Neil McNicholas: How football, politicians and Sunday trading are eroding Easter

IT is sad to see that the marginalising of the Christian faith continues apace in our society, despite David Cameron’s assertion on Easter Day that we are still a Christian country.

We stepped onto that slippery slope when Sunday trading was permitted. Little by little more and more shops justified their “need” to do business on a Sunday so that, eventually, it has become pretty much like any other day on the high street.

The arguments to support this usually run along the lines of the need for people whose work schedule makes it difficult for them to shop during the week to have the opportunity to shop.

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Well, that was always the case, but people shopped on Saturdays – just as they can now – and we also now have late opening hours during the week, so it is difficult to justify the need for shops to be open on Sundays.

And what is often overlooked is that, in order for people to shop, staff have to work on Sundays – which, again, goes against the important Christian precept (actually a commandment of God) to “keep the Sabbath holy”. And how many bosses would respond sympathetically to requests from staff to not to have to work on Sundays? Most workers, especially part-timers, would be too afraid of losing their jobs to ask – but they should never be put in such a position in the first place.

It’s the same with builders and contractors working on Sundays and their employees having no choice but to work. No doubt the proverbial “carrot” is the prospect of a higher hourly rate, but such work is rarely absolutely necessary and may serve only to disrupt the peace and quiet of Sunday for everyone else. The one exception, of course, would be shift workers.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, last Thursday was the day of the televised debate between the leaders of the major political parties in the run-up to the General Election.

Thursday was also Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Holy Week “Triduum” – three major celebrations commemorating Jesus’ Passion and death. Traditionally the Maundy Thursday service is held in the early evening, exactly the time chosen for the debate to be broadcast.

Yes, people have the option these days to record programmes, but did it ever cross the minds of the broadcasters to consider whether their plans clashed with anything else (and possibly more important)? I suspect not, otherwise why would they create a conflict of interests for that considerable proportion of the electorate planning to go to church? Couldn’t the debate just as easily have been on Wednesday?

Then we came to Good Friday when the traditional church service is held in the afternoon. And what happens? The footballing authorities schedule matches at the same time and so tens of thousands of people are faced with a conflict of whether to go to church or to the match – especially if they are season ticket holders and have already paid for their ticket.

Couldn’t the Easter weekend games just as easily be scheduled for other days? And in any case didn’t anyone at the FA consider that Good Friday just isn’t an appropriate day for sports?

On the subject of football, why do those who organise youth leagues constantly create conflicts for the children involved by scheduling games for Sunday mornings?

Many Catholic parents these days are reluctant to tell their children that going to church on a Sunday should be a priority over other things, but their children shouldn’t be faced with having to make such a choice in the first place.

Sunday should be a day of rest and relaxation, quality time spent with family. There’s plenty of time for playing football on Saturday mornings – just as all professional football matches used to be played on Saturdays until TV sponsorship money entered into the picture.

How do we Christians fight against this ever-encroaching tide of secularism and, it has to be said, an increasing degree of apathy on our part, a reluctance to take a stand?

It is up to each one of us to answer that question, and until we do then step-by-step we are losing control of the one day in the week that we should be keeping sacred to God.

And even for those who don’t believe in God, it wouldn’t do them any harm at all to keep and enjoy at least one day a week of peace and relaxation. Do we have to work every day God sends?

Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.