“Now Is The Time! Come Back to Church.” This was the theme last Sunday for National Back to Church Sunday where churches of all types came together to invite everyone in America back to church. Across the nation, over 30,000 churches prepared a special service to invite and attract new visitors. More information can be found at http://bluewaterchurch.org.
What does National Back to Church Sunday teach us? It teaches us the importance of coming to church once per week and therefore to “Keep Holy the Sabbath” which is rooted in the Decalogue – The third commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20:8-11, 31:14-15; Dt. 5:12-15). Attending Mass teaches us to worship God – to give God His due, which is a form of justice. Coming to church teaches us the importance of our relationship with God and others in our community. Do we want that? Do we desire to come to Mass every Sunday, to keep Holy Sabbath? If yes, great! If not, why not? Hopefully, we can spend some prayerful time this week talking to God in order to deepen our relationships so that those important questions can be answered favorably.
While Sundays are considered to be the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath, the Church has made it easier for us to honor God and rest with the option to attend Saturday evening Mass known as a Vigil Mass. Unfortunately, it has become common in recent years for companies to mandate their employees to work weekends (and weekdays), which would prevent people from coming to church. This reminds me of the passages in the book of Exodus of how Pharaoh would not allow Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites to go off in the wilderness to worship God (Ex. 5:1-4, 8:16-28, 9:13-35). Though I understand people may need to work weekends to put food on the table and pay bills because there aren’t a lot of choices, yet how sad and what a shame it still is that some employers ask their employees to work seven days per week, which is wrong. But if you work weekends, then take your day off during the week and “Keep Holy The Sabbath” that way.
What does the term “Keep Holy The Sabbath” mean? It not only means to go to church one day per week to pray with a community. But it also means to have some Rest and Relaxation (R & R). It means to enjoy a leisure activity, something you enjoy doing like riding a bike or going for a walk but are unable to do so during the busy work week. It means taking some time to spend with your family and friends, away from the high-tech gadgets that can enslave our lives so as to refresh ourselves for a new week. Above all, it means taking some time to worship God and give Him praise. In that case it means at the minimum by taking an hour +/- of your time to spend with like-minded believers to thank God for this past week’s blessings. Jesus said “could you not keep watch with me for one hour” (Mt. 26:40, Mk. 14:37)? Could we not give God just one hour out of 168 hours during the week? That’s not asking too much. Is it? That’s .0059 or 0.6% of our time for God during the week, and yet He blesses us with so much. At the very least we can give back to Him one hour or about half of one percent of our time. St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, canonized a saint at the beginning of this month, once said, “if you are too busy to pray, then you are too busy.” Are we too busy with sports or other events to come to church? What’s our excuse? What’s holding us back from “Keeping Holy The Sabbath?”
Imagine what would happen to people if they knew they were going to die by not attending church on Sunday. Churches would be packed out the door. What would happen to people if they were going to die for working on Sunday? Most, if not all places, would be closed for business. What’s interesting is that in the Jewish Law, one could be put to death by stoning for exactly that – for working on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14-15, Num. 15:32-36). At the present time, so much work is currently being done on Saturdays and Sundays. How far have we strayed from resting on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:15)? Generally speaking, I think it is safe to say that we are a workaholic society.
According to an ABC News article, “Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. More than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too” (Article Source: “Americans Work More Than Anyone,” http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93364&page=1).
Specifically, how much more do Americans work than other countries? Americans work an average of 34.4 hours a week, longer than their counterparts in the world’s largest economies:
Australia: 32.4 hrs/wk, Sweden: 31.2 hrs/wk, Switzerland: 31.1 hrs/wk, Austria: 30.3 hrs/wk, Ireland: 29.4 hrs./wk., Luxembourg: 29 hrs/wk, Denmark: 27.5 hrs/wk, Norway: 27.3 hrs/wk, and the Netherlands: 26.6 hrs/wk (Source: http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/09/news/economy/americans-work-bush/).
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) on an annual basis, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” This excessive workload has changed how the traditional family functions, not to mention the negative effects on the family too. According to the Center for American Progress on the topic of work and family life balance, “in 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” I don’t care who stays home and who works in terms of gender (work opportunity equality for all – it’s a family choice). Either way, when all adults are working (single or with a partner), that’s a huge hit to the American family and free-time in the American household” (Source: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/report/2010/01/25/7194/the-three-faces-of-work-family-conflict/).
If many in America are overworked, which includes working on the Sabbath, then there is not only unnecessary stress on the body and mind, but there is also a lack of productivity. “Working more than 50 hours per work week makes you less productive” says CNBC (Source: http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/26/working-more-than-50-hours-makes-you-less-productive.html).
When one overworks, productivity declines, and income is lost too. In the article, “‘Americans Are Costing Themselves Billions Of Dollars By Working Too Hard,’ The study, paid for by the US Travel Association and conducted by Oxford Economics, finds that American workers lost a staggering $52.4 billion due to unused vacation time in 2013…That’s an average of $504 per worker, all because people are worried what will happen if they take time off. The study found that if workers were to go back to taking 20 vacation days a year, they would add $284 billion to the US economy, including $118 billion in direct travel spending and another $166 billion spent in other places like restaurants and retail shops” (Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/americans-losing-themselves-billions-by-working-too-hard-2014-10).
It is so important not to overwork oneself from a physical standpoint but also to avoid work on the Sabbath from a spiritual standpoint. The first precept or general rule of our faith states: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.” This “requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days” (Catechism 2042). What is servile labor? All unnecessary work, which requires labor of the body rather than the mind, is a form of servile labour and is contrary to “Keeping Holy The Sabbath.” However, servile work is allowed on Sunday when the honor of God, our own need, or that of our neighbor requires it (Catechism 2184-2188).
As a priest who works on Sundays, I know in my own life I need to do a better job of avoiding any unnecessary work not on Sundays, of course, but on my day off 🙂 Let’s all continue to improve and keep in mind that to “Keep Holy The Sabbath,” on either Saturdays, Sundays, or a day during the week (for those of you who work weekends) means to worship God at church with a community. God asks very little of our time; only one hour per week. Let’s go! Now is the time! Come back to church!
In The Spirit of Striving with God’s Grace to Keep Holy The Sabbath,
Scripture: Gen. 2:2, Ex. 20:8-11, 31:14-15; Dt. 5:12-15
Catechism: 2041-2043, CCC 2168 – 2188