After Mass, what’s next on the itinerary this Sunday? If your family is like most in America, your day will likely end up in a whirlwind of activity.
From rushing the kids to their games to shopping for the week’s meals to chasing bargains at the mall, there is no shortage of temptations to think of Sunday just like any other day, minus the 9-to-5 routine.
The typical scenario is something of a national shame, because God created a day of rest — with its untold spiritual and social benefits — for, well, rest.
“On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body,” says the Catechism (No. 2185).
And didn’t God set an example by resting from the very work of creation on the seventh day? (Yes, he did. See Genesis 2:2-3.)
Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Mass., and host of “Theology of the Body” on EWTN, says it’s important to remember the reason the Lord gave for establishing the Third Commandment, “Keep holy the Sabbath day”: because we were once slaves.
“Whenever we fail to observe the Lord’s day, we fall back into a type of slavery,” explains Father Landry, citing Deuteronomy 5:15. “It could be a bondage to work or to the money that we get from working or to the things that money can buy. It could be a servitude to the pleasure of staying in bed all Sunday morning or spending all afternoon and evening watching football. It could be serfdom to the errands we think ‘must’ get done but really can wait. God gave us the gift of the Lord’s day so that, in having the time to worship him and love others, we might be refreshed in our true humanity.”
To relearn how to keep Sunday holy and be truly refreshed, we can turn to guidelines in the Catechism, which Pope John Paul II devoted a detailed section to in his 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini (Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy).
Our whole day from the Mass to family life, social relationships, and moments of relaxation should be shaped “in such a way that the peace and joy of the risen Lord will emerge in the ordinary events of life,” wrote John Paul. “For example, the relaxed gathering of parents and children can be an opportunity not only to listen to one another but also to share a few formative and more reflective moments.”
On Any Sunday
It’s not always easy with young children, but Catholic families should try to start each Sunday all together at Mass, says Edmundite Father Thomas Hoar, president of St. Edmund’s Retreat in Mystic, Conn.
He recalls his own childhood, when Sunday dinner followed Sunday Mass as if part of the natural order of things.
“To get the people to sit around the table and share as a family,” he says, “gives us a greater sense of what we do when we gather around the table of the Lord and Eucharist.”
The Espinola family in Madera, Calif. — Doug, Christin and their four children ages 16 to 24 — keep a similarly Catholic Sunday schedule.
“Sometimes after Mass something about a homily touched the children and they will comment on that,” says Christin. “It definitely carries into a good dinner conversation.”
“As a (Sunday) tradition,” adds Doug, “we pray for priests and bishops — specifically for our parish priests and those in our diocese.”
Another practice the Espinolas follow is visiting the elderly homebound, particularly Doug’s aunt. They’ll mow her lawn and make her special dishes and desserts.
That’s just the sort of thing Sunday rest calls for, according to the Catechism: “Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week” (No. 2186).
In Dies Domini, John Paul added even more examples, explaining they “would certainly be ways of bringing into people’s lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table.”
We really do have the gift of being able to bring emotional and spiritual healing to those with withered hearts, says Father Landry, noting that Jesus went around doing good on the Sabbath.
“Please don’t underestimate how Jesus, through you, can touch people,” he adds. “A simple smile from you can change someone’s whole day. A brief phone call or short letter telling someone you’re thinking about them and praying for them can be a great instrument of grace. Even just your joyful presence can have an extraordinary leavening effect.”
“Sunday is also a great day to refresh ourselves spiritually through sacred reading,” says Father Landry. “This Pauline Year is a great opportunity prayerfully to read St. Paul’s letters.”
The Espinolas have a “No TV on Sunday” rule. Says Doug, “We encourage the kids to do spiritual reading.” Family reading has run the gamut from The Chronicles of Narnia series to Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and the National Catholic Register. One daughter was especially moved by Story of a Soul, the diary of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
And there are times the family takes a Sunday trip to a seaside mission chapel. In his letter, John Paul recommended rediscovering religious practices like pilgrimages, along with visiting shrines as families.
Father Hoar suggests quiet Catholic places, pointing to his own St. Edmund’s Retreat (online at EndersIsland.com) as an example — or a shrine, cathedral or historic Catholic site.
“Some of the greatest memories we would make,” he says of his own childhood, “were family trips for the Christmas season to see the store windows. Then we would go to the cathedral to see the Nativity and stay for evening prayer and Benediction. Those are ingrained as good memories of childhood, and those are the good things we have to step up and do.”
Father Hoar has one further suggestion that exemplifies what John Paul’s letter said about choosing forms of culture and entertainment “most in keeping with a life lived in obedience to the precepts of the Gospel.” Families can watch a classic movie like The Shoes of the Fisherman, A Man for All Seasons or The Bells of St. Mary’s — something “that reiterates and gets across the values you’re trying to promote,” he says.
And then there are the myriad ways to just be together as a family in unhurried enjoyment of the day — biking, hiking, flying a kite, having a picnic …
Keeping Sunday holy and with true rest refreshes and enhances us spiritually and physically, says Doug Espinola. “It emphasizes for (the children) that our lives are centered on God and Christ. As busy as we are during the week, we know Sunday is reserved for a special acknowledgment of him as a family.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.