Keeping the Sabbath Today

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St. Anthony, Monk

Mark 2:23-28

When I was growing up in Milwaukee, there were many stores that were not open on Sunday in observance of the Sabbath.  Several states still had “blue laws,” which prohibited various kinds of commercial activity.  Some still do.  In addition, many of our brothers and sisters who are orthodox or conservative Jews still follow the practice (from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday), as well as some more conservative Christians (on Sundays), to varying degrees. 

However, in most places the observance of the Sabbath seems almost quaint.  In the hyperactive lives that many families have these days Sundays are a mix of shopping, house and yard work, youth athletic and other recreation.  (The NFL thanks you.) It’s pretty much the same for many pastors and other ministers in the church.  Sundays for a priest can be among the busiest days of the week, with masses, meetings, home visits, etc.  In the three central city parishes in which I was pastor, Sundays in winter sometimes began at 4 AM, when I would crank up the snow blower, fill up the salt spreader and shovel the sidewalks and stairs to ensure that people could get in and out of church safely.

We still need the Sabbath—time to rest, reflect and praise God who created us and our world.  But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, how it’s observed may need to change according to our circumstances.  For his disciples then it meant doing the work necessary to provide simple nourishment.  For his disciples today it can mean different things.  One of the gifts of religious life is that our daily horarium of prayer and contemplation, as well as our commitment to share regular meals and occasional times of recreation and to take at least an annual retreat and some time for vacation, provide us with Sabbath time even if it isn’t all used on one day. 

When is your Sabbath and how do you keep it?—JC