Reclaiming the Sabbath

While most people returned to a full week of work and school this week, the majority of our college students are still on vacation. For those of us who work with college students, we are able to be a little more relaxed as well. While I have parish and other responsibilities to attend to, I am able to take advantage of the college break by taking three days off this week and next, a chance to relax before travelling with a group of UMD students for a week in Washington D.C. for the March for Life. Classes will then resume the following week.

The trip to Washington and the start of the new semester will be exciting and nice to see people returning from the winter break, but another reality will set in: a crazy schedule. As I was watching the free spaces on my calendar quickly melt away, I am challenged by my own preaching: I need to be sure there is time for God.

This challenge by the way is more than just taking time to pray. In the Book of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day. The challenge that has been gnawing at me is making sure I take time to live, to enjoy life, to rest, to pray and to be human. The other challenge that St. John Paul II mentioned in his letter on keeping the Sabbath (Dies Domini) is making sure that the day of rest isn’t filled up with everything that needs to get done. In that case, we are just doing different work, but work none-the-less.

As I am writing this, I am aware that all of you are more aware of this challenge than I am. The demands of family, work and career, and other responsibilities seem to swallow us. Despite that the truth remains: to flourish, to be happy and fulfilled, we need time to grow, to pray, enjoy life, etc.

To a certain respect this involves rethinking “quality” time. Friends of mine once said that date night has turned into 10 minutes of walking the dog together. Not what they had envisioned when they got married, but 10 minutes that they treasure and that provides them with a much-needed boost throughout the week. Certainly in a busy schedule it is difficult to block out an entire evening or afternoon or morning. We learn that it is the quality of the experiences that are life-giving, not the length of time.

However, we are still faced with challenge. God rested. God Who is all-powerful, all-knowing, Perfect Being. He rested. For a day. How do we (who are finite and imperfect beings) think we can possibly maintain this pace without taking a day? Answer: we can’t. Eventually it catches up to us.

A few years ago I was in Kentucky for some meetings with the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. I had added a couple days afterwards for a mini-vacation. While the meetings were productive, they were long and tiring. They ended on Saturday and off I went to do the tourist thing. Here’s the thing about Kentucky (at least a few years ago), everything shuts down on Sunday. At first I was annoyed, but then grateful. After joining the Trappist Monks at Gethsemane for Mass, I spent the day watching football and relaxing, which I hadn’t been able to do for a long time.

My friends, we have to reclaim the Sabbath. It needs to be different, not just by going to Mass, but by slowing down, being with family and/or good friends, and relaxing. It is the day that we celebrate the Resurrection, an event that is meant to give us pause and reflect on the big picture and realize that all of this running around is not what life is about. We ought to take some time (in addition to Mass) to learn more about this God Who loves us so much.

This is not an easy thing to do. We need to make a paradigm shift, one that isn’t shared by our culture. Just because Walmart is open and has a great sale doesn’t mean we need to be there. It will involve saying no and meeting with resistance, within ourselves and from others. 

Let us commit ourselves to keeping Sunday holy. Let us make it a day that refreshes and rejuvenates, a day that we grow closer to God and to one another.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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