I have spent a good portion of the last seventeen years on the sidelines of soccer fields. All of my children have played soccer from the beginning leagues through high school. They have not all played at the same level. The level of their play was determined less by their natural ability than by their willingness to work at the game.
My two older boys played recreational league soccer. You show up for practice once per week and play one game per week. When you are at practice or a game, you work hard and play hard. But when you are not involved in team activities, you don’t really think about it too much. This leaves plenty of time for Boy Scouts, music lessons, jobs, youth group, and just hanging out. It is a great way to enjoy the beautiful game of soccer in a low stress environment.
The youngest son plays travel soccer on a mid-level team. He practices twice weekly with the team and also practices fairly regularly with a private trainer. His team does a couple of local tournaments every year. He still does Boy Scouts and takes piano lessons. It is not unusual for boys on the team to miss practice or games because they are involved in a school activity. At this level of travel soccer, occasional absences are tolerated.
My daughter played high level travel soccer through high school and now is on a Division 1 college soccer team. Her travel team practiced at twice weekly and had at least one game every week. In addition to league games they traveled throughout the country to play tournaments. They were one of the top travel teams in the country. Outside of team practices my daughter worked with a private soccer trainer every week. Every day she did some kind of fitness conditioning or weight training. Only Church or academics trumped her soccer activities. She still took flute lessons and participated in the parish youth group social events but those activities took a back seat to soccer. She left early from many a school dance because she had to be well rested for a game the next day. The drive to play at this level must come from within. There is a lot of hard work and sacrifice involved. My daughter thought it was worth it. My boys did not.
This striation of effort is perfectly acceptable when you are talking about soccer. It is just a game. It is not acceptable when you are talking about our Catholic faith. Our parish has begun to incorporate Latin and chant into the Novus Ordo Mass. I heard a gentleman complaining that this made the Mass too hard. He just wants to come in, get the Mass over with, and forget about all the frills. Is it really that hard to spend a few minutes outside of Mass learning the Latin prayers? Is preparation for Mass too much to expect?
I suggest that showing up for Mass on most Sundays with little thought about it either before or after Mass doesn’t even rank as a recreational league Catholic. This is the equivalent of an occasional pick up game. When it comes to our faith, we should all be aiming for the highest level. Mass is not enough. We need a private prayer life. We need the study of Scripture. We need to study our faith. We need to condition our consciences to think with the Church. Every thought, word, and deed should be an offering to God. When we fall, we throw ourselves on Christ’s Divine Mercy, and with His Grace, confess our sins, do penance, and avoid all that leads us to sin. When we are at Mass, it should be intentional not incidental. Prepare for the Mass. Read the readings ahead of time. Learn the Latin. Reflect on the message of the liturgical season. Don’t just attend Mass. Assist at Mass. Your active participation has nothing to do with how loudly you sing or how vigorously you shake your neighbor’s hand at the Sign of Peace. Rather, your active participation is determined by your awareness of the True Sacrifice on the altar. Are you actively joining your prayers with those of the priest?
Not all of us desire or are able to be Division 1 soccer players. However, we should desire to be Division 1 Catholics. By the Grace of God, we are each able to do so.