Shortly after Bishop Murphy came to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, he issued his first pastoral letter, "Rediscovering Sunday." In it, he kindly but firmly exhorted his people to begin attending Sunday Mass more faithfully: "I call upon everyone, and especially parents who are the primary formers of their children in the faith, to recommit themselves and their families to regular, weekly attendance at Sunday Mass."
He goes on to explain the serious obligation every Catholic who is not physically impaired has to attend Mass every Sunday. The letter ends with a clear call for everyone to re-examine their priorities so Sunday Mass will again occupy a special place of honor in our lives. Some of the obligations we should seriously try to reschedule? His answer: Work obligations, children’s involvement in sports programs, errands, chores and shopping.
Should children be doing this on Sunday morning ?
Creating a ‘sacred space’ in our week for the worship of God, he insists, will go a long way towards restoring our life and spirit. Moreover, the regular re-connection with God at Sunday Mass will help us rebuild our relationships with each other.
It would seem, alas, that Bishop Murphy’s initial endeavors to restore Sunday to a place of honor, have had very little effect. If anything, there would seem to be more secular Sunday morning activities now, five years later, than there ever were.
Occupying first place on the list of Sunday activities are, of course, soccer and other field sports. There is actually a several decades-long tradition of ‘Soccer-on-Sunday’ on Long Island. It is only recently that Little League teams and other team sports have also begun encroaching on the Sunday morning schedule.
Or is something like this more appropriate?
(As an interesting aside, in Amityville, thanks to a brave Protestant Little League commissioner, Sunday practices and games were banned for many years, but it is doubtful that this man’s principled stand will much longer survive the demands of his (probably Catholic) team parents and coaches. )
What is particularly disturbing is the very recent capitulation of CYO teams to this dishonorable practice. Many CYO teams, despite the Bishop’s letter, now have Sunday morning practices and games. An especially ugly example of this can be found at a certain very affluent parish where, while Sunday Mass is going on in the school chapel, the CYO basketball team is hard at work practicing a few doors down the hall in the gym.
Most ominous of all is the announcement by the Lynbrook Public School Superintendent of a parade honoring the community’s young athletes to be held this Sunday, Dec. 10, at 10:00 in the morning. This, in a district liberally populated with Catholics and a public school superintendent with an unmistakably Catholic surname!
Such inroads on the ‘sacred space’ of Sunday are strongly evocative of the Communist strategies in post World War II Eastern Europe. Parades, political events, and public demonstrations were routinely held on Sunday morning in an obvious effort to keep the largely Catholic population from attending Sunday Mass.
What can be done to keep Sunday from being completely secularized? Of course, more episcopal messages and reminders would be most beneficial. The first letter was a very auspicious beginning; more letters like it, as well as exhortations from the parish and school ought to be forthcoming.
Traditional Palm Sunday morning procession.
Catholic parents, most emphatically, should refuse to allow their children to participate in Sunday morning sports activities. With the overwhelmingly Catholic population of Long Island, this would quickly put a stop to all attempts to usurp Sunday for mundane purposes.
Sports are a beautiful demonstration and celebration of the human spirit, particularly soccer, with its exuberant pace and thoroughly Catholic origins. Long Island, blessed with mild weather and abundant flat, green fields, is a perfect venue for such athletic development and contests, but this island will not continue to be blessed if future generations continue to ignore and dishonor God and His holy day.