The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses our Sunday obligation. In addition to the requirement of attending Mass, it says this: “On Sundays…the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God…and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (CCC 2185).
The Catechism goes on to say that if certain people are required to work on Sunday—for example, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, retail or food service workers—then it’s OK to go to work, as long as these folks set aside some time to worship God.
But for the rest of us who do not have to go to our regular jobs on Sundays, what’s all this talk about “appropriate relaxation of mind and body”? Do we even pretend to do that anymore? Sunday has become the day of sports and traveling and yardwork and shopping and a zillion other activities that are anything but restful or relaxing for our minds and bodies. And we wonder why we’re so exhausted all the time?
If you’ve been around as long as I have, you probably remember when Sundays were indeed a day of rest. If you went downtown, nothing was open. I can remember getting ready to go to church on Sunday morning and my father exclaiming, “Oh no, I forget to put gas in the car yesterday! I hope there’s enough in the tank to last until tomorrow morning.”
That’s right, even the gas stations were closed on Sundays. And back then, there were no self-serve pumps with built-in credit card readers. You had to pay up front, usually in cash, and then the attendant pumped the gas for you. (He also often cleaned your windshield and checked the oil, things I forget to do nowadays for years at a time.)
Anyway, Sundays may have been a little boring back in those days, but our culture was still respectful of Christian traditions, so Sunday was understood to be a “day of rest.” Most of society willingly went along with it. Now, Sunday is just the second day of the weekend, and if you ask the average person in our culture this question, “Did you know Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest?” I suspect his or her reply would be something like, “Umm, I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I gotta go. We’re late for little Jimmy’s soccer practice!”
In the beginning, God took six days to create the heavens and the earth, and then He rested on the seventh day. God set the example for us. After working hard for six days, we should take a day off. You may think this story from Genesis is merely symbolic, and it probably is, but God made sure mankind preserved this story because it tells important truths about Him and about us. First, it tells us that God truly loves us and cares about us, so much so that He wants us to be refreshed and well-rested. And it tells us that we are not machines. We cannot go full speed day after day after day without eventually breaking down. We need a day off.
Modern medicine has confirmed that one day of rest every seven days is an ideal system. It’s a terrific method for keeping us refreshed and strong. It prevents us from getting worn out and depressed.
Our culture no longer respects Christian traditions, so closed stores and empty streets on Sunday are not coming back anytime soon. We need to create the “Sunday rest” on our own. There are two things we need to do: first, read Scripture and the Catechism to assure ourselves that the Sunday rest is indeed a divinely-ordained blessing. Second, we need to develop the habit of saying no. We need to say no to invitations to shop or travel or go to a ballgame. We should stay home and rest. We can read the Sunday newspaper, take a nap, talk with our loved ones, and simply enjoy the rest God wants us to have and our body desperately need.
Honoring the Lord’s Day is one of the Ten Commandments. If we really do it, we’ll be amazed at how much energy and optimism we have, which enables us to deal successfully with the rest of the week.