But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.
While sports enthusiasts and passing observers alike find themselves in the throes of “the Olympic Spirit”, it’s been very difficult not to put that often-used phrase in the context of Scripture.
Indeed, the Spirit is most certainly moving. And the Spirit is deking in and out of venues at the Games of the 30th Olympiad in London. After all, that’s how He rolls. And you can see it in the eyes of the youth who are making their mark on the world stage.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a child’s eyes light up with joy… or, well up with tears, for that matter. What’s that “they” say?... The eyes are the windows to the soul?
Some of us have been so lucky to see youthful exuberance first-hand. Ask anyone who’s been to a World Youth Day, and they’ll tell you that the energy drawn from that overwhelming experience is one that will stick around for a lifetime. To an extent, one can draw a parallel to experiencing the Olympic Games. Even experiencing it on television.
On the first weekend of competition, people of faith were treated to what can only be described as a “spiritual spectacle” in women’s gymnastics.
Jordyn Wieber, one of these Games’ “sure-bet Gold medallists”, the reigning all-around world champion, failed to make the all-around finals in London. NBC Sports exquisitely, and respectfully, detailed the precise moment of anguish when Wieber realized her long-awaited Olympic dream had been dashed. Oh, the pain that girl must have felt. For someone who has been in sports broadcasting for some 20 years, I had never seen anything quite like it. Her Olympic experience had become a nightmare in a matter of minutes. How would an impressionable 17-year old muster the strength to move on and be there for her mates in team competition? I think we got an idea when, on the next night of competition, the television cameras caught a ‘ready-for-the-world’ Wieber warming up, followed by a shot of mother Rita - as commentator Al Trautwig put it - “clutching her Rosary.”
It was all that needed to be said for those who see these Games for what they truly are - glorification of God’s great creation.
But it’s not all that has been said about faith at these Games. Not by a long-shot-put.
The Olympic champion of the aforementioned women’s all-around gymnastics competition is a girl known as the “flying squirrel”. What were Gabby Douglas’s comments shortly after winning gold? Right into the mic, and for all the world to see, little Gabby said, “the glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on me.” She had also tweeted (gosh I LOVE Twitter!) “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” Nothing like a good shout-out to to Psalm 103 moments after making your dream come true.
Hunter Kemper may be 36 years of age. But he is definitely acting like a “child of God.” So much so, that he doesn’t care if any outward profession of faith “scares off any potential sponsors.”
What would make Hunter so bold? Or, to those who have no idea from where he’s coming, what would make Hunter so foolish?
What isn’t scaring him off is the mere fact that he believes deep down in his soul that it is God who has put him in the position to race for a medal at these Summer Games. Last October, Kemper sustained such a devastating spill in competition that he had to have a plate and 13 screws put into his elbow. Two months later, he developed a scary staph infection, and he thought his Olympic dream was over before it began. Hunter, who went through a heart-melting conversion to Christ after graduating from college, believes it is God who healed him. Kemper has made it known to anyone who will listen, even trepid, potential, sponsors, that his happiness comes from walking with Christ. Not only walking, but swimming 1,640 yards, cycling 26.7 miles and running 6.2 miles with Him at his side.
And then there’s swimmer Katie Ledecky who swam to a gold medal finish in the women’s 800 freestyle. What does Katie do before climbing onto the blocks before each and every race? She prays the Hail Mary. Here’s a kid who calls the Sisters - Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary - who taught her at Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland, “great role models”. Oh. And did I mention Katie is only 15 years of age?
D’ya think St. Therese of Lisieux was just beaming after catching wind of that one? Sure she was.
One Biblical passage has Jesus’ disciples telling annoying little rug-rats to “move along”: this is just “adult time” ... our Lord and Saviour doesn’t have time for “small talk”. What does Jesus do? He tells his pals to “hold up!” He scolds them… tells them to never keep the children from climbing up on His lap. The fact of the matter is, dedicated Olympians - some even ‘pint-sized’ - are making the decision, in their moment of glory, to go to Him. To glorify Him.
And let not any one of us keep them from coming to Christ. Conversely, let’s start encouraging this behavior.
Lord knows, we need to.