Column: How do you keep the third commandment?

by Father Mark Goldasich 

It’s the end of “weeklies” here at The Leaven and I’m thinking of buying everyone on the staff a T-shirt. You know, the one that reads: “I have just one nerve left, and you’re getting on it!”

Normally, we get along great here . . . but this is not a normal time. Weeklies really take their toll. Let’s face it: We’re tired, beat and ready for our every-other-week summer schedule. During weeklies the papers come so fast and furious that every day seems like a Tuesday (our deadline).

Of course, things are no calmer at the parish. Take this past Sunday, for example: I had Mass, a visit with a troubled parishioner, another Mass, a visit with an engaged couple, a baptism, lunch with my mom in Kansas City, and then a prayer service back in Tonganoxie for a parishioner who died.

After the wake service, I spent the remainder of the evening preparing the funeral liturgy, returning phone calls and proofreading this week’s Leaven pages.

I’m pretty sure that this was not what God had in mind when he gave us that third commandment: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Oh, I’m in church — a lot — on a typical weekend, but I’m not sure that I’m keeping the Lord’s Day as holy and as fully as it’s intended.

I remember the Sundays of my childhood. After going to Mass, we ate lunch (same menu each week) at my grandparents’ house with extended family, and spent the rest of the day doing . . . well, nothing really. We might read the Sunday paper, go to the cemetery to pray at the graves of loved ones, play cards, or just sit on the front porch, sip a cool drink, watch traffic go down Fifth Street, visit with the neighbors (who were also out on their front porches) and listen to a ball game on the radio. There was not the sense of hurry back then that seems so prevalent today.

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m ready for a break! And if recently published books and articles are any indication, I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, there’s a movement afoot in our country to “recover the Sabbath.”

I just finished a very helpful book on this subject, titled “Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest” (New York: Bantam Books, 1999; 241 pgs.; $23.95). I did a lot of underlining and writing in the margins of this book. So much of what the author, Wayne Muller, had to say applied to me. Although not exclusively Catholic or even Christian in content, the book does draw often from Catholic faith and practices.

Muller contends that our frantic lifestyle affects not only the present but also the future. Many times we’re so exhausted by our schedules that we really can’t think clearly or deeply. Therefore, we seek “quick fixes” to the problems or situations that confront us. Eventually, this leads to new and even more complex problems. Muller insists that it’s absolutely essential to our personal health and well-being, as well as that of our families and communities, to recover the concept of the Sabbath.

What makes this book so appealing is not only its central message but the practical activities that the author proposes at the end of each short section, activities that can make the Sabbath a reality.

Most of them are very simple, such as shutting down — for at least part of the Sabbath — one appliance that gets a lot of use in your home, something like the TV, stereo or computer. This absence of outside noise will create a more peaceful, meditative atmosphere.

Other Sabbath activities might include: writing letters, playing a musical instrument, strolling through a park, playing a board game as a family, or preparing a special, leisurely meal together.

How much time should you set aside for the Sabbath? Obviously, the goal would be an entire day, but I suspect that’s a bit much for most of us right off the bat. Maybe we can start with just a Sabbath hour at first, then move to a Sabbath morning, afternoon or evening, and eventually work up to a whole day.

Muller reminds us that this is the only commandment that begins with the word “Remember.” The Sabbath is not something brand new that we’ve got to study extensively in order to understand. It’s already something that we hold deep inside ourselves. Our challenge is simply to remember to let it out.

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