I have a confession to make: I have never been very good at keeping Sundays holy.
I’ve always abided by my obligation to attend Mass on Sunday unless prevented by illness or some other unavoidable barrier (like a global pandemic) — but as soon as Mass is over, Sunday has typically been, for me, not a day of rest or contemplation but a great opportunity to catch up on All The Things.
This was a problem that began in college, when studying and work dominated the weekends and I had to attend whatever Mass fit around my waitressing shifts. At the time, I envied the Sundays of mothers, imagining they were leisurely and peaceful. But, after I had children, the post-Mass sense of needing to work became even more intense — on Sundays, unlike weekdays, I didn’t have to be the primary caregiver to the kids, and how could I pass up all those precious hours just waiting for me to fill with tasks I had neglected during the chaos of the week? If it wasn’t meeting deadlines for work, it was weeding out my email inbox or outlining articles or scheduling interviews. If it wasn’t that, it was laundry and cleaning.
And I’m one of the lucky ones — my children are not yet of the age that sees every extracurricular activity slated for Sunday, which has become a glorious catch-all space in the crowded collective schedule of secular society. I shudder to think how I would cope with that added pressure.
God, it seems, always got the very dregs of my energy and attention. But, the wonderful thing about God is that he can work with the dregs.
Through the years, a nagging guilt has never left me that my Sundays should be more. Even though I was fulfilling the Catechism’s requirement to “refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God,” and attending Mass, I was certainly not engaging in “the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” or concentrating on not developing habits that were “prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.” I was doing the bare minimum (attending Mass) and asking to be excused because my life — like everyone else’s life — is very busy.
I kept asking God what he expected me to do. Neglect my work — even when the work is for his glory? I could almost see him rolling his eyes (I picture God rolling his eyes at me a lot) and saying: “Of course not.”
“What then?” was my constant question. In answer, he always remained silent.
It wasn’t until I read the theological reflection “The Gift of Sunday,” commissioned earlier this year by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, that I was able to finally identify what was standing in my way.
“Sunday is an essential guardian of justice and human dignity ensuring that persons are more important than productivity,” it says. “Without God, all of our merely human efforts at eliminating social ills only lead to more misery.”
Sunday, says the reflection, should look different from the rest of the week. And the problem is that my Sundays looked just like any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Like every other person trying to pattern my life after God’s plan in this fallen world, I struggle to reconcile labor and leisure. I need labor to sustain myself and my family. I need leisure to sustain my body and soul. But, because the world is broken by sin, I will always lack a real understanding of both. I will always make the mistake of working too much and for the wrong reasons, and I will always mistake laziness for genuine rest.
But, those years of going through the motions were useful. As he did with the Levitical priests, who made their burnt offerings for centuries before the coming of Christ, God was instructing me in the muscle memory of worship. Mass was the rest my mind did not want but my soul desperately needed. Because Mass had become an unbreakable habit, my Sundays were sanctified, in fact — even if they weren’t really that sanctified in my attitude.
So this Lent, inspired by The Gift of Sunday, I have focused on making very small changes so that my Sundays “look” even a little different from the other days in my week. Some of these changes are incredibly small and simple, noticeable only to me — like making the choice to sit down while I drink my coffee instead of getting things done. Others are a little bigger, like asking my family for 30 minutes or an hour to myself for Scripture reading. I have tried my best to save the jobs I actually enjoy — meal prepping and cooking — for Sundays, and be more critical about my time management on the other days of the week, so I can get the stuff I really hate out of the way.
It’s not much, but it’s something. And, if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that God will take whatever is offered to him — and somehow find a way to make it more.