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This Sabbath's Made for You

By Katrina J. Zeno
Practical thinking about how to keep the Lord's Day holy … and some good reasons for doing it

Our Sunday Visitor -

Obeying the Third Commandment is not merely about “not” working—it has a real role in our spiritual life. First of all, we are made for communion with God, and the Sabbath Rest is meant to realize this communion during our earthly lives, in the first place through Eucharistic communion, and then through our resting in a way that allows us to reorient our lives and our attention to God and his will for us. Here are practical ideas for making the Sabbath the first day of our week with God—and not just a time to watch the NFL!

It had been a typical week: rushing from work to the school bus stop; teaching tango and swing dancing; preparing meals, doing laundry, and returning phone calls; writing a freelance article; attending little league games; and badgering my son to clean his room.

Then Sunday arrived, and I wanted to withdraw from the world, take a nap, and recuperate. As I sat in the sun, it struck me how backwards my life was: Sunday is not the last day of the week, but the first. I shouldn’t be digging out from the debris of the week before, but preparing my soul and spirit for the week to come.

Ever since college, I had tried to honor the Lord’s Day—to regard it as a day of rest and not work. In four years of classes, tests, and papers, I had studied only three times on Sunday. But with the advent of single parenting in my early thirties, college was a dim image of the past. Bills, laundry, and growing grass increasingly demanded my attention.  And yet, where were my labors getting me? My "to do" list never shrank; I hadn’t seen or talked to some family and friends for months (even years); and my daily prayer life sputtered. I had become a producer and consumer who was being consumed.

Despite my best intentions, I was caught in the web of consumerism. It had lured me into defining myself, my identity, according to what I could produce. I soon realized that disentangling myself from this web meant more than abstaining from work one day a week; it meant entering into the spiritual meaning of the Lord’s Day and allowing it to reorient my life.

The Lord’s Day, in many ways, operates like a spiritual compass. It realigns our identity and the value of our work each week. By pointing the needle toward God, we are reminded that He never changes, He alone is absolute. Everything in our lives must refer back to God.

For the Jews, the Sabbath recalled the absolute nature of God. To tamper with the Sabbath, i.e., to perform any kind of work, was tantamount to idolatry. It was putting something else in the place of God. No wonder the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy for healing on the Sabbath. He was putting himself in the place of God!

I, on the other hand, have been genuinely guilty of idolatry. I identify with the Samaritan woman at the well who had five husbands. Not that I have been married five times! (Rather, the author is using a literary device to allude to the five gods of the Samaritans.) Through this woman’s encounter with Jesus, she is drawn from idolatry into worship of the One true God.

I, too, need to be constantly drawn into worship of God. I’m tempted to allow my desire for romance, monetary security, the approval of others, and a sense of accomplishment to become my gods—to assume a value and importance without reference to God. Of course I don’t do this blatantly. My idolatry resides more in attitude than in action, and seeps out through anxiety, self-chiding, fear of being in need, struggling with the Church’s teaching on pre-marital sex, and valuing goals and tasks over people.

The bottom line is that I struggle with true worship of God. It’s hard for me to give a sacred value to all my time. I don’t mind going to Mass on Sunday and even during the week, but to offer every moment of my day to God means focusing more on virtue than productivity. As the pope told a group of college students on retreat: "It means that in everything you do in your life by way of professional training and education and pursuit of, your career must also contribute to some good God wants for the world for which Christ sacrificed himself." And here’s the kicker: It means leaving to God the decision whether He will be glorified more by my success or from the act of virtue that failure will allow me to perform.

Ouch! That hurts my pride and ego-investment. However, setting aside the Lord’s Day forces me to set aside ego-investment. It helps me recover the religious value of time and work so that my ego can be invested where it belongs—in a union with God.

But how do I know that the ultimate orientation of the Lord’s Day is union with God? Scripture, Church tradition, and Pope John Paul II’s writings are replete with this theme. In Genesis, God’s seventh-day rest indicates His delight in creation and his on-going relationship with it. As Dr. Scott Hahn points out in his book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, God called man and woman to rest before he called them to work.

I find this intriguing—and enlightening. Even the rhythm of creation reveals something profound about each person. Our basic identity is not functional, but relational. Our first "task" is to be in relationship with God.

The Holy Father draws out this relational theme in his catechesis on the book of Genesis when he says, "Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion." In all of creation, man and woman alone are made for communion. They are able to give themselves to each other in love, to make a sincere gift of self. Neither the animals, nor the plants, nor the great wonders of nature can image God in this way. Only the human person can.

This ability to make a sincere gift of self is what the Holy Father calls the nuptial character of the body. It is the heart of union and communion. It is the inner life of the Trinity. It makes possible the espousal of the soul to God.

In our day, speaking of the soul espoused to God is archaic. It is usually relegated to mystics such as St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. But the Holy Father wants to change that. It isn’t enough for the Church to live on past memories. The Gospel must find contemporary expression in every age—beginning with us.

As beneficiaries of the New Covenant, we are privy to the supreme act of nuptial giving—Jesus’ total and complete gift of self on the cross. The fruit of this nuptial gift is the Holy Spirit. It is the dowry of Christ, the bridegroom, to his bride, the Church. As members of the Church, we are called to receive this bridal gift and allow it to transform our lives. We are called to holy communion. What better way to celebrate this holy communion than through Holy Communion?

The holy sacrifice of the Mass re-presents Jesus’ total gift of self. We are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb where we enter into eucharistic communion with our bridegroom.

No wonder the pope urges us in his apostolic letter Dies Domini to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy! It is not only our exodus from slavery to sin, but our eucharistic wedding banquet. It is a time of rejoicing, celebrating with friends, recalling God’s favors, and savoring the quiet presence of the Beloved.  For what man on his wedding day would jump to answer the cellular phone to begin a work transaction? Or what woman would busy herself with laundry and shopping lists while guests waited to celebrate?

We, too, must learn to celebrate the nuptial character of Sunday. We must allow the ultimate reality of union with God to take flesh in our family outings, meals, recreation, walks, naps and movies. For when we embrace this reality of spousal love, we penetrate the mystery of the Lord’s Day. We no longer "keep the Sabbath" as a day to recuperate from the week, but "celebrate the Lord’s Day" as the wedding day of our soul.

Copyright © 2000 Katrina J. Zeno

Originally published in the September 6, 1998 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. Please visit their Web site at

Seven ways to celebrate the Lord’s Day:
1. Invite a family and/or singles over for brunch; keep it simple (eggs, doughnuts, fruit; use paper plates).
2. Call a friend or family member (MCI has 5-cent Sunday rates).
3. Work on a puzzle (Spilsbury Puzzle Co. has a stunning puzzle of the Sistine Chapel, 1-800-772-1760) or take a dance class.
4. Check out a Sierra Club hike or get a group of mixed ages to play ultimate Frisbee.
5. Visit a nursing home or get involved in a big brother/big sister program.
6. Do some spiritual reading or spend time in Eucharistic adoration.
7. If you are scheduled to work on Sunday, find some "nuptial time" to be with the Lord and others during the week.

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