I wonder how many different attitudes and feelings are inspired by this weekend’s European Championship final?
There will be those who want England to win, of course, and you don’t need to look very far around our city to find evidence of that sentiment. There will also be those who want Italy to win. Those are the obvious two groups, but there are, it seems to me, quite a few more.
There are those who just don’t care, those for whom this moment when football moves from the back page of the newspaper to the front, from the end of the television news to the beginning, arouses no feeling except low-level irritation.
For other people, the irritation might be more severe. Domestic life has to be re-ordered around match schedules; curtains are drawn in the daytime to prevent glare; chants of ‘it’s coming home’ from the neighbours’ garden keep them awake until the small hours… They’ll be glad when it really is all over.
There are also those who want someone to lose. There will be some, even within these islands, whose desire to see England lose is stronger than any interest in Italy winning.
And this is not an exhaustive list. I’ve said nothing about the role of fan behaviour, of history, or of the political flashpoints that have found a focus in and around the England football team. These will add complexity to the range of attitudes and feelings present around our city and nation and world on Sunday night.
Sporting events appeal to the very best in us and to the very worst. They allow us, on the one hand, to take delight in the achievements of others, to share in an almost mystical sense of common purpose and identity. But there is a shadow to this joy, the sense that it requires someone else to suffer disappointment and defeat.
Above all, sport is powerful, and wherever there is power there is potential for great harm as well as great good. There is nothing trivial about the passions it arouses – even if you do not yourself experience them, you will surely recognise them. Sport deserves to be taken seriously.
And how does a person of faith do that? Above all else, I think, by remembering to do the kind of work I began with in this letter, thinking about the wide range of different attitudes and feelings involved, looking for the light and the dark in each of them, and turning inward to ask what it is about me, within me, that is stirred by this?
May God bless you all,