Maybe you’ve seen the following image floating about social media lately?
We agree. And we get it. We both have siblings who work in retail, and we understand the conflict that occasionally arises when choosing between providing for and celebrating with your family. And while we appreciate the push for a Thanksgiving Day fast from consumerism, it seems like we’re trying to avoid sleeping in the bed we’ve already made for ourselves.
Does your Sunday look any different from your Saturday? Or even Monday through Friday for that matter? God created the world in six days. Then, He rested. Whether or not you believe the Creation story was literally completed in a six-day timeframe, there’s profound spiritual significance in God settting apart a time to rest.
On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. — Genesis 2: 2-3
If the Creator of all life rested, why would we, made in His image and likeness, think we shouldn’t do the same?
On some level, we used to intuitively get this. Enough that it became engrained in our language. Let’s look up the definition of sabbatical.
Note that those definitions are largely secular. The etymology, however, comes from the word sabbath, obviously having religious connotations. It appears that once upon a time the culture borrowed the good ideas of Christians, rather than the Church acquiescing to the norms of the culture. For example, university professors go on sabbatical. They take time off, traditionally every seventh year, and go do something that is set apart from their usual work responsibilities — often oriented toward rest and renewal. Note this typically happens every seven years. Seems an obvious echo of the seven days of the Creation story in Genesis, doesn’t it?
We used to keep the Sabbath. We used to set it aside and say, “Here is a time when we will stop and honor God.” As Catholics, we honor him by attending Mass where we celebrate the Eucharist and consume the body and blood of Christ. Shouldn’t we honor the time before and after that most sacred moment by interrupting all other habits? How can we hallow the time around that event? And isn’t that what the Sabbath is all about — setting aside a time and place for holiness? Rather than Mass being an hour shoved in between two other things we are doing, we ought to take time before to prepare ourselves for what we we’re about to do, and then time after to rest in what we just did.
There’s a discipline of keeping a sabbath, isn’t there? Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s difficult to set aside time and place for rest and renewal. “The Disease of Being Busy” is an actual thing now, and we Christians are not exempt. How many of us attend the Saturday Vigil Mass in order to avoid some Sunday morning conflict rather than it being the first opportunity to receive the Eucharist? Are we transferring the Sunday obligation to Saturday in order to avoid setting Sunday apart?
When we’ve let the Sabbath go, how are we supposed to reclaim a holiday that is marginally religious such as Thanksgiving? What is our witness around the most important thing we do all week? If we can’t set aside even a few Sundays here and there, why are our knickers in such a knot about Thanksgiving?
Shouldn’t we set aside time to give thanks not just once a year, but once a week, too? Shouldn’t we make a sincere effort to boycott all those things that most readily turn our hearts away from God? What better time than Advent to renew our commitment to that as we prepare to renew our hearts to receive Jesus at Christmas.