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“Play Baal!” Is Sports Replacing God on Sundays?

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The conversation threw me for a loop.

A religious ed teacher told me about a talk he had with a Catholic parent a few weeks back. The mother was upset because her grade-school-aged daughter was feeling guilty about missing Mass. The mother blamed the church. Isn’t it enough that they go to CCD classes,?  she asked. Don’t you people realize we have a busy schedule on Sunday? There’s sports! Projects! Homework! We can’t get to church every week, you know.  There’s too much to do.

The teacher tried, with limited success, to impress upon the mother why Mass is important—above and beyond the simple fact that it’s, you know, an obligation.  I don’t know if it sank it. Nobody seems to think that way anymore.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped teaching that going to church isn’t an option, that Mass is an obligation, that we are commanded to “keep holy the sabbath.” We’ve minimized teaching the importance of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist—or in the assembly or in The Word, for that matter—and people think they can take it or leave it.

Somewhere along the line, we skipped over things like this: 

Canon 1248
1. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.
2. If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the liturgy of the word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.

Since a “grave cause” is needed to excuse one from this obligation it would be a serious or mortal sin to willfully skip Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, [emphasis added] as the Church has always taught. Reasons such as the necessity to work to support one’s family, child care, personal sickness or the care of the sick, necessary travel etc. would excuse a person on a particular occasions. Those who have continuing reason to be excused should consult their pastor.

Read on for more insight from the catechism.

A Christian website called For The Church, in a timely coincidence, recently looked at the problem with a post titled “When Ball Becomes Baal”:

The deification of sports is happening to many.

How does ball become Baal?

Answer: When it controls you, and you give it devoted worship. It is around your god that you order your life—and you can almost never say “no” to it.

Like “athlete’s foot” on the hygienically-challenged teenager, sports has taken over more and more of the life of believers. Almost overnight we have awakened to the sad fact that, in many communities, sports has even usurped the hours believers meet on the Lord’s Day. All too often members are saying to church leaders, “We’ll be gone next Sunday because of the soccer tournament.” In turn, leaders are supposed to acquiesce humbly. After all, we can’t afford to appear “legalistic;” everyone knows that the greatest crime a church can commit is to demand something of someone.

You’ll hear, “But the team needs all the players. We can’t let the team down.” It never occurs to them that the church Body is being deprived of a necessary body part, or that God is marginalized and disobeyed. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, states God in Hebrews 10:25.

Devotion is the operative word. When the team says, “We need you,” we sacrifice to do it. But when it crosses the time allotted to spiritual edification and worship, the Ruler of the universe is often sent to the bench. In the process, we teach our children that devotion to sports is more important than both devotion to God and loyalty to our spiritual family. Have you considered that you may be teaching your kids to worship sports?

The author goes on to list several ways to combat this tendency. Read on.  

Like a lot of subjects, this is something that is rarely mentioned from the pulpit. (Maybe preachers think they’d be preaching to the converted, since they’re already in the pews?) But it should be preached. There are whole generations out there who just don’t get it.

I’ll be the first to admit, there are a lot of gray areas in Church teaching.

But: this isn’t one of them.

We are Catholic. We have an obligation to take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday.  An hour a week isn’t too much to ask, or too much to give. (Hell, we even make it easy now: you can go Saturday night!)

Think about it.

Our children need to learn priorities, what matters and what doesn’t, and why. They need to keep their eye on the ball.

Not Baal.

Photo: Pixabay

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Deacon Greg Kandra
Headlines and Homilies
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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