Summer, leisure and the Lord’s Day

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to “Come away … and rest awhile” (Mk.6:31). This is a timely summertime theme since now is the time that many of us acknowledge our need for rest, and look forward to a change of pace in our busy lives.

 Whatever the rhythms of our lives, from time-to-time we need to refresh ourselves. We need time away from our ordinary work and daily concerns to restore our energies, to enjoy the natural beauties of creation, to spend time with family and friends, to remember our Creator. The rhythm of a regular “Sabbath” rest is very much a part of God’s plan for our well-being: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk.2:27).

 Unfortunately, the enjoyment of true leisure is practically a lost art in our culture. Many of us have become addicted to busyness and activity. We are too dependent on our smart phones and electronic devices to be able to simply relax. Even during our vacations, if we are fortunate enough to have one, we often feel compelled to stay connected with work or to fill our days with so much travel and activity that we return even more weary and dissipated in spirit than before.

 Of course, sometimes the burdens and responsibilities of life or financial hardship prohibit the type of vacation that we might long for. Still, the Lord desires to refresh us. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt.11:28).

 The rest and refreshment that our hearts long for will always elude us until we recognize the spiritual nature of our longing. Saint Augustine wrote many centuries ago, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you!”

 For Christians, Sunday is our weekly Sabbath, our day of rest. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is part of the rhythm that the law of God and the law of the Church have established and made holy for our well-being and redemption. We need the Lord’s Day.

 Unfortunately, we have lost sight of the uniqueness of the Lord’s Day and have replaced it with the idea of “the weekend.”  The two are not at all equivalent.

 At the heart of the Lord’s Day is the acknowledgment of all that God has done by creating and redeeming us in Christ. It is the day when we commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord. It is our primary holy day, which roots our lives in worship through the celebration of Mass with the Christian community.

The Sunday Eucharist establishes the rhythm for the rest of our week. We renew the sacrifice of Christ our High Priest, who in turn nourishes us with his word and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Mass is the source from which flows the grace that enlivens and sanctifies all of our work and leisure activities.

 In our secular culture it is impossible to sustain a living faith, or to live in friendship with Christ as missionary disciples unless we are committed to keeping the Lord’s Day holy.

 This is a very real challenge. Despite how our society has diminished the importance of Sunday, it is not a day just like any other. Nor is it merely part of the “weekend.”

 Our faithful observance of the Lord’s Day reminds us of who we are before God as members of a community rooted in the mysteries of Christ. It is a day for worship, for holy leisure, for family and friends; a day to build relationships within the Christian community, and to form and exercise our faith in service to others.

 It is a day to become more aware of the rhythms of the created world and even to immerse ourselves in the beauties of nature. It reminds us of our dignity as sons and daughters, created in the image and likeness of God.

 “Come away … and rest awhile.” Jesus invites each of us to refresh ourselves at the sources of life that the Lord’s Day offers us each week.