at the outset, staying in shape gives the Catholic Gentleman the extra spark of energy necessary to better complete his role as husband and father. No wife wants a husband who is huffing and puffing to push the lawn mower and every kid wants their dad to be the one who is in shape enough to coach the CYO basketball team. Staying in shape, virtuous enough in itself, also helps the Catholic Gentleman with his vocational calling. Like most habits, however, athletics is something that a man shouldn’t wait to cultivate until child two or three. Practicing athletics during teenage years prepares the man for a lifetime of healthy living.
A Catholic Gentleman who is still discerning his vocation can also be greatly aided by athletics. Assuming that you’re at the point in your discernment that you feel comfortable dating, I don’t think it’s too scandalous for me to mention that women tend to like athletic men. Too many young men mention that they aren’t interested in the type of women who would be interested in their looks. I usually then crack a joke about how they should reconsider their vocation. Physical attraction is a part of life, and thankfully a pretty critical part of the vocation of marriage. You don’t want to marry someone you’re not attracted to, and neither does she. Want to win over the daily Mass girl in the front pew? Increase your odds by becoming a Catholic Gentleman, acting virtuously, and bettering your appearance.
Finally, athletics can help evangelize (Hello Tim Tebow!). Athletics are one of the few things in modern society that still carry an indescribable intellectual weight. Indescribable, of course, because it frankly makes no sense. Maybe it’s because people who practice athletics are generally more energetic and self-confident, but I really believe that society is more likely to listen seriously to someone from 300 than someone from Heavy Weights. Perhaps athletics simply make the Catholic Gentleman more relatable to mainstream culture, or “normalizes” him in some respects.
In conclusion, as much as we love to blog about the finer points of leisure and the intellectual life, the Catholic Gentleman tries to become a complete man, a modern Catholic renaissance man of sorts. Part of this holistic approach is an embrace of fitness and athletics.