by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Through the School of Faith’s daily rosary meditations, Mike Scherschligt has been encouraging his listeners to reclaim Sunday as the Lord’s Day.
In his covenant with Israel, God includes in the 10 Commandments the obligation to keep holy the Sabbath. For Christians, the Lord’s Day is Sunday, commemorating the day of the resurrection, Jesus’ victory over death.
Why does God obligate us to keep holy at least one day of the week? Does God really crave or need our prayers of thanksgiving? God gives this commandment to us because of our needs, not his. We need to pause, at least one day a week, and remind ourselves of the meaning of life in this world. Once a week, we need to reorient ourselves to our ultimate purpose.
The Creator of the cosmos has fashioned us in his divine image. We are made to be in communion with him. Jesus reveals to us this God who pursues us and has made us for friendship with him. Once a week, we remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe. But the One who is, desires us to share his divine and eternal life.
This past Sunday’s readings were all about gratitude and thanksgiving. We are just a little more than a month from celebrating our nation’s Thanksgiving Day holiday. For the Christian, every day is a day of thanksgiving.
Every time we come to Mass should be a moment when we become more keenly aware of God’s abundant blessings. Of course, “Eucharist” itself means “thanksgiving.” Every Mass summons us to ponder the many, many blessings in our lives. Everything good in our lives ultimately comes from God.
Our very life, health, physical and intellectual abilities, families and friends, the educational and employment opportunities, material things and comforts that we enjoy, all share the same source — a loving God.
Sadly, often it is only when some of these blessings are in jeopardy that we begin to appreciate how precious they are and their true source. When everything is going rather smoothly in our lives, we can suffer from the illusion that all of the blessings we enjoy are simply the fruit of our own labors.
When a health or financial crisis strikes us or someone we love, we begin to realize the fragility of life and health. We become aware of how little control we have over the events of this world. If we have come to believe that life in this world is all there is, we realize our pitiable condition.
In this past Sunday’s Gospel, there are 10 lepers who Jesus encounters during his journey through Samaria. They have heard about Our Lord’s ability to heal and, in their desperation, show faith by asking Jesus to heal them. Jesus does not instantly heal them, but instead he prays over them and tells them to go show themselves to the priests whose approval they will need to re-enter society.
They manifest a beautiful faith, because they set out to show themselves to the priests before they are actually healed. It is on the way to the priests that their healing occurs. We can imagine their joy at being liberated from this socially isolating and deadly disease. Yet, only one (a Samaritan) returns to Jesus to give thanks. The others took the gift of their healing and ran. Jesus asks the pointed question: Were not all 10 healed?
We might marvel at the ingratitude of the nine lepers, who were cured but failed to give thanks. Yet, how often do we thank the Lord for his abundant blessings? Do we thank the Lord for all the days when we are healthy and do not need physical healing? Do we thank him for the amazing people he has placed in our lives?
Sometimes, I hear the complaint from the young and the old that Mass is boring and they do not receive anything from it. Priests carry a very heavy responsibility. We have been given by Jesus, through his church, the unique privilege of leading the celebration of the Eucharist and communicating through our words and actions the miracle in which the congregation is engaged. We also are empowered to preach the homily in which we are called to break open the word of God for our people and help them apply its meaning to their lives.
The musicians, choir and cantor have the privilege to lead the music and singing at Mass and are called to make it as beautiful and inspiring as is humanly possible. Music and song can enrich our experience of the Mass.
Communion ministers are privileged to assist with the distribution of the Eucharist. Altar servers have the opportunity to assist the priest with the celebration of the Mass. Lectors are privileged to proclaim the word of God. Each of these roles is important. How they are executed can help the congregation to enter into the mystery of the Mass.
However, we do not come to Mass to hear a talk or lecture. We do not come to be entertained or even inspired by the music. We are not attending a concert or a performance.
Our motivation in coming to Mass should not be about what we will receive, but to give honor, glory and praise to the One who is the giver of life and the source of every blessing in our lives.
When we come with an attitude of gratitude, we will experience many graces and blessings. We leave Mass, knowing that whatever we experience in the coming week, we will not be alone. We carry with us Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings.
It is no coincidence that as church attendance has decreased in our society, and a growing number of people claim no religious affiliation, the rates of loneliness, anxiety and depression have increased. We need to reclaim Sunday to remind ourselves that we are not gods, the lords of our own lives. We need to rediscover our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of a very loving heavenly Father.
God does not need Sunday nor does he need our worship. However, we need to draw close to the source of life and love. We need Sunday to reorient ourselves to the fundamental meaning and purpose of life. It is not to make money or experience various pleasures or gain notoriety or fame.
The purpose of life is to know the God who has loved us into existence and desires for us to share in his life and to be in communion with him. Sunday is the most important day of the week, and the Eucharist should be the center of our Sunday.
Let us reclaim Sunday!