The word “weekend” often conjures up two almost opposite visions: work and relaxation. On the one hand, weekends are the time to do all the things there's no time for during the week: errands and chores, shopping and laundry. On the other hand, weekends are time for relaxation: for sleeping in or getting out, for disconnecting from the everyday grind.
The word “Sunday” is also likely to evoke contradictory images. A more traditional picture includes going to church and praying. It might also include images of one's “Sunday best,” and a family dinner. But those images compete with more contemporary ideas of Sunday as “the second day of the weekend.”
One Eastern newspaper promotes its Sunday edition as the ideal thing to read in bed that morning. The golfer who communes with God on the 18th hole is another ready image. In some places, morning soccer matches are so common on Sunday that recently one bishop publicly appealed to local school boards to stop scheduling them at that time.
In short, as part of today's culture wars, we face a struggle over the meaning of Sunday.
Pope John Paul II pointed to this phenomenon in Dies Domini, his 1998 apostolic letter on the meaning of Sunday. The letter notes the contemporary confusion between Sunday and the weekend (which includes a secularized Sunday). The Pope acknowledges that the weekend, as “a weekly period of respite,” can provide free time for “cultural, political, or sporting activities.” At the same time such a vision, warns John Paul II, entraps people into too limited a horizon, ensnaring them with the values only of this world. The weekend as time of rest, says the Pope, is a good thing as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't include the spiritual side of man.
John Paul makes it clear that Sunday is first of all a religious celebration and that it exists so that, particularly on the threshold of the year 2000, Christians can rediscover the significance of the Lord's Day “for human and Christian life.”
How then are we to recapture Sunday in the right way? First of all, it is essential to bring back the centrality of Sunday Mass. If we attend on Sunday morning, the Mass sets the tone for the day. If we go on Sunday evening, the Mass can be the closing summit of the day. Saturday evening Mass, reminding us of our roots in Judaism (for which the Lord's day started at dusk), can be a powerful help in “desecularizing” the weekend by inaugurating a time of worship and a time for the family to be together in the evening. This obviously means that Saturday evening Mass must be motivated by more than the simple desire to sleep in Sunday morning.
Whenever one attends Mass, it can be followed by common family activity. It might be Saturday night supper, Sunday brunch or lunch (at home or in a restaurant). We can consciously make Sunday a family day, a day to be together, talk together, do things together — sports, visiting museums, going to a park.
And don't forget praying together. Mass is the high point for prayer, but every family might find some other time during the day — perhaps just before a common meal — to pray, to re-read and discuss the Gospel or another Bible reading. At least at some times of the year (e.g., in Advent or Lent), family prayer might mean other devotions. (This also suggests that priests reconsider what has been lost with the disappearance of such “old-fashioned” devotions as Sunday Vespers or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.)
Indeed, the Pope points out that Sunday worship and Sunday rest are not two separate things. It's not that Sunday worship is religious and Sunday rest secular. Rest does not mean inactivity. Rest means taking the time to regain perspective. God “rests” by looking at the sense and meaning of his creation, a creation in which he himself would one day become incarnate.
Sunday exists to raise human sights beyond the frenetic activity of this world. Sunday exists for people to ask themselves regularly what the Polish philosopher Father Jozef Bochenski once called “existential questions.” Who am I? Why am I here? Where is my life headed? Where should it be headed?
That's what Sunday rest is for. It's a time of resetting our compass vis-à-vis this world. That means getting our bearing on the rush of life in which people are so often enmeshed because the pure din of daily activity drowns out time for deeper thoughts. That's a far cry from rest as mere recuperation from the overwork of 50-60 hour weeks, from overex-tended commitments and sheer exhaustion. People stretched to the limit are not likely candidates for taking stock contemplatively of the meaning of life.
Sunday therefore asks us to review our priorities. It asks us whether we still have the physical or psychic energy to think. If not, Sunday asks us to cut back. Do we really need that weekend job? Do we really have to get ahead so far so fast? Would it really be so disastrous if we relaxed a bit?
Sunday sets a tone both for the week and for life. It tames the monster of our “work ethic” that reduces people to simple economic producers, who unfortunately, must sometimes take time off to recapture their efficiency. Sunday invites human beings to grow in their humanity by returning regularly to questions about who they are. Sunday asks us to face the great purpose God gave us when he made us human persons. Sunday asks us not to settle for just a weekend.
John Grondeleski writes from Arlington, Virginia.