footballTensions tighten and raucous roars of excitement permeate America as football fans eagerly await this year’s Super Bowl. Fans have watched the playoffs intrigued as games unfold, awaiting the final score to see which team will advance to the final game.

Some scorn the passion and obsession people have with a “trivial” game. And in some way, they are right. Football in America has become a cult of sorts, an artificial community. But does watching a good game reveal anything important about who we are as human beings?

Georgetown philosophy professor emeritus Fr. James Schall defends such delights in his new book, Reasonable Pleasures. He firmly believes serious conservatives need not be cantankerous curmudgeons when it comes to such reasonable pleasures like watching football.

Fr. Schall states:

The best way to catch the meaning of ourselves as physical beings endowed with bodies is to watch those of our kind exerting themselves in the highest of athletic skills, to become hushed as the challenge unfolds, to cheer the play and the winner, to know that good players also lose, to see the spirit suffuse the flesh.

The closest most people come to pure contemplation is in the beholding of a good game, in being fascinated with the play, the strategy, the uncertainty of its results. We are enthralled by absoluteness of the game, by the time of the game, which is a time outside of the normal day-to-day time. The game we watch itself takes us outside of ourselves and concentrates our attention on something that, like ourselves, need not exist at all, yet in existing holds our complete focus and interest. The game must have an absolute structure of rules, space, and judges or referees who guarantee that the game be what it is, that it be played in its own justice and its own time.

To the extent that we do not become so absorbed in it, the game does not fully arrest our attention. But to the extent that good games fully arrest our attention, to that extent, on reflection, we can glimpse what we call the vision of God, our end, the Beatific Vision that takes us outside of ourselves into the very Trinitarian depths of the God-head while allowing us to remain the human persons that we are.

Fr. Schall’s insight is that watching sports can help us better grasp what it means to contemplate God. The emeritus professor reminds us that not all knowledge is presuppositional or discursive. There is much to be learned about objective reality and prayer from listening to a beautiful song, reading an intriguing novel, gazing at a beautiful icon, or even watching the Super Bowl.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission of the Intercollegiate Review

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