Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dedication to Sports? As for Me and My House, We will Serve the Lord.


"If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

The other day I took a quick run through Beaver Creek Reservation and as I was running back to the rectory I decided to cut through the football fields.  I recognized a familiar sound.   I’ve always thought it was construction workers with an electric sledge hammer, but it turns out it is some kind of metronome device used for the marching band practice.  I couldn’t believe it.  There had to be over a hundred kids listening to that annoying sound, marching step by step to the beat – for hours at a time!  There were drummers practicing and other instruments – it was quite the production!  (I talked to a couple of them who were serving for mass, one being the drum major, and they told me that in the last weeks of summer they had 14 hour days and now that school is in session they practice every day after school for two hours!)  Then I crossed by the soccer goals and there were about 40 kids practicing drills.  I walked past that across the football field and there were two separate offense and defensive lines practicing on either side of the field.  Again, probably another hundred kids on the field going over offensive and defensive plays. 

There was a ton of energy there and it was quite a sight to see.  I began thinking: “What is it about sports that draws these kids?  What is it that makes them so dedicated?  These kids practice EVERY day after school for HOURS!  And they want to!  For what? 

I can’t help but think of last year.  My pastor, Fr. Martello, had asked me to run the confirmation program.  This is our program for freshman and sophomores.  I enjoyed doing this, working with the teens, and the facilitators, but I have to admit it was absolutely EXHAUSTING dealing with the non-stop requests and demands from the kids and their parents.  Now believe me I want to help people and accommodate them, but it was ridiculous the amount of times these kids COULDN’T miss their practice or their scrimmage or their game.  I would often say to the parents: “What’s more important.”  And the response was commonly: “Father, can’t they do both?”  Well, yes, they can, but to a point!   At some point you do have to choose.  This is where Joshua’s challenge rings true:  “If it does not please you to serve the lord, decide today whom you will serve.”  I think after praying with this passage, I’m not doing in anymore… no more allowing sports to dominate your lives… you have to choose. 

Fr. Larry Richards describes this modern day dilemma very well, in his book: “Be a Man!  Becoming the Man God Created You to Be.”  (http://amzn.to/NPpFsa
Most men are willing to spend time doing just about anything else – making money, work out, watch sports, etc. – rather than spend time getting to know God.  I used to teach boys at an all-boys Catholic high school.  The main argument every year was, what is more important – God or sports?  What do you think won?  Sports!  Sports can become a god for people because, many times, people give so much of their time and energy to sports.  Every year I’d have the same conversation.  
“Gentleman, what do you want to do this year?”  I’d ask. 
“We are going to be state champions, Father”, my Catholic School students would reply. 
“Whoa, state champions.  I’m impressed.  What are you going to do, gentlemen, to become state champions?”
Do you know what they would say?  They will have to spend four hours a day, every day, throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball, or hitting a hockey puck; the swimmers will have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to start swimming – and they did it.  They still do it to this day, so they can become state champions.  They did it gladly.  Can you imagine? 
Years ago, the football team actually became the state champions!  Those kids were on the top of the world!  “Look at us, we’re state champions.”  A lot of them went to college and received full scholarships.  But, now, they are doing nothing when it comes to sports!  Nothing!  When they get to be my age, they will tell their sons, “When I was your age, son, I was a state champion football player,” And their kids will look at them and say, “Shut up, Dad.  You are just fat and bald now – nobody cares.” 
People put all this time and energy into things that are passing and ultimately will not matter.  If I asked those same kids, “Gentlemen, what are you doing this year?” 
“We are going to be state champions.” 
“What are you going to do to prove to me you are going to be state champions?” 
If they say, “Well, we are going to practice once a week, if we feel like it, for forty-five minutes to an hour and we are going to have good thoughts about the game.” 
I would say:  “Wrong answer, gentlemen.  You are going to be horrible in sports.  You are not going to go anywhere if you give it only forty-five minutes to an hour and add some good thoughts.” 

Yet, this is how we so often approach our spiritual lives!!!  Really?  Is this going to win you the game in the spiritual life?  Is this kind of commitment going to get you to heaven?  Is this what Jesus suffered and died for? 

What is so commendable about Joshua is that he took a stand. 

"If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Who will you serve?  To whom will you dedicate your time and your energy too? 

Who or what preoccupies your thoughts and desires?  What are you most dedicated to? 

Now I know the immediate answer most will say is “God,” but if we are honest… if we really look at how we order our lives, we will probably find that we are really not as dedicated as we think.  Really, think about this.  How much time and energy do you really dedicate to focused “practice?  These grade school and high school kids will spend three hours every day after school in sports.  How much time ought we spend “practicing” our faith, getting to know God, learning, praying, and being intensely focused on God?  Think about all of the things that your pour your energy into, willingly or unwillingly.  Think about what consumes your mind, what you spend the most time and energy thinking about.  Is it really God? 

What I’m asking you to do today is the same thing that Joshua commanded.  “Decide today whom you will serve.” 

Here are three ways that I think this can be done. 

