Using Sports to Evangelize Young People

In these last days of the current pastoral year, I am reading through the First Book of Maccabees for my daily spiritual reflection. As you may recall, the Maccabees were a deeply religious Jewish family that refused the orders of the Greek king to abandon the requirements of the Law. The two Books of Maccabees relate the story of their valiant, courageous and sacrificial resistance against such betrayal of the Covenant.

What I had not noticed in prior times when I prayed over the Book of Maccabees was a small footnote that accompanies Chapter One. It highlights one of the most effective ways by which the Greeks won over Jewish youth to follow their pagan ways. The Greeks constructed a gymnasium in the center of Jerusalem and through sports and youth clubs tried to attract, form and indoctrinate young Jews to abandon their parents’ faith and follow “the ways of the world.”

We all know that sports have tremendous value in the formation of young people. It provides them an opportunity to work together for a common cause, learn the value of fair play and helps them to form friendships that can last for a lifetime. Years ago, the Church often utilized sports as a way to attract young people to their parishes, keep them involved in the community’s life, teach them to pray and also helped create a bridge to greater involvement in Mass and the Church’s other sacraments. CYO was the classical example of such an outreach.

Sadly, in recent years, the Church has not always emphasized the need to provide sports as a way to evangelize young people. However, the world has continued to do so, testified by the fact that many gyms have fuller parking lots on Sunday morning than many of our churches.

It seems to me that as we prepare to revitalize our ministry to youth and young adults, it is time to use sports once again to give our youth a path by which they can give glory to Christ.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.