Sports can be sort of a lived prayer, and can direct us, if we let them, to an understanding of ourselves in the sight of God.
In an interview with ZENIT, Seminarian Paul Floersch, studying for the Archdiocese of Omaha, stressed this, discussing the North American College’s winning the Clericus Cup, an annual soccer tournament, on May 26.
Since 2007, priests and seminarians of Rome’s pontifical universities compete in the Cup.. The North American College has kept a steady record over the years, often in the semifinals, but this year, beat the reigning champions at the Pontifical Urban University.
In this interview, the seminarian explores many themes, including what is the key to his team’s success, how prayer factors into his sports life, and how sports activity can deepen one’s spirituality and deepen one’s path toward holiness.
Here is our interview with one of the PNAC’s Martyr’s most valued players:
ZENIT: Your team has won the Clericus Cup by defeating many teams of different countries where soccer has an important tradition (Brazil, Italy, etc…). What is the secret weapon of your team?
It is true that soccer is played all over the world and many of the seminarians and priests we played against were very talented, likely having played all their lives. (This is testament to the fact soccer is the most catholic sport, in the sense that—like the Catholic Church—it is everywhere). However, we are lucky to have many men here at the NAC who also have played soccer for the majority of their lives as well. It seems soccer is catching on even in America! As to our secret, there really isn’t one, except for the obvious: we practiced often and weren’t afraid of conditioning!
ZENIT: The Clericus Cup is a very interesting competition, notable for the fact that the athletes are priests and seminarians… But you live in Rome to study and to attend lessons at the university…. How do you find time to play soccer?
Indeed, we are primarily in Rome to get a theological education and to be conformed more totally to the heart of Christ. I love studying and spending time in the chapel. However, I find that both my studies and my prayer are more fruitful when I also make time for exercise and engage in the gift of fraternity that is so readily available in the seminary setting. Being on the soccer team and competing in this tournament have provided me opportunities to incorporate both of these dimensions, exercise and fraternity, into my daily life while in the seminary.
ZENIT: How did you begin to play soccer? And which is your role? Goalkeeper, midfielder….
I began to play soccer when I was very young, maybe three or four. I currently play center midfield, but enjoy playing anywhere.
ZENIT: Is there a soccer champion who inspires you?
I would say, above all, my dad, who is a very talented soccer player. He taught me all he knows and still plays soccer regularly to this day. He has shown me what it means to be a virtuous man in the realm of sport, the art of harmonizing a hunger for competition with an even greater hunger for virtue and holiness.
ZENIT: What about soccer makes it enjoyable? As a sport, soccer is popular in the US, but less than others like baseball, football, etc… How could you explain this to Americans?
It has been difficult to sell soccer to Americans because there are so many options, but I really think they are, slowly but surely, coming to appreciate soccer more and more. What is so special about soccer? It has a beautiful simplicity. All it involves are two goals and a ball; this is why I think it has become so popularized worldwide. But also, the thrill of anticipation that is fulfilled when the goal is finally scored in soccer is, in my opinion, the greatest thrill of all sports.
ZENIT: The Vatican has just published its first document about the pastoral care of sport… Do you think that playing sports or exercising could be useful for the spiritual life?
I do, and so did St. Paul the Apostle! “Run so as to win!” he said. The natural virtues built up in soccer, such as perseverance, fortitude, patience, etc. become a platform for building up the far greater spiritual virtues, those which will one day merit us the opportunity to see the face of God! This is “the imperishable crown.”
ZENIT: Many rich and famous sports figures do not set good examples, often leading lives of excess and transgressions. Does it make sense to tell young people that sports can be a way to become holy or to become a saint?
Yes, sports can direct us, if we let them, to an understanding of ourselves in the sight of God. Often professional athletes face extreme pressure. In this scenario, they can learn to turn to God and offer all that they do to Him, trusting in His will for them. Or they can make a god of themselves, and think that their goodness is a product of their own self-determination. The God-given gift of sport affords us the opportunity to play like children in the sight of the Father. I pray for every athlete to realize the preciousness of this gift.
ZENIT: The US isn’t taking part in the World Cup in Russia. Which country’s team instead are you rooting for?
It is difficult for me to support someone other than my beloved Red, White and Blue, and it was sad to not see them qualify. But perhaps Germany. This is the country of my heritage, and I enjoy their style of play.
ZENIT: How does your prayer life factor into your sports life?
Like I mentioned above, soccer has provided me an opportunity to consider my own childlikeness in the sight of the Father. Like my own biological father who loved to watch me play on the fields of my youth, so my Heavenly Father looks on with love as my brothers and I, and so many other seminarians and priests, “run so as to win.” Sports, as I have learned in seminary, can be a sort of lived prayer.