1)       Dedicate yourself, your heart, your home, and your family to God.  “As for me and my family we will serve the Lord.”   Take command and control of your family and choose to dedicate yourself to the Lord.  Stop giving in to all of the other things, activities, and events that are less important.  Make a concerted choice to put God first.  Actually do this.  Make it some kind of ritual – hang a crucifix or paint these words on your front door.  Claim yourself and your family to Christ and do so BOLDLY. 
2)      Make a daily “Holy Hour.”  Now I know this may seem difficult, but think about it, we are talking about investing in eternal life!  These kids will spend hours in sports, you may spend hours at work, or with a hobby like golf, or watching TV.  "Where your treasure is, there is your heart...." "Could you not watch one hour with me?" (Mt 6:21; 26:40)  You can make time in your life, you need to make time in your life every day in a dedicated and focused time with God.  Do this if possible at your church in front of the Blessed Sacrament (24 Reasons for Spending a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/prayers/adoration-to-the-holy-sacrament/24-reasons-for-spending-a-holy-hour-before-the-blessed-sacrament/).  I hear it from “practicing” Catholics all the time.  They’ll start by saying “Father, I’m a good Catholic… I go to mass on Sundays, and Father, I pray every day.”  “How do you pray?” I ask.  “Well, I don’t really spend time in prayer, but I talk to God all the time, well actually mostly when I need something.”  We need to have that same dedication that we have to sports, and work, and hobbies, and even more so we need to have it with God.  Traditionally the Saints have called for a “holy hour.”  The idea is that if we are really committed to Christ and serious about serving the Lord then we need to spend at least one hour with Him every day. 
3)      Come early and stay late.  I’ve noticed this more and more at my parish and I know it happens at others.  People came late to mass and leave early.  I know, I know this is hard for me especially when it’s the early mass!  But, if this is the source and summit of our faith… if the Sunday Eucharist is “game day” then we simply cannot be coming in late.  Every time we leave early or come late we are making a choice and are in fact putting something else in front of God… we are creating an idol.  Every time we leave early or rush out of there to get to something else – we are placing that thing or event above God.  If you are leaving early to get home and watch TV you have just made TV an idol.  If you are leaving early to get to a sporting event you are worshiping an event above God, if you are leaving early to go to breakfast, you are placing food above God… whatever it is, you have just created and worshipped an idol because you have either come late or left early from the event that is supposed to be the center of our lives. 

Today, God is asking you to make a choice.  He is asking you to look at your life and what you are dedicated and committed to and He is asking you to choose “Who you will serve.”  For the followers of Jesus this was a “hard saying” and many of them left.  “Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers.  When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people and he forced them to make a choice.  And with great conviction he dedicated himself and claimed his family for God.  “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” 

Today, dedicate yourself to Christ, make a resolution to a daily holy hour, and come to mass early and stay late. 

Decide today whom you will serve… as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

3 comments:

  1. Father- You are spot on... I hope you keep preaching this. However, it is an uphill battle, which I can fully attest to as a mom of multiple children who have been nationally competitive in two sports. AND as a Catholic mom who has made the decision (with my husband) to walk away from all of it (twice) to recommit our family to God. I can't tell you how hard it is to do that as a parent. Nobody walks away from a starting position on a national championship team in order to reclaim Sunday as the Lords' Day. Just us. Perhaps other committed Catholics are just more faithful... enough not to become ensnared in the first place.

    Here's a real scenario played out over and over again:
    Preteen girls travel sports. Want a college scholarship? Gotta play club. And it's ALL about the scholarship for families today. Okay. So, 90% of the team is Catholic. Registered and active at their parish churches and schools. How many go to mass when the team travels? One family. Ours. How often is travel? Most weekend for months. Same with all the age groups, same with the boys teams. "Say a prayer for us!" the Catholics say. "Glad I'M not a Catholic" the others say. The kids get hassled for being so "holy." We're late for games or events. Biggest national bid tournament of the season? EASTER weekend. In Baltimore. Friday, Saturday, and SUNDAY. One Catholic family we know has spent the last 10 Easters in Baltimore. Families complain about Catholic school tuition but pay as much as $7000 (including travel costs) to play on a competitive club team for one season. They want value from the schools. They want EVERYTHING from sport.

    Our kids are talented and we, very naturally, love to help them achieve. but society has lost it's moorings and youth sports have gone mad. The gaping hole left by the absence of Christ has to be filled with something. Enter youth sports. I could write a book. The Olympics used to inspire me but now they make me weep... because I know what those young people have sacrificed to get there. It is insanity. Literally. Topsy turvy world. And people say WE are the crazy ones for giving it up!

    Keep praying for all of us, Father. It is almost impossible to fight it, crazy as that sounds. I will pray for you as well, particularly when you lay down your sacramental prep ultimatum. We've been on the other end of things and know that in the cutthroat world of youth sports, missing a practice or tournament means problems: loss of a starting position, bullying, negative treatment by coaches, loss of money. God bless your efforts. We stand with you.

    One more thing... CYO will not generally allow coaches to schedule around sacramental prep or Confirmations. They're supposed to but they don't. Even when the faith event schedules are turned in before the season schedule is made... the powers that be are immovable. We've seen teams work hard all season to get to the CYO play-offs, get there, and lose because half the team has Confirmation. It's a real problem when even CYO makes kids choose between sport and faith!!

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  2. I also love how CYO schedules games on SUNDAYS!!! Well if the Catholic Youth Org thinks it's important to schedule games on Sunday...then I guess it's okay to play that day, right? What happened to the holiness and rest that God asks of us? Yet CYO continues this year after year. Every available minute is spent in activity and there is precious little time for solitude and prayer.

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  3. Sports trump Sunday School every time.

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