By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
"Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
I grew up in the 1940's and 1950's. My mother and father were faithful Catholics of ‘the old school,' that is before the Second Vatican Council. Sunday Mass was a given. As a child, or even as a teenager, it never entered my mind that I might say, "I have had enough of this, I am going to sleep in today." There were times when I hadn't a clue of what the priest was saying in his sermon. Sometimes it was the Irish accent of the priests in our parish that threw me. Other times, the topic was beyond my mind's reach. For a long stretch, in high school, I took to reading a prayer book during the sermons! I don't think I really began to appreciate the Eucharist, as we now call the Mass, until I was in my mid-20's.
I joined the Jesuits when I was twenty-four. From then on I was given many opportunities to better understand and value ‘keeping holy the Sabbath.' I learned that the Bible recalls that the Lord 's Day is a memorial of Israel's liberation from bondage in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15) and that God entrusted the Sabbath to Israel to keep as a sign of the covenant (Exodus 31:16). "The Sabbath is for the Lord, holy and set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on behalf of Israel."1 We, too, praise and thank God for the blessings we have received.
Christians celebrate this sacred day on Sundays because this is the day of the Resurrection – "the first day of the week". It symbolizes the new creation brought about by Christ rising from the dead. At the Eucharist we give God his due in a special way; in a visible, public, and communal manner. As a priest I especially appreciate the communal aspect – greeting friends, listening to the Word together, sharing from the same table, being nourished by the faith of those worshipping. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann points to an integration of Sabbath and Sunday: "Whereas the Sabbath allows us to look back thankfully at the good work of creation, the Christian celebration of the resurrection opens up the outlook into the future of the new creation." This is end and beginning, gratitude and commitment.
Oskar Ernst Bernhardt (also known as Abd-Ru-Shin), former business man, essayist, and reflective thinker (1875-1941), has this to say on the Third Commandment: "No one keeps an hour of rest holy by going to church, unless at the same time during the time of rest he (she) is prepared to reflect on what he (she) has heard there, in order to absorb it rightly within him (her) self and live accordingly. The priest cannot make your day holy for you if you do not do so of yourself. Consider carefully ever again whether the real sense of the Word of God is completely in accord with your activity."2 Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple," expresses the same truth in her own way: "Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week."
As I look back now at my parents' insistence that the five of us children go to Mass every Sunday, unless truly ill, I must admit I am grateful. Their deep faith definitely influenced me and my future vocation. I had my "prodigal" time in my early 20's, missing a few Sunday Masses, but, like many others and through God's grace, I found my way back to church.
The following prayer by scientist and theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, is a fitting tribute to the essence of this commandment: "Lord of my childhood and Lord of my last days – God, complete in relation to yourself and yet, for us, continually being born – God, who because you offer yourself to our worship…are the only being that can satisfy us – let your universal Presence spring forth in a blaze of fire." 3
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2168-2171
2. The Ten Commandments of God, by Abd-Ru-Shin (Gambier, Ohio: Grail Foundation Press, 1996).
3. Let Me Eplain, A compilation of central passages from the complete works of Pierre Teilhard DeChardin (Harper & Row, 1966), p. 161.
There will not be a December issue...Have a Merry Christmas!
(November 2009 Newsletter)