Sundays and other days

The third commandment sounds easy.

The simple way I learned about it as a Catholic was to remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Most importantly, that meant going to church every Sunday. The obligation was never hard to oblige. I’ve always enjoyed going to church, even as a kid.

But what about after church?

Exodus 20, from the Old Testament, doesn’t leave much wiggle room. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done…In six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Refrain from work. When possible. Many must work on Sundays—health care workers, public safety employees, service industry staff—and I’m thankful they do. Some people must take a second job and work weekends just to meet their financial responsibilities and to provide for their families. But the message is clear—don’t work on Sunday if you don’t have to work.

I like to putter around the house on Sunday—doing a few household chores and yard work. It makes me happy to rack up little accomplishments that got let go during the week and to restore some order back into our family’s home and life. And while I respect businesses that close on Sunday, I’m thankful that others are open because sometimes it’s the best day to get groceries and restock the refrigerator for the coming week. Sundays can also be great days to go shopping with my daughter or to compare fantasy football notes with my sons.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in addition to the obligation to worship, “The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social and religious lives.”

The New Testament speaks to keeping the Sabbath in several passages as well, but it was John 5:17 that grabbed my attention recently, while reading the Gospel.

We know the story of how Jesus cures a paralytic on the Sabbath, and of how the unbelievers begin to persecute him for it. Healing is considered work, and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. What some may not know is the response Jesus makes because John 5:17 is not included in the three-year rotation of readings for the Sunday Mass. Jesus says, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”jesus cures

Scholars believe that Jesus’ response has more to do with his desire to convey that he is the Son of God to the unbelievers than it is about making a statement about Sabbath laws.

Still, it got me thinking. My Father is at work until now. The Father’s work of loving and caring for us is never done. So I am at work. The Son’s work of conveying that love is a constant invitation.

Continuous and not cyclical.

Cyclical is how we are taught to think of the third commandment. For six days we work. Then we don’t. For one day we honor the Lord. But then…

I buy into the continuous way of thinking. I believe we’re all lifelong learners, faith formation is a journey, and that love never ends. I more easily relate to this fluid, and not intermittent, way of thinking.

Maybe it’s enough to worship the Lord as a community of believers on Sunday and spend the rest of the day doing good—for others and for ourselves. Whatever that looks like, for each individual.

The other five or six days, we must earn a living. But for most (with the exception of parents with young children!), this doesn’t require a 16-hour work day. We can hopefully carve out a bit of time, even on work days, to rest and reflect on the goodness of God.

I’ve often felt a subtle disconnect with the third commandment, but I couldn’t articulate why until I reflected on this passage. It’s not that keeping the third commandment is any great burden. It’s that the goodness of God can be found in every day of the week, just as we can find goodness in our efforts and entertainment after the Sunday Mass. We can’t miraculously heal people, like Jesus does. But we can heal others through the power of presence—building up relationships by just connecting and being there for them. And realizing that some of our Sunday work is really just love in action—showing we care for others by what we do for them.

My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.

Hoping for longer communion lines

Sometimes when I’m in church, my mind wanders. In communal prayer, just as in private prayer, I have to consciously pull myself back to the centering place where I’d like to be. Last Sunday my mind wandered, and I reflected upon the exclusivity of the Eucharist as I watched the communion line pass. Old and young. Male and female. Children and parents. Hands clasped and heads bowed. But no divorced and remarried people. At least none who hadn’t first received an annulment.

In one Pew Research Center survey, it found that of the individuals leaving the Catholic Church, about a third left due to its teaching on divorce and remarriage. And, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates there are 4.5 million divorced and remarried Catholics in the United States and only about 15 percent seek an annulment.

Bishops will be meeting in Rome in October to discuss the challenges facing families at the Synod on the Family. Many dioceses have recently invited parish members to complete a questionnaire about these challenges in order that the sense of the faithful may participate in the discussion. The synod is not intended to change Church teachings, but rather to consider improved pastoral approaches to challenges facing the family. One of those challenges lies with the inability of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist.

It’s divorced and remarried Catholics with young children that really wrenches the heart. Parents are the primary teachers of the faith to their sons and daughters. It’s a responsibility they must accept and acknowledge at the baptism of their children. Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, explains that the family unit is the Domestic Church. The family unit is holy. And yet, a void is created between children and their parents by separating them—welcoming children to receive communion while the parents remain in the penalty box.Last-Supper-Da-Vinci-1495

Pope Francis said, “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” If it’s not a prize, how can it then be a punishment?

In the “New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law,” the message of Canon 915 is that ministers are to refuse communion when they are certain (1) that a person has committed a grave sin, (2) that the sinner is obstinately persevering in a sinful state and (3) that the sin is manifest—or publicly known. The canon also speaks to the need to preclude grave scandal on the part of the community that would arise from the public sinner’s reception of communion. However commentary states, “The fact of actual scandal is, moreover, culturally relative. What causes scandal in one part of the world may not cause scandal elsewhere. In North America the faithful often are more scandalized by the Church’s denial of sacraments and sacramentals than by the sin that occasions it, because it seems to them contrary to the mercy and forgiveness commanded by Christ.”

I realize it’s not that simple. Marriage is a sacrament. There are three involved in this sacrament—the baptized man and woman and God. God does not make mistakes. The union is indissoluble. There can only ever be one sacramental marriage for a man and woman.

But although God does not make mistakes, people do. There are many reasons why a marriage may fail, and they’re all painful. Nobody makes this promise to God unless they believe the marriage will last forever. And although an annulment is the correct path for some, for many others who examine their conscience it’s not a truthful way or honest solution. They believe their first marriage was sacramentally valid and without errors. No tribunal will convince them otherwise.

Thankfully, some are able to find companionship with another individual and enter into a loving, committed and selfless relationship—a second marriage. It will not be considered sacramental by the Catholic Church, but it provides many unmistakable and realized goods that can only be found in a marriage.

These cradle Catholics long to participate in the summit of our faith, which is the Eucharist. Some are questioning if a new pastoral approach can be taken—one aimed at affirming the first union, lamenting its failure, extending mercy, blessing the second union, and then readmitting these individuals to the Lord’s Table.

However, many Catholics aren’t so hopeful. In the book, “The Catholic Labyrinth,” author Peter McDonough argues that when faced with what is perceived as an unjust teaching, the average Catholic finds the most reasonable thing to do is nothing because, “Personal choice is available at zero cost.” Salvation can be found in other Christian traditions, and many find it more sensible to simply leave the Church and join another denomination that welcomes them in every way.

At a former place of my employment, a factory manager related a story to the executives of the corporation. An employee in the plant gave a scathing criticism of a particular practice of the manufacturing process to the plant manager. The employee finished by explaining that he was complaining because he cared about the place and wanted it to be successful.

I care about our beloved Roman Catholic Church. It’s upsetting to see disaffected Catholics leave the Church. Within your parish family, you should feel safe. You should find acceptance, healing and support. Many of our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters in Christ do not experience this. And so they leave.

The sacrament of matrimony will not change. But the Eucharist, this “powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” should be nourishing divorced and remarried Catholics when they need it most—when they have gone through their own Paschal Mystery. When they have died to Christ through divorce and have risen again in a new, loving and promising union. May the Spirit move the synod to find a way to extend the ultimate invitation of God’s mercy to the divorced and remarried.

And may the communion lines grow. Longer and longer.