Friday, February 16, 2007

Nothing but time

So, I've been thinking an awful lot about time. And, not the tic-toc type, but the sanctity of time.

Let me explain where this thought comes from. A few weeks ago, I noticed a young couple at Mass during the week one night, and I later commented to one of the two's mother, "It was so nice to see so-and-so at Mass last night." The response came back, "Well, of course, they missed Mass on Sunday and knew they had to make it up during the week." Once I started to breath again, I said, "I don't think it really works that way." I soon started to think about this whole concept of the sanctity of days and times and seasons.

You know, in ages past, I think this was understood so much better. People would be conscious that 3 p.m. on Friday held a holy place in their week as this was taken to be the day and time that Jesus died on the Cross. And so, Fridays took on a solemn, even penitential character. As you know, Catholics used to have the custom of abstaining from eating meat - not only on Fridays of Lent, but every Friday throughout the year (yeah! fish and chips!). This was part of that recognition that there was something special about Friday. There is still something special about Friday, but I think most people today associate it with TGIF more than they do with the day their Savior died.

Then you take Sunday. Even when I was a kid, Sunday was something special. Stores were not allowed to open before noontime, it was typically a family day with a nice meal or going to visit other family members, and of course, the anchor of that day was Mass in the morning. I think today if you asked your average Catholic they would say that it isn't essential that they go to Mass every Sunday. "Does God really care?" they will ask. Too often, soccer practice, visiting friends, the football game, or work - these and many other things take the place of the Lord's Day.

But, as I say, there are no asterisks in the Bible. Under the Third Commandment, "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you." You notice there isn't an asterisk at the end of that statement that says "See below: * Unless your in the state championship, or an important job, or Aunt Bessie is in town, or you're just too tired to get up." It says, "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy." So, do I think God cares? I think there are only 10 things God thought important enough to make Commandments, and that was one of them, so YES, I think God cares.

Believe it or not, I think the Church has to take some share of the blame for this one. I think some of the things that have happened that last few decades have added to this reality. Things like eliminating abstainance on Fridays contributed to this attitude. You know, not eating meat on Fridays was not only a great penitential practice, but it was also one that united Catholics as a community. You knew your fellow Catholic by who was having fish and chips, who was eating cheese pizza, fish sticks or whatever on a Friday night.

The other thing is the move by the bishops about a decade ago now to change the rule on Holy Days of Obligation. The rule goes like this: If a Holy Day falls on a Monday or a Saturday, the obligation to attend Mass is lifted, except for Christmas and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This move was made by recognizing a reality that many people would not be likely to attend Mass two days in a row - the Holy Day, and Sunday. But, this change begs the question that I hear over and over - what makes this day holy? Is it a holy day or not? Is there something inherently profane about Saturdays and Mondays that they can't bear the weight of a Holy Day of Obligation? Do you see how silly it gets?

We need to recapture this notion that there is something holy, something sacred about days and times and seasons. The Liturgy of the Hours does this well as it reminds us of different things throughout the day. Morning Prayer often has a theme of beginnings, of light, of resurrection - all re-affirmed by the natural reality around us. The daytime prayers remind us of the holiness of labor and work and keeping God in our minds and hearts throughout the day. Evening prayer often focusses on thanksgiving for the gifts of our day and accomplishments; and Night Prayer reminds us of our heavenly home. The antiphon for the Gospel Canticle at Night Prayer says it best, "Protects us Lord as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep. That awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in His peace."

Sunday is a Holy Day; it is our Sabbath; it is the Lord's Day. Let's jump off the moving train that is our life and have a day of rest with the Lord.

In 1998, Pope John Paul the Great said in his Apostolic Letter on the Lord's Day (Dies Domini), "The Lord's Day — as Sunday was called from Apostolic times — has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death, the fulfilment in him of the first creation and the dawn of 'the new creation.' It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world's first day and looks forward in active hope to 'the last day,' when Christ will come in glory and all things will be made new...It is with this strong conviction of faith, and with awareness of the heritage of human values which the observance of Sunday entails, that Christians today must face the enticements of a culture which has accepted the benefits of rest and free time, but which often uses them frivolously and is at times attracted by morally questionable forms of entertainment. Certainly, Christians are no different from other people in enjoying the weekly day of rest; but at the same time they are keenly aware of the uniqueness and originality of Sunday, the day on which they are called to celebrate their salvation and the salvation of all humanity. Sunday is the day of joy and the day of rest precisely because it is 'the Lord's Day,' the day of the Risen Lord. Understood and lived in this fashion, Sunday in a way becomes the soul of the other days."

So, anyway, I've been thinking a lot about time lately.

Pax et bonum!

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