This summer, like so many others, I was glued to the Olympics. Even before the Olympics, I watched several European Championship soccer matches. What is it about sports that draws us in, that captivates us?
I don’t think it’s just about competition (but who doesn’t like seeing a David and Goliath upset?); I think it’s also about the stories of overcoming adversity, of athletes remembering their roots and inspiring others by their example. At their best, sports can fill us with hope. Sometimes those inspiring moments happen for all to see, like a spectacular catch at the edge of the endzone or a half-court buzzerbeater to win a game. Other times they are more hidden. There were many magical moments in the world of sports this summer, but one in particular has stayed in my mind.
The moment I’m thinking of didn’t take place at the Olympics; it occurred a few weeks earlier following England’s semifinal win against Denmark in the European Championship tournament. At the end of the match, Mason Mount, England’s star midfielder, jogged to the edge of the pitch and scanned the crowd as if he were looking for someone he knew. The broadcast cameramen paid him little attention, but a smartphone captured what happened next. Mount’s eyes locked on someone in the crowd and he ran over to some supporters gathered at the railing. There he handed his number 10 jersey to a little girl with bright red hair and freckles who couldn’t have been more than 9 years old. As the girl clutched the jersey in her arms, her face radiated joy and happy tears streamed down her cheeks.
In the grand scheme of things, very little happened in that moment. A soccer player handed his sweaty, smelly jersey to a young fan. And yet the video has been viewed by over 8 million people. Because it tells a compelling story. The story of a star athlete — with every reason to be full of himself — who chooses to share the glory of victory with a young, adoring fan.
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). As a priest, I pray these words of Mary’s Magnificat every evening. This theme of reversal, of how God looks with favor on the lowly, is what caught my attention in that video of the girl receiving the soccer jersey. And isn’t it a fitting image of the Christian story?
Through baptism, we were not given a jersey — we were clothed with Christ himself. God the Father sent his Son not merely to make us honorary members of a team, but to incorporate us into his body, to adopt us into his family. Mason Mount’s gesture communicated to that little girl: “I see you. Out of all the people in this stadium, I chose you.” In a much more powerful way, God says to each one of us: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I called you. You are mine.”
No doubt, that little girl will never forget the moment that she received that smelly jersey. And for good reason!
What about us? Do we commemorate the moment when our Lord chose us? We have received a far greater gift from him.
Rev. Brett Garland is the parish priest of St. Mary Parish in Delaware. Before moving to Delaware in 2020, Father Garland served in English- and Spanish-speaking parishes on the west side of Columbus. Having grown up on a family farm in Fayette County, Ohio, he enjoys returning home to spend time with his extended family.