Friday, July 29, 2011

When was your last real holiday

Today the first reading shifts to the book of Leviticus where Moses lays out for the people of Israel what Catholics would call the Holy Days of Obligation. Along with the weekly Sabbath, these were the festivals to be celebrated throughout the year, and a list of the days on which they were forbidden to work.

With the new covenant, Christianity would shift the Sabbath to Sunday, and devise a new list of festivals and Holy Days of Obligation that mark the great events in the life and ministry of Christ just as the ones set forth in Leviticus marked the work of God in the life of that people.

Our English word "holiday" comes from this tradition of keeping the Holy Days of the liturgical calendar. It struck me as I read the ancient law given by God that our sense of holiday, even for Christians, has lost almost all of its original meaning.

I'm not talking just about Christmas. I think there is something much more fundamental here.

I have heard some well intentioned souls talk about the health benefits of a day of rest, and the health benefits of fasting in Lent. While these may exist they still miss the point. This approach is still looking at religion from the perspective of, "What do I get out of this?" It is still egocentric, not theocentric, god-centered.

Setting apart Sunday, and other Holy Days throughout the year is not just about us, or even primarily about us. It is about God. It is rooted in a sense of worship, a sense of gratitude, and yes, a sense of deference and obedience.

The present Catholic practice is simple:
Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.
Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Worship, Joy, Relaxation of Mind and Body

While not everyone can skip work on Sunday, everyone of us can start by mentally setting Sunday apart, acknowledging it as different, approaching it with a different frame of mind. Then we build out from there in increments: letting go of work in our mind, leaving work at work, focusing our mind on God more that usual, praying more on Sundays and Holy Days. Even if all we do is put at the top of our Sunday to-do list: worship, joy, and relaxation it would be a step in the right direction.

We didn't get where we are overnight, and I don't suspect that any of us are going to completely realign our lives overnight. But I would suggest that the place to start is to ask yourself today, how can I make this coming Sunday more what it is supposed to be?