I am old enough to remember when Sundays were genuinely considered to the ‘the day of rest’. On Sundays, the shops were closed and the day was characterised most powerfully by attendance at Mass first of all and then, later in the day, by a Sunday dinner with all the family present.
As the years passed, things began to change – first, some shops were opened, quickly followed by others. And this necessitated people to staff those shops – they became the first for whom the ‘day of rest’ was little more than a fading memory. Gradually, what was once the exception became the rule – and we lost something very important in the process.
Pope Francis reminds us that this day of rest is not “a mere escape or diversion, but a command to imitate God Himself, who on the seventh day rested from His works and contemplated the goodness of His creation.” The Holy Father is careful to differentiate between what he calls “true rest” from “false rest” – the latter is little more than entertainment and diversion; whilst the former is “is a moment of contemplation, of praise.”
The story of creation in Genesis notes that after His work, God rested. Now, Genesis may be a particular understanding of how the world came to be, rather than an historical text; but regardless of this, it lays emphasis on the day of rest and the holiness of it. It is only in our modern era, when we are convinced that we know better, that we have abandoned this salutary lesson.
Putting aside for a moment the cost to our spiritual well-being, our human and general well-being suffers greatly as a result of this loss. Suddenly, what was once a day of rest has become a day of activity and of doing – and the things we do are not always to our advantage, for we are no longer content simply to just ‘be’. Now, there is little to differentiate a Sunday from any other day of the week; it is simply one amongst the others, not set apart in any particular way.
At the spiritual level, we have certainly lost something. All too often, the duty we have toward God is abrogated – other things begin to take precedence in our lists of priorities. It is not so very unusual for Mass to have to fit around other things – rather than the other things fitting around Mass. Sometimes, Mass is dispensed with in favour of those other things.
The Psalmist tells us that “my soul rests in God alone, from Whom comes my salvation” (Ps.62:2). Yet, if we set aside no time for the Lord, how can we expect to find that rest? How can we expect to find Him?
Perhaps this is a good moment – in the midst of everything else that is changing in the world – to simply stop, to look at our priorities in life and to re-order these if we see this to be necessary.
Sundays are the perfect day for prayer; for spending a little time with the Gospels, taking home in our hearts that which we have heard at Mass; for enjoying the blessings of family life – not in relentless activity, but simply being in the presence of one another, listening to each other, giving freely of our time and our love. Frenetic activity tends to get in the way of all those thing or – at the very least – it competes for our available time and our attention.
Time now to stop and to take stock.