4 February 2018

Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl’s “Death of Saint Scholastica”. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12),

or as many Catholics who have left the practice of the faith say,

“Welcome to Super Bowl LII!”

     This weekend, the religious cult of a completely secular nature will be on full display for many people: the Super Bowl. This almost-religious annual frenzy that takes over devoted fans is curious to observe. They know the statistics, the history, the play-by-plays, and the biographies of their favorite teams and players. Fans will spend hundreds, if not thousands, on “their” team’s tickets, memorabilia, clothing, and accessories. The partying behavior of fans that often stretches along many hours can also be quite interesting to see, to say the least, with results that people often are paying for the next day. In fact, one recent poll asked if people thought that the day after the Super Bowl should be a paid holiday. According to those results from the staffing firm that conducted the poll, OfficeTeam, 72% of HR managers responded positively to a paid, national holiday following the Super Bowl.

     There is nothing, of course, inherently wrong about the Super Bowl or any other sport competitions. In fact, they serve a useful purpose in our lives. Man is a composite, or a union, of spirit (soul) and matter (the body). To maintain physical health, it is perfectly appropriate to exercise the body within sporting contexts with the added benefit of learning the virtue of how to be a good winner or a graceful loser in sports, especially within a team environment. All of this is a healthy part of life physically, mentally, socially, and psychologically.

     However, this does not mean that we can ignore our spiritual life and health in favor of the physical body exclusively. Both are essential. People amazingly have time and energy for sports and their requisite fan-base activities, but the most basic requirement for our spiritual union with God—worshipping and honoring Him by going to Mass—is often meant with the usual, tired excuse of “not having enough time because I am too busy.” In fact, everyone makes time for what is important in their lives. We naturally dedicate the most time in our day to our highest priorities. 

     What, then, are we to conclude from the current lack of interest in many Catholics’ faith compared to their dedication to sports or other activities that are not related to God? We see that a high premium is paid, as it were, for entertainment that is tangible and immediate. Our life with God, however, requires something else—something elevated in our life. In fact, many Catholics will gravitate to Masses that are entertaining but also superficial because they leave one spiritually empty when such liturgical celebrations are more often a reflection of the priest’s narcissism rather than a focus on the Mass’ proper orientation: God Himself. 

     Many people simply are unwilling to learn more about their Catholic faith and would rather have it given to them in mediocre doses with minimal attendance and actual participation. The spiritual very often cannot compete with the immediate exhilaration that comes from material pursuits giving greater comfort and pleasure. This is a truly sad situation because man, by his very nature, is made to worship someone other than himself. If he fails to worship the one, true God, then he will find all sorts of inferior substitutes. Sports are only one option among so many others, but the lure of sports as if it were an actual religion is so dominant because of the millions, and even billions, of dollars that they generate.

     Interestingly, many Southern communities in which evangelical Protestants exert great influence do not have sports competitions on Sunday, or if they do, they do not begin until after 12 noon. This demonstrates that there does not, in fact, have to be an either-or situation when it comes to honoring the Sabbath. Sunday for Christians is the Sabbath because it is the day in which Jesus Christ rose from the dead in His resurrection. Sunday is the day of the new re-creation in Christ. We are made for Him, we are made by Him, and we are made to return to Him in eternal glory. That cannot occur if we do not know, love, serve, and worship now. Our time that we spend here in this world is a mere prelude of what we shall share with Him forever. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day” (no. 2195). 

     Unfortunately, we have seen too often that Christians have capitulated to the demands of secular society in removing religious activities—especially the attendance at Mass—from people’s lives by filling Sunday with more activities that parents supposedly “have to attend.” What does the Church require on Sundays? Are they to be totally free of any activity? The Church herself teaches that “the faithful are bound…to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2193). Instead of a false competition in a person’s life between Sunday sports and Sunday Mass as if it were either one or the other, both are actually possible as long as one’s attendance at Mass is the priority, therefore. 

     The Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is for our benefit given by God. What, then, is the point of taking at least one day of the week to worship God, most importantly on the day that He rose from the dead? The Sunday worship of God reminds us of who we are beyond the obvious need to honor our Creator. When we fail to go to Mass, we forget who we are. The Western world largely has forgotten who we are as a culture and a people largely because faith has been relegated to a purely personal activity that one can either take it or leave it; in addition, people who are faithful are often looked down upon as backwater, superstitious hillbillies who cling to a medieval religion like Catholicism.

     Worshipping God at Sunday Mass reminds us of the special dignity that we have as human beings. No other creature can worship like man is able to in both body and spirit. We are elevated from all of God’s other creations precisely because we can worship God in the way that He revealed to us. The Mass also shows us that God has so united Himself with us that He will never rescind His promise to share His very life with us. The Son of God took on our human nature, and He has promised that we can consume that very Flesh and Blood resurrected from the slavery of death in order to give us life abundantly now as the foretaste and promise of the eternal worship of God in heaven. The Mass reveals to us who we are meant to be as a reflection of Jesus Himself. How tragic that so many Catholics waste their lives never realizing this because they are too busy to see who scored the latest touchdown to earn the Super Bowl ring.

     We pray that Jesus Christ will always remain our priority in life and that His virtues and grace will dominate all the necessary, daily activities of our life.   

     May you have a most blessed and holy week!

     Fr. Shawn William Cutler


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