At our Presbyteral Council meeting Tuesday, Father Jack Philipps made passing reference to a talk he is preparing on the theme “How To Keep Sunday Holy.” His comment piqued my interest for two reasons: 1) Jack is so thoughtful, articulate and witty that I always enjoy listening to him and reading what he writes; and, 2) As you probably know well by now, I have some strong convictions — even if I don’t always faithfully live them out — about the need we all have for quiet, for rest, for renewal.
In Jack’s brief comments, he indicated that he was preparing the talk on this theme for a group at St. John of Rochester, where he currently lives and ministers. He also made it clear that, while recognizing the central importance of participation in the Sunday Eucharist, he was thinking of what was once commonly called the Sabbath rest.
As I was driving to and from a meeting today, I found myself thinking about some of the questions I would like to raise if I were to lead a discussion on this theme with a group of parishioners: Is it even possible in the complex and busy world of ours to keep Sunday as a special day, different from all others? If it is possible, how can we best interpret and live out that value? What specific actions and observances would we normally include in a “well-kept” Sabbath? Are there any activities (save sin!) we would judge to be completely incompatible with a faithful living out of the spirit of Sunday?
I do believe deeply that we all have an obligation to keep Sunday holy. The special nature of that obligation goes back to the Genesis creation stories. It has deep rooting in the Resurrection event and in the history of the first churches. Somehow, we need to join the effort in our day and age to do all that we can to be faithful to that call.
Without doubt, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the question. I would hope that all would make a generous effort to worship with the faith community every Sunday. But I know that that is not always possible. Illness, economic necessity or occupations critical to public safety may limit one’s possibilities to attend Mass.
How, too, do we think about the rest of the day? It seems to me that the following elements are worth considering: Do my Sunday activities leave me with a sense of refreshment? Have they helped me to draw good news or helpful lessons from the past week? Have they sharpened my perspective about the week to come? Do I come away with a renewed sense of what is good, hopeful, noble and beautiful in life and a deeper awareness that God is the ultimate giver of all good gifts?
I don’t think that we have to spend the entire day in church or withdraw from activity into a place of silence. We can connect with the Lord while gardening or reading a book or listening to music. We can have a sense of the divine presence and of our own worth and dignity while talking with friends, riding bicycles or watching a ball game. The important thing is that we have special, dedicated times — Sunday being primary among them — in which to remember God’s lively and present love, and to thank God who is the source of all of the good favors we enjoy.
I’ll be looking forward to the encouragement and stimulus of Jack Philipps’ thoughts on keeping Sunday holy.
Peace to all.