Examiner Sports column, 14 March 2008.

March 21, 2008

Stopping Sunday sport won’t stem Mass exodus

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered here together to cast light again where once there was only darkness.

I’m glad to see so many young
people here in church today. I know that you would all prefer to be out on the playing fields of Ireland this morning — or, if truth be told, nursing your hangovers at home, ho ho ho.

(Echoing cough).

Seriously, however, how gratifying it is to know that even now, in these godless times, that a fine smack of the crozier can still bring the masses to heel.

Now let us raise our voices . . .

We give up. It’s hard to sustain a sermon ever since Alan Bennett’s turn in Beyond the Fringe almost 50 years ago, and the immortal Take A Pew sketch (“My brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man,” etc etc).

Listening to Archbishop Dermot Clifford on the radio during the week, discussing the bishops’ appeal for an end to games and training sessions on Sunday morning in favour of returning to the days when those Sunday morning was for mass, it was interesting to hear him say the bishops were seeking to initiate a debate on the issue.

If initiating a debate is some kind of synonym for provoking a storm of laughter and disbelief they must be satisfied with how things have gone since, even if they’re a little disappointed there hasn’t been a call for a return to the days of Bishops John Charles McQuaid and Cornelius Lucey while they were at it.

The GAA and the IRFU responded quickly to the episcopal comments (the FAI didn’t, but then, given their penchant for waiting until the wee small hours of the morning before issuing statements, that’s hardly surprising).

The two sporting bodies which found the time to respond to the bishops’ statement pointed out that it was impractical not to use one of the two relatively free mornings in the week for games and training.

However, the bishops had acknowledged that in their original statement. They conceded that many youngsters have part-time jobs on Saturdays or Sundays which preclude them from going to Mass.

There you have the crux of the issue. It’s only a time management issue to the extent that it’s a different epoch.

If you can remember the hungry eighties, then you can recall a time when the notion of part-time jobs being so plentiful as to interfere with any aspect of Irish life was laughable. That change — and all the others along with it — in the last decade have left a lot of people scratching their heads about the country, the bishops no more than the rest of us.

But you can’t have it both ways. Calling for an end to games and training on Sunday mornings while simultaneously acknowledging that one of the reasons people aren’t going to mass is their part-time job is talking out of both sides of your mouth.

It’s okay for you to collect glasses in a pub or sweep the aisles of a supermarket, but don’t even think about running around a field for some fresh air on a Sunday morning? Admitting the country has changed on one hand while seeking to continue with the old order is neither consistent nor viable.

We note, incidentally, that the bishops also opened a new front in this war towards the end of the week when calling on the GAA to end alcohol sponsorship and set an example to other sports.

There’s an odd logic being applied here, that the largest amateur sporting organisation in the country should be the one depriving itself of sponsorship in the belief that the country’s professional sports would follow suit. That’s logic on a par with . . . suggesting that an end to Sunday games and training will lead to a sudden spike in mass attendance.

We’re not getting into name-calling, or suggesting that the bishops might have more pressing matters to attend to. Mass attendance is down all over, but whether people attend or not has little enough to deal with their kids’ session begins at 11 or 12 on a Sunday.

If they want to be there, they’ll be there. That’s how the doctrine of free works, as Bishop Lucey told us all those years ago.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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