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Apr 20, 2024 90 Father Joseph Gill, USA
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Is My Love for Sports Idolatry?

Q – How do I know if my love for sports is idolatry? I practice four hours a day, hoping to get a college scholarship, and I think about it all the time, following the professional teams closely. I love God, but He just doesn’t hold my interest like sports do. When does my passion cross the line into idolatry?

A – I, too, am passionate about sports. I played baseball in high school and college, and even as a priest, I continue to play Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, and American football. Sports can be “the field of virtue,” as Saint John Paul II once said. But in our modern world, we do often hold sports in very high esteem…perhaps too high.

My college baseball coach had a great saying: “Nothing in sports is eternal.” That helped me keep everything in perspective. Winning the championship or losing the game won’t make a bit of difference in eternity. It is meant to be fun, giving us a chance to exercise and practice teamwork, discipline, courage, and fairness—but there are no eternal consequences to an athletic contest.

So how do we keep sports in its proper perspective? We look at three things to know if sports (or anything else) has become an idol:

First, time. How much time do we spend on it versus how much time do we spend with the Lord? I once challenged a class of teens to spend ten minutes per day in prayer, and one boy told me that was impossible because he played video games. I asked him how much he played, and he told me that he often played eight to eleven hours per day! If a person doesn’t have time for a serious prayer life—fifteen to twenty minutes minimum, every day, because they are spending that time on sports, then it is indeed idolatry. This doesn’t mean that it has to be perfectly equal—if you practice for two hours per day, you don’t necessarily need to pray for two hours per day. But there does need to be enough time in your life to have a solid prayer life.

This includes making sure that our sports life does not conflict with Sunday worship. My brother, an excellent ballplayer, once had to miss an important tryout because it was being held on Easter Sunday morning. Whatever we do instead of Sunday Mass becomes our idol!

This also includes making time an integral part of our sacrifice for the Lord. Do you have the time to volunteer at your church or a local charity? Do you have enough time to perform your daily duties well (to do your studies to the best of your ability, to do household chores, and to be a good son/daughter and friend)? If sports take up so much time that there is no time to give back to others, then we are out-of-balance.

Second, money. How much money do we spend on sports games, equipment, trainers, gym memberships—versus how much money do we give to the church, charities, or the poor? Where we spend our money determines what our priorities are. Again, this isn’t necessarily a perfectly equal ratio—but generosity is a major part of belonging to the Lord, from Whom all good gifts come.

Finally, enthusiasm. In America, where I live, American football is our national religion. It amazes me to see grown men sit outside in sub-freezing temperatures at a Green Bay Packers game, with their shirts off and their chests painted team colors, wearing a foam hat in the shape of cheese (it’s a weird tradition!), cheering at the top of their lungs…and many of these same men would be bored in church on Sunday morning, barely mumbling the Mass responses (if they attended at all).

What makes you excited? Are you more excited for a sports contest that won’t be remembered in a year or for the challenge and joy of the epic quest for holiness, the chance to advance the Kingdom of God, the battle for souls which has eternal consequences, the pursuit of an eternal victory which will make your trophies pale in comparison?

If you find that your enthusiasm for sports is still stronger, consider what Christianity truly is. There is literally nothing more exciting and adventurous on earth than the quest to become a saint. It involves many of the same qualities as a good athlete: self-denial, dedication, and single-minded pursuit of a goal. But our goal has eternal reverberations!

Considering these three things—where you spend your time, how you spend your money, and what makes you excited. These can provide valuable insight as to when something has become an idol to us.

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Father Joseph Gill

Father Joseph Gill is a high school chaplain and serves in parish ministry. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Gill has published several albums of Christian rock music (available on iTunes). His debut novel, “Days of Grace” is available on amazon.com.

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