Monday, January 24, 2011

On Sunday

This past Sunday, I had a very nice conversation with a friend on the role of Sunday in the Christian life. It started with a good and important reference.
Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life. (CCC 2186)
This is what the Church says about Sunday. It is a day to be consecrated to the LORD. We are to avoid those labors which "hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body." (CCC 2185).

This teaching is plain and straightforward. To what level are actions contrary to it sinful, and what "obligations" are the faithful put under is not the concern of this reflection. The Christian who wants to become a Saint seeks perfection, not minimal obligation. The world, however, is fallen, so our ability to actually attain perfection in this life is severely hampered. This is not an excuse to not try.

Students live a particular and unique sort of life. At school, they have classes all week, and homework to work on. They usually have no family around, but instead have a network of close friendships. So, the question at hand is this: how is a student who desires to become a saint to deal with the rigors of a course-load which seems to legitimately require one to do work on a Sunday, and, secondly, how can a student try to sanctify Sunday when her friends would prefer to socialize on Saturday and work on Sunday?

These are real concerns. The student desiring to become a saint should want to do what is pleasing in the sight of God and avoid what He dislikes. The Almighty, through the teaching office of His Church, has deemed that Sunday is to be set aside so that the faithful can better give Him the glory due his Name. It follows, then, that those desiring a more perfect union with Him should not be content if there are things which impede their ability to honor Him in the ways laid out in CCC 2184-2188.

Which brings us to homework. What if, upon consideration, the student determines that it is quite unlikely that her work can be done well without spending some time on Sunday to work on it? Should the desire to better serve God by sanctifying Sunday outweigh the desire to better serve God by seeing that our work and studies are done well? Surely not, for if God looks with favor on work done well, then we might expect him to look unkindly on work done poorly, especially intentionally so. If a student were to discern that her studies would suffer and the work would legitimately require time to be put in on Sunday, then in this case, the work should be done well, and the necessary time taken. In a sense this is a burden or a cross to bear for the student's state in life. However, if this becomes regular or habitual, I think it is necessary to discern how necessary this Sunday labor really is, and see if effort cannot be put forward to lessen that burden by rearranging schedules, or the like.

It is not good for Man to be alone. We were created social creatures, and we work out our salvation in fear and trembling as a Church: with friends, with family, and with a parish. It would be a very difficult challenge to live sanctified lives of heroic virtue (as anyone who desires the be a Saint ought) alone. Very few are called to the eremitic lifestyle, and it is not to them I address these comments. Students live together, and develop friendships which will last them a lifetime. Friends will eat meals together, play sports together, go to Mass together, and pray together. Good or bad, their influence will play a role in the student's formation as a person.

Many students today do not see the Sunday rest in the light presented in the Catechism quotes above. Many persons will plan to recreate on Saturday, leaving Sunday unfortunately busy with homework. This is a vicious cycle, which easily develops and continues. After a long week of school work, rest is rightly desired, and thus, many students will want to plan things to do with their friends. This can often lead anyone who desires to practice a more traditional Sunday rest out of the loop. While their friends are recreating on Saturday, they are working, and while they are ready, therefore, to engage in worthy Sunday activities, their friends are too busy with schoolwork.

This is the situation faced by someone who wants to step forward and make a commitment to sanctifying Sunday, and in fact, the observation is not limited to students. The Venerable Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, stated in his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, that
This rather traditional way of keeping Sunday holy has perhaps become more difficult for many people; but the Church shows her faith in the strength of the Risen Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit by making it known that, today more than ever, she is unwilling to settle for minimalism and mediocrity at the level of faith. She wants to help Christians to do what is most correct and pleasing to the Lord. (DD 52)
It is indeed difficult! The direction given us by the Church seems so clear, and yet, to borrow from the Rule of St. Benedict, students "of our times cannot be persuaded of this." (RSB 40) This, in essence, points us in a direction of a solution.

We take as our basis these points: it is not good for Man to be alone, and it is pleasing to God for us to arrange our work, whenever possible, to avoid working on Sunday so that we can honor him more greatly. Now, we observe that students of our age cannot be persuaded of this. Following Benedict, then, we can say that we agree to work sparingly, if that is necessary to additionally foster good and Holy friendships. That said, care must be taken that this is not the comfortable position, for we must truly want "to do what is most correct and pleasing to the Lord."

Each individual must discern for himself how this must be approached. Some will feel the call to bear the cross, and set an example to their friends, and enjoy what additional time with friends they can spare. Others will, at least for a time, discern that in order to keep their personal and spiritual life on trace they must occasionally or regularly transfer some work to Sunday, in order to spend sufficient time with friends. This is understandable, but it must be recognized as less than the ideal.

For our benefit, Holy Mother Church directs us on the Lord's day to refrain "from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body." (CCC 2185) This can be difficult for students for many reasons, but if we want to become Saints, we must aspire to the greatest good. Therefore we must do our best to direct our lives toward sanctifying Sunday while maintaining a good balance of life. After all, if not a Saint, then what are we?


Anonymous said...

If you research more thorougly, I believe you may find that Constantine changed the Sabbath from the true 7th day to the first day by your own roman calendar. It does not prohibit work as such, just your own work. You are to do the work of the almighty on His Sabbath.

James Garrison said...

I must disagree, because even the New Testament, specifically in the Acts of the Apostles (20:7) it is already mentioned that Sunday is the day Christians meet to "break bread". The Fathers of the Church are also in agreement here, well before the age of Constantine.

Of course none of this has anything to do with the point of this posting. I am hoping to offer reflections on how those Christian faithful of today (specifically students) who seek perfection, can greater serve the Lord by trying to do "what is most correct and pleasing to the Lord."