Many Catholic households will have received, in their letterboxes, a booklet titled “National Sunday Law” — and many of those households will have done with it what Fr Mervyn Duffy, SM, suggested; consigned it forthwith to the recycling bin.
Fr Duffy, in comment for NZ Catholic, rightly described the contents of the pamphlet as “nonsense”. While this is certainly so, the concept of the Sabbath, in and of itself, is important.
This was pointed out in a 2007 homily by then-Fr Robert Barron, now an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.
Describing the “loss of a Sabbath consciousness” as “disastrous”, Fr Barron referred to the writings of “the great Jewish philosopher” Abraham Joshua Heschel, as giving a great insight into the importance of “Sabbath”.
Heschel, in his book “The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man”, wrote that the Sabbath is a reminder of every person’s royalty, as a child of God.
Fr Barron explained this as meaning that, “on the Sabbath day, when we step away from our work-a-day world, when we worship the Lord, we become explicitly conscious of the Lord’s presence, it is on that day that we know who we are” — in the deepest sense.
“You are a child of God, made by God, for God’s purposes, destined to live with him in eternity. . . . How often do you refer to that fact during the course of the week? How often do you explore your deepest religious identity? The Sabbath, Heschel says, is the day when we do just that.”
Fr Barron went on to spell out some implications of this — for instance, that the Sabbath is a day of equality.
“Heschel says — on the Sabbath, we find abolished the distinction of master and slave, rich and poor, success and failure . . . On the Sabbath day, we realise that those distinctions really don’t amount to all that much. In eternity with God, our titles will fade away, our earthly successes and failures fade away, and we are children of God. The Sabbath is a day when we realise this equality.”
We are all destined for eternal life with God, and the Sabbath is a day when we remember this truth, he added.
Fr Barron summed up Heschel’s insights with this phrase — “the Sabbath is the presence of eternity in time”.
“On the Sabbath day, we realise that we participate, even now, in the eternal. We are, even now, beloved royal children of God. And that is why, Heschel says, all the other days of the week ought to revolve around the Sabbath, and be conditioned by it. . . They should flow from it, they should return to it, so that, even as you are working, even as you are carrying out your daily business, you are aware of these great truths.”
Fr Barron said that the Sunday Mass is the “great Sabbath prayer of the Church”, and that the Second Vatican Council fathers wanted to intensify Catholics’ experience of the liturgy on “the Lord’s Day”. .
“What a tragedy when we contribute ourselves to the secularisation of the Sabbath, when we treat Sunday like any other day,” he said.
After issuing a reminder that the Third Commandment is not a suggestion, Fr Barron had some suggestions for Catholics to “reclaim the Sabbath”. First, attend Mass, and encourage others to do so too. And then try to make Sunday different — by, for instance, reading a religious book, praying alone or with others, going for a meditative walk, praying the Rosary, or reading the Bible, especially the readings for the Mass on that day.
We need this great day for our own spiritual health and equilibrium, Fr Barron concluded.
As Heschel wrote: “On the Sabbath, we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”