When sports clash with Sunday Mass: What’s a parent to do?

| August 27, 2014 | 1 Comment
Ann Bergmann works hard to ensure that her two children, Alex, left, and Lauren, are able to attend Mass every Sunday even as they spend many weekends competing in sports tournaments. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ann Bergmann works hard to ensure that her two children, Alex, left, and Lauren, are able to attend Mass every Sunday even as they spend many weekends competing in sports tournaments. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Ann Bergmann senses that sports are becoming a “false idol” in American society.

In the next breath she admits that she, her husband, Brian, and their twins are a part of that culture.

Daughter Lauren and son Alex, fraternal twins entering the ninth grade at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, both played for school teams before they graduated this spring from St. Vincent de Paul School.

A parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park, Bergmann said both Lauren and Alex also have been on traveling sports teams for five years, so she knows all too well the drill of tournaments that begin Friday evening, run all day Saturday and begin again Sunday — often at 8 a.m. — and continuing until Sunday evening.

Is there any time for Mass?

“We will not miss Mass for a game, and in five years we haven’t,” Bergmann said. “I should add that the children have never had to miss a game, either. We’ve had to utilize the 5:30 Sunday evening Mass at St. Joseph the Worker [in Maple Grove, where Bergmann works as a bookkeeper part time] or sometimes be brushing baseball dirt off my son as we drive to church, but we make it work.”

Barbara Castagna, principal of Nativity of Mary School in Bloomington, said parents who are regular churchgoers “make it work” just as the Bergmanns do.

“We have a few Sunday night Masses close by,” Castagna said, “so I know they attend those if need be.”

That’s not the case for every family.

“I do think a lot are not regular churchgoers,” Castagna surmised, “so they just don’t go if there is a game.”

Father William Deziel sees tournaments as the main challenge keeping families from Mass on the weekends.

“There are volleyball and soccer and softball and baseball and basketball tournaments, et cetera,” the pastor of St. Peter in North St. Paul said. “Often times, these are traveling tournaments that take people out of town where they are not familiar with where to find a Catholic Church and the Mass times.”

Church locations and Mass times are easily found with Google and GPS nowadays, of course. The real problem, Father Deziel noted, is being unable to plan because of the way tournaments are set up.

“Some families get caught because games are scheduled both on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, and even as late as Sunday evenings,” Father Deziel said.

“They usually don’t know what the schedule will be like for the weekend because it is based on whether they win or lose games. So a family has to be very conscientious about fulfilling their Sunday obligation to participate fully in the sacrifice of the Mass.”

Bergmann can attest to that. She said that when one of her children’s teams has lost on Saturday, she’s heard other parents say, “Well, I guess we get to go to church tomorrow.”

A chance to witness

Families truly value their faith, Father Deziel acknowledged, but they feel caught between the demands of the tournament and coming to Mass.

Some families make the tough choice of putting their faith first and having their athletes skip tournament games in order to attend Mass.

“Taking the time to attend Mass in the midst of a tournament is a great way to witness to the rest of the team and to other parents the importance of our faith,” Father Deziel said.

“It’s actually a great opportunity to witness and evangelize. We often think we need to say something to evangelize, but sometimes our actions are what can powerfully speak to people, and skipping a game in order to go to Mass is a powerful witness.”

He called it understandable that there is a high desire to participate in all of the tournament games because the games are fun, and everyone wants to do their best in competition and to win if possible.

But he added, “Our faith often calls us to set aside the joys of this world to focus on transcendent joys that go beyond our life here and now.”

Other pressures on both players and parents can be a factor in some missing Mass to participate in a sports event.

Players want to compete whenever they can, of course, and they don’t want to “let down” their teammates and coaches by not playing.

Fees factor in

Parents also want their youngsters to play for those reasons and one more: money, Ann Bergmann noted.

Parents pay a lot of money for their children to play on traveling teams, with some even taking second jobs, she said.

Fees can run from the mere expensive — for one Twin Cities area volleyball club, $375 for a two-month spring season of traveling volleyball and $580 for the regular November-to-March season — to some eye-opening fees: For a traveling basketball season, $950 for one local team; $2,000 for another; and more than $4,000 for a teenager to play on an elite team that travels to tournaments out of state.

And, Bergmann noted, that doesn’t include the families’ expenses for gas, food and lodging when they travel to watch the games.

It’s no wonder parents don’t want their child to miss games.

Bergmann looks at her family always attending Mass as a way to stand up to the tide of the idolization of sports and say that church is their priority.

“We’ve talked about it with the kids,” she said. “We’ve always said it’s great to win national tournaments and to play the games, but the main reason we are here is to help one another get to heaven.”

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