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Fight The Good Fight

Author: Gary Stephens

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Fight The Good Fight

Gary Stephens from Manchester explains how he used boxing to bring faith to life for a group of disaffected teenagers.

As Chaplain in a Catholic school, I was responsible for catechesis across the school. I noticed a group of disaffected pupils who would never attend chaplaincy events.

This bothered me greatly, so I explored ways of reaching out to them. As a former amateur boxer and qualified boxing coach, I thought boxing would be something in which they may be interested.

An after-school boxing club was established and boxing added to the Applied Learning Curriculum for pupils with special educational needs. I worked with a group of eight 15 year old kinaesthetic learners with recognised challenging behaviours.

A Smack in the Mouth

The pupils were taught boxing at a local boxing club. After each session, we reflected on the following sporting virtues: teamwork, discipline, respect, self-control, justice, perseverance, focus and diet. All pupils responded well and were awarded a GB Preliminary boxing award.

I was familiar with St. Paul’s use of boxing and sport: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Several English parishes are associated with boxing clubs, including St. John’s, Manchester, whose priest Fr. Patrick McMahon says: “I say to my parishioners: life is like a boxing context. If a boxer fails to keep his hands up and his chin down, he’ll get a smack. If we drop our guard in our journey of faith, life will give us a smack in the mouth”.

Turn the Other Cheek

God brought much good fruit from the boxing sessions. One pupil promised to apologise to a police officer for the trouble he had caused and thank him for the work he was doing in the local community. Many pupils went on to fundraise for the school.

A teacher reported that, when a pupil was punched in a playground incident, he decided not to retaliate. When questioned, he stated he had been taught to turn the other cheek in boxing. (Cf. Matthew 5:39)

The head of RE was pleased when two boxers from Year 11 surprisingly accepted an invitation to take part in an RE Trip to London, which involved Mass at Westminster, a trip to St Paul’s and an audience with Fr. Vladimir Felzmann, Chaplain to Sport for England.

Whilst this encouraged me greatly, a highlight came when a Year 11 boxer accepted an invitation to be confirmed.

A New Evangelisation

Pope John Paul II spoke of the need for “a new evangelisation, new in its method, fervour and expression.” (Address to Latin American Bishops, Haiti, 1983)

Boxing enabled the young people with whom I worked to discover God’s love for them in a new, relevant way and to recognise the life-changing message of the Gospel: namely, that the living Jesus loves them, and, through His Spirit, wants them both to have life in all its fullness (cf John 10:10) and to use their God-given gifts for His glory.

St. Paul asks us to use whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable for the service of the Gospel (Cf. Philippians 4:8) Therefore, I encourage you to reflect on your skills and experiences, and to use these to build up the Kingdom of God.

·         Gary Stephens, through Word and Spirit Ministries, teaches the Catholic Faith to disaffected young people in Catholic schools and colleges and also works with prisoners. He speaks at Life in the Spirit seminars, retreats and conferences. He can be contacted at: Gary@wordandspirit.org.uk or 07825 528225

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