Let’s talk about the Sabbath.
It’s “shabbat” in Hebrew. To my Jewish friends heading into Friday evenings, I am always happy to wish them “shabbat shalom,” which vaguely means “enjoy a peaceful rest,” but actually means so much more, as “shalom” references wholeness within one’s entire being. But for our purposes here, we’ll keep it easy.
What a wonderful thing to wish someone – a peaceful rest, a break from the daily tumult of noise and news, the ever-growing sense of seeming chaos all around! A break from the daily, and extremely destructive, interior orders that we must “go” and “do” and “get things done” in order that we may prove our worth to a world that seems only to value humans who are accomplished or useful.
The utilitarian instinct is strong in humans, especially in striving societies that have taken their instructions from a Calvinist ancestry. But utilitarianism was never the way of the saints, and it also wasn’t the way of Christ, who saw the intrinsic value of all people, regardless of how much or how little they could “get done” in their world.
He saw the value of their simply “being.” And “being” – perhaps much more than we realize – is what Jesus was trying to teach us about.
As we learn to rest, as we learn how to simply “be” with God, with our friends and families, and with the world, eventually the balanced fullness this rest creates within the wholeness of our being gives right-orientation to our doing.
All of that usefulness we so value doesn’t go away, but it becomes better channeled toward what pleases God and honors the world and the life we are given.
If we must live purposeful lives (and most of us must, to some extent), then it seems absolutely essential for us to reclaim the idea of Sabbath rest if we are to feel peaceful, well-adjusted and – dare I say it – sane.
Jesus taught that “the Sabbath is for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27), indicating that this one day of the week is meant to be a blessing, rather than a burden, to those who observe it. We know that God rested after six days of work, and God really did work quite extensively before resting. I mean, when was the last time you created a universe in a week?
I suggest we Christians take a long hard look at the Sabbath, which for us is on Sunday. Whether you’re single, or married with a family, young or old, living alone or with a roommate, woman, man, priest, bishop: We all need a day of rest.
This day of rest is a spiritual exercise, and it’s meant to be a weekly renewal, a retreat of sorts. It’s an opportunity to strengthen your spiritual core.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more relaxed about their work schedules, with the average number of worked hours each week dropping. I’ve noticed in my life a greater willingness to admit that, on a particular day, I’ve done enough, and that I need to sit down, say my prayers, watch a little TV, eat a meal and simply rest.
The Sabbath seems almost designed for those who have the awesome and sacred responsibility of raising families. Imagine permitting the Sabbath its own schedule. Maybe planning a big post-Mass breakfast is in order, dressing up for church and attending together, planning some afternoon activities, preferably related in some way to the readings, or the feast, or the season.
I realize that sports and other commitments can make such planning a challenge, but if we recognize the power of the Sabbath day and how it benefits our being, I believe we can find a way.
Imagine Sunday as a day completely different from any other day of the week, a day to give glory to God and to worship him, a day to get to know and care for your family or your spouse or your neighbors or your roommates better, a day to rest and to think of other – otherworldly! – things!
The Sabbath was made for us! It is a gift designed and ordered to our good. Let us find a way to embrace the gift, to take advantage of the temporal and eternal blessings of this weekly day of rest.
Bishop Robert Reed is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, pastor of St. Patrick and Sacred Heart parishes in Watertown, Mass., and president of the CatholicTV network.