I am printing this in our parish bulletin this coming Sunday. I am going to continue the discussion next Sunday as well. I offer it for my blog as well. This is something that lots of parents are dealing with today.
I recently received a voice mail message from a member of our parish. He told me that I won’t see him or his family at church for awhile due sports activities that involve Sunday mornings. He expressed regret, but he and his family are, to an extent, stuck with a schedule for games that is not of their choosing. A few days later another parish member shared with me her struggles in this area, as well. She described her desire for her family to participate in mass on Sunday mornings but also honor the hard work, commitment and dedication exhibited by her children as they participated in sports. I have heard similar sentiments from several other parish members with kids involved in a variety of sports and other very good and important activities.
You may think I’m going to criticize these parents. You are mistaken.
I look back to my own high school years when involvement in sports, forensics, debate, theatre and my parish youth group all left me time for religious education and attendance at church. My parents didn’t have to make the choices faced by parents today. I remember when, in 1993, I was assigned as a new priest at a parish in the city of Lake Geneva. The local school district actually made an agreement with area churches that sports events and practices would be worked around Wednesday evenings (kids needed to be done with practice by 6:30 pm) and Sunday mornings so that youth who were part of a church could participate in religious instruction and worship. That agreement has since ended and those days are gone.
Specialty teams that involve road trips, stays at hotels, year-round practices and large financial investment on the parts of families were very rare. They seem pretty common now. It would seem that this could easily become the center of focus of the life of a family.
My hope and prayer is that as families are faced with tough decisions about what is most important, foundational and meaningful in the lives of their children, church life will not take the backseat in all of those discussions. Sports and other activities for young people can help to build integrity, confidence, team spirit, humility, and a variety of other noteworthy aspects of one’s character. I celebrate the hard work and dedication exhibited by the young people who participate; I applaud the support and sacrifices of parents who want these positive experiences for their children.
We would do well to pray for all who struggle with this very common dilemma, that they can find a way to nurture that spiritual development we all need so desperately in our lives today. A relationship with Christ is forever. His love sustains, strengthens and never fails. He needs to be first in all our lives, always.