April 2019 Editorial: The Anthropology of the Eight Jumpers

Mere children, we were. But we knew what it took to organise a game of soccer. In addition to some grassy space and a ball, we required eight jumpers (standard wear back then, but now to include sweaters, fleeces, tops, hoodies, etc.): one for each of the corners and two for each goal.

We were ordinary, unruly kids, but we knew instinctively that the demarcation, the limitation imposed by those jumpers left us free to play a (relatively!) ordered game. We didn’t merely accept this order: we sought it, we insisted on it, and we patrolled it. It was a self-imposed limitation in the interest of freedom. With no corners and no goals there would have been no game; only chaos – and probably violence.

Now, progressives of various stripes would tell the same group of kids that they must shirk off any limitations in order to be free. Get rid of what confines, what restricts, what imposes an artificial order – and you will be free. Who is correct? Which understanding of freedom is the right one? This is not an academic question. It’s about what happens on the ground, in the real world. It’s a matter of anthropology, of what makes people tick – from unruly kids kicking a ball around, to sophisticated grownups at the levers of power. Which understanding, which anthropology, produces the best real-world effects?

One of the Church’s greatest tasks at this moment in history is to proclaim the fundamental Christian anthropology, the vision of the human person that will help this generation make their way through the sometimes-insane experimentation of our times. The proclamation of this anthropology needs to be at the heart of the New Evangelisation.

While ideologues proclaim the value of value-free education and the need for an ethos-free ethos, we have, by contrast, something rational, and lovely, to offer. Something that touches the human experience so closely that even a group of ten-year-old footballers could intuit it in part, and apply it in a matter-of-fact, practical way.

Our faith and its wisdom are tailor-made for our human nature. They do us no violence. Pope St John Paul was fond of quoting an expression from Gaudium et Spes 22: ‘It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of the human person truly becomes clear.’1 An ongoing pastoral, homiletic and catechetical challenge is to show that this is so – and to show, in glorious detail, how it is so.

Pope John Paul II also, in Christifideles Laici 37, stated that as human beings, we are created, redeemed and destined. It would be wonderful to spend time drawing out the practical significance of these co-ordinates of our existence, showing how they can speak to, shape, and order our living. They are, we might say, the fully deep and wide version of the eight jumpers: they do not hem us in, but set us free. There’s something to be said for the intuitive, eight-jumper anthropology of a group of ten-year-olds. And there’s a very great deal still to be said about our faith’s understanding of the human condition. That’s nothing less than a core challenge of the New Evangelisation.

1 See, for instance, John Paul II’s Angelus Message of
5 December 1996. Incidentally, Gaudium et Spes 22
is one of the most quoted Vatican II texts in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church.