Hot – and I do mean hot, the weather in London has suddenly turned very warm indeed – on the heels of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee comes the Olympics. For days now, Tube stations have been broadcasting a message from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in his unmistakeably hearty and fruity voice. It urges Londoners to plan their travel carefully, and keep alert for news of hotspots on the Underground and train network – the crowds for the various Olympic events are going to be huge, and pressure on the transport network immense. At last, that’s what he and everyone else is saying. So a lot of Londoners have prudently decided to stay at home and not travel at all, or book themselves visits to friends and relatives a long, long way from the capital.
Your correspondent, however, has some necessary travelling to do. As I write this, I’m pondering my weekend plans – which include an exam (4th year of a Degree at the Maryvale Institute) which takes place at the Amigo Hall, adjacent to St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. An easy enough place to reach in the normal way – ten minutes’ walk from Waterloo station. But, like every other station in central London this weekend, Waterloo is likely to be busy…and the busy-ness extends into the outer suburbs as well, with tennis at Wimbledon and great cycling races around Surrey and the southern suburbs. So I’m packing an overnight bag and taking up the kind offer of a friend to stay the night at her house not far from Southwark which will mean I can get to the exam centre without too much worry and in good time.
There have been a number of Catholic initiatives in connection with the Olympics – young people have been urged to join in the “Joshua camp” which is a project for evangelistic outreach and witness during the Games, a special Olympic Cross has been blessed, and our Bishops have linked this year’s Day for Life with the theme of sports and health and caring for our bodies.
It’s not clear how much Christianity will permeate into the Olympic scene. But there will, one hopes, be a lot of general goodwill around during the Games – and in our self-centred, don’t-invade-my-space society with its emphasis on personal fulfilment and comfort and immediate gratification, it will be good to see large gatherings of people engaged in a common endeavour and enthusiasm. It might do us some good, too, to have some emphasis on qualities like endurance, courage, and team spirit – and, one hopes, goodwill and generosity after losing to a worthy opponent, and a sense of humility and gratitude on the part of winners.
People like ritual – anthems, presentations of medals, flags. It binds us to one another, to a sense of tradition and heritage, to a belief that there are large and noble things in life. (That is also partly why the Church must insist on glorious liturgy . Only partly why: the main reason is to give glory to God and worship him in the noblest and finest way that we can). People like being together in a common cause, and they also like the sense that something worthwhile has been achieved – a project that has been well organised and executed, an adventure shared.
Modern Britain can be very ugly – drunken girls bulging out of tight ugly clothes shrieking drunkenly, riots, theft, vulgarity, fighting. And there are frightening things coming our way: same-sex “marriage” and the resulting continuing attrition of family life, a lessening of religious freedom, more and more pressure to legalise the killing of the frail and sick. The Olympics will cure none of this, and history may rate the whole thing as a sideshow. But God can use all sorts of things to draw people to Himself, to encourage the good and the true and the beautiful to emerge.