This week’s question: You say, “Don’t work on Sunday.” If I watch a football game, the players are working. Am I causing them to sin?
Now that football season has rolled into full swing (I know, rolling is for bowling and swings are for baseball – but, well, you know what I mean …), your question seems very timely. So, as always, thanks for asking! Number 3 on the original Top Ten list is this: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work …”
The point of the Third Commandment is two-fold: (1) to “Remember” (2) to “keep holy” the Lord’s Day. Let’s take those one-at-a-time. We “Remember” always – but on Sunday especially – what the Lord Jesus has done for us; and, at least as importantly, what He is doing for, in, and through us. That’s primarily what Mass is all about. We “Remember” these things by participating in them as we are caught up into eternity for the span of an hour or so at Mass each week on Sunday.
The second component of Commandment number 3 has to do with “keeping holy” this holy day. To make or to keep something holy means to set it apart for God – to make it different from all other (profane) things. This we do certainly by assisting at Mass on Sunday, but also and especially by not doing ordinary work-a-day things (and, out of justice) by not inciting others to do ordinary (and unnecessary) work.
Now, what about (and here’s the crux of your question) NFL football on Sunday? Certainly, this is unnecessary work (unlike in the case of firefighters, police, priests, etc.). In that sense, by watching these games on Sunday, we are cooperating in the evil of having others break the 3rd Commandment. I will offer a couple of distinctions here, however. The first is a moral principle which states that your cooperation in this is classified as indirect material cooperation (which may be allowable) so long as (1) you don’t approve of their breaking the commandment and (2) your participation is not necessary for the action to occur. The second is something that a certain former quarterback of the Great team (that would be the team with the big “G”) once said. This individual said that football players work from Monday through Saturday (generally), and on Sunday (again, generally), they play. And that’s actually what the Sabbath is for – to pray and play.
So, it would certainly be good to do whatever we can to change the culture of professional sports on Sunday – for many people other than the athletes themselves certainly do work then. At the same time, however, it’s not something that you would necessarily have to confess. Thanks for another great question. If you have further questions or insights into this one, please share them by commenting via our “Three Parish Catholic Family” Facebook page. And keep those questions coming! May God bless you this autumn and always!