The following article was contributed by Adam P. Zoeller, theology department chair of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY.
Analyzing the Proofs for the Existence of God in a freshmen theology course is challenging to say the least. Argument one by St. Thomas Aquinas for example is often interpreted by my students as a riddle: “The sequence of motion does not go on forever, so something is the first mover that does not need to move. This immovable mover or unmoved mover is God.” Students ask questions such as: “is there a God?” “who created God?” and “is God still moving among us?” My response often includes the premise of an omnipresent, almighty deity which I have learned from sixteen years theology teaching experience that framing my response in this way may not help the students because of the following reasons: the brain development of freshmen to comprehend abstract theological concepts; a trend in adolescence to question their faith; and that many students are un-churched in the Catholic tradition.
I teach in a secondary school where according to our athletic department in the 2016-2017 school year seventy-three percent of students were involved in a sport. As I reflect upon this data along with the call to center my lessons on the New Evangelization, I have the responsibility to build a bridge between the theology curriculum and real-world experience. Teaching the USCCB curriculum framework while focusing on sports language and sports analogies serves as a best practice strategy that engages male adolescents. For example, using the idea of motion offense from the sport of basketball is a good starting point where students can understand the purpose of movement in a basketball team’s offensive scheme. This purpose or plan of a motion offense, although looking chaotic, is designed to score points through a series of causes and effects by the players as they set screens for their teammates. The use of this type of language sets the stage for male adolescents to begin their understanding of other Proofs for the Existence of a God, namely causality and the intelligent designer. To that end, executed effectively, the cause and effects of the offensive play becomes the grand game plan by the coach.
My primary goal of a lesson that includes athletic language is to help adolescent males understand the omnipotence of God through their interest in sports. The Proofs for the Existence of God is presented at the beginning of the curriculum and is vital to understand the foundation of Christian reason. A secondary goal is the application of the material to the theme of discipleship providing the opportunity in a theology class to reflect on why God created us to be divine reflections of His image. For example, causality is an essential component of St. Thomas Aquinas, but a true disciple of Jesus Christ must consider causality in their daily actions both on and off the court; thus connecting the students’ mind and heart which is true catechesis. Using sports language as pedagogy has the potential to effectively bridge the gap for male adolescents between abstract theological concepts and real-world experience.
Please join Adam for the webinar, Practice & the Game: Using Sports Language to Teach the USCCB Curriculum Framework on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.
To learn more about this topic and mission-driven athletics, join us for the 2018 NCEA Visions for Excellence Soul of Youth Sports Conference featuring keynote speaker, Jim Harbaugh.
About the Author
Adam P. Zoeller is the theology department chair of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY. He earned his B.A. in religious studies and B.A. in clinical psychology from Spalding University (Louisville, KY) and his M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH).
Please join Adam for the workshop, From heart to missionary zeal: Using language and lessons from athletics to aid adolescent catechesis in the New Evangelization, at the NCEA Convention in April 2018.
Adam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org