Catholic parents are called to raise children of faith. Sounds easy — right? That requires bringing them to Mass each Sunday, teaching them how to pray, and talking to them about God, morality and faith — right? Easy peasy! However, let’s not jump to that conclusion so fast. The Catholic Catechism has a lot more to say about raising children of faith; but, let’s condense this discussion to one question: What about raising athletes of faith?
In June of 2018, the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life issued “Giving the Best of Yourself,” a document offering guidelines, recommendations, and warnings to parents when trying to raise children of faith.
It’s an interesting read, and parents who have serious sports-minded children ought to take a few minutes to read it — for their own sake and for the sake of their athletes.
We live in an era where our children are encourage to just do it or give it your all when it comes to sports. But how does giving one’s all for baseball (for instance) comport with giving authentically back to God? Especially if/when many sports tournaments are now scheduled on weekends including Sunday. Such schedules often preclude families from even getting to Church on Sunday if their athlete wants to participate in the sport.
Recently I talked to a mother who had searched frantically for mass times while attending an out of town baseball tournament with her family. The family ended up missing Sunday Mass because the tournament game schedule conflicted with the various, limited Mass times available in the area. The mother felt bad about missing Sunday Mass. Years ago, she wouldn’t have faced that dilemma.Tournament schedulers would have avoided scheduling games on Sunday mornings, but not today! Now parents are forced to explain their faith choices to the whole team. That actually enables them to give witness to their faith nobly, but it also provides a temptation to surrender to the human will rather than the divine!
“Sports can be a very rich source of values and virtues that help us to become better people.” (Pope Francis, on the Vatican document “Giving the Best of Yourself”)
However … sports can also turn our attention away from what’s really important in life. Sports — to the extreme — can turn into an obsession for success. They can turn into an obsession for popularity. They can even turn into an obsession for political and economic gain. Such obsessions end up debasing the human person. Sporting accidents can bring about serious harm to the human body via torn ligaments and muscles and broken bones or concussions. Personal obsessions or heavy reliance on sports can even cause athletes to develop eating disorders (due to strict weight controls). Sports can even result in an athlete feeling objectified by parents, coaches, and friends and fans alike. A sport can end up causing an athlete to feel loved only when he/she succeeds on the playing field rather than being loved for his/her own sake.
The different sports clearly are not the only things forcing parents and families to choose between God or self. There are plenty of other distractions and diversions that turn us away from God — incrementally or in large measure. Today, these different distractions help us to prove just how devoted we are to the plan to raise up athletes/children of faith. If/when we allow our children to invest themselves wholly in the discovery of self rather than seeking/finding God’s will for their lives, we will fail to raise authentic children of faith.
Today, we are all being called forth to admit our faith or to denounce it on so many different fronts — besides sports. Will yours be the household that declares: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”? Or will yours be the household that wilts under pressure to choose self-interests over God’s interests?
The truest way we honor our children is to teach them how to honor God first and foremost and with their whole hearts, and minds, and souls. After all, God endows each of our children with their natural talents and abilities — we can’t and didn’t create them all by ourselves. And so, He has a master plan for each of them. Let’s help them discover what that plan is by turning to Him. He alone gives us the grace to learn obedience, humility, honesty, kindness, faithfulness should we choose to follow Him.
Many athletes and their parents fail to realize that the graces of God — imparted to us through faith and the sacraments — allow us to imitate Him. These virtues are the only authentic means “that brings together families and communities together in joy and celebration.” It’s human and divine virtue that prevents and inhibits us from dehumanizing and objectifying other people. Virtuous living will help dissuade the athlete from turning to drugs to enhance their own performance even when they know it would increase their home run average. Virtuous living dissuades negative behavior in the fans’ stands.
For the rest of this summer, strive to raise children of faith in an even more deliberate and faithful way. It’s never as easy as it sounds. Parents and their children face a lot of distractions and diversions and landmines and decoys that steer us in the wrong direction. Or that work to convince us vice doesn’t matter. Mother Teresa was the first to remind us that “God doesn’t require us to succeed; He only requires that we try.” So, parents and grandparents alike, make this your battle cry this summer!
Have a blessed and safe summer!
Copyright 2019 Linda Kracht