Should we play and work on Sunday?
Dear Father: The summer months are a busy time with lots of recreational activities, vacation time, and yard work. The garden and the lawn seem to always need attention, whether it’s watering, pulling weeds, or mowing. Is working in your yard on Sundays a sin? — Bernie
Dear Bernie: Questions about how we spend Sunday are very important. Sunday is our Sabbath; it’s the Lord’s day when we celebrate the Eucharist as a parish, making present the sacrifice of Jesus and his triumph over death. We receive from his life on that special day each week. A wonderful resource for meditating on the importance of Sunday for members of the Mystical Body of Christ is St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day). This beautiful letter may be found on the Vatican website (Vatican.va). Let’s consider our Sunday activity and its importance for ourselves and for culture.
Within the mystical tradition of the Church, we find recorded the approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in a small Alpine location known as LaSalette. Mary appeared to two young shepherd children at LaSalette, France, in 1846. Mary cried at LaSalette because her Son’s love was neglected by the indifferent. LaSalette was important to a number of saints, including Peter Julian Eymard, Madeleine Sophie Barat, Daniel Comboni, and John Bosco. Literary figures and philosophers were also drawn to Our Lady’s message at LaSalette, including Léon Bloy, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Jacques Maritain, and Robert Lax. Among the words Mary spoke to the children were these:
The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son’s name. … Only a few rather old women go to Mass in the summer. Everyone else works every Sunday all summer long. And in the winter, when they don’t know what else to do, they go to Mass only to scoff at religion. During Lent, they go to the butcher shops like dogs.
Mary wept because the people had forgotten the life-giving commandments that led to God’s gifts for them, given for them in Christ. The first of the Ten Commandments reminds us that we worship only the one true God. The Second Commandment supports the first by reminding us that the Lord’s name is holy. We do not use it in any way we want.
The Third Commandment tells us that the people whom God calls are to honor the Sabbath day, remembering God’s own rest after creating and blessing his creation as good. Eternal rest has been inaugurated for us in the resurrection of the Lord, and so the Sabbath for Christians is Sunday. We have then, in our lives, boundaries that call us to holiness, to God, beyond anything that the world could possibly contribute to our happiness. Communion with him forever is our destiny.
The Third Commandment tells us that the people whom God calls are to honor the Sabbath day.
Sometimes we find ourselves on sunny Sundays after Mass with a lawn that needs mowing and a garden that needs raking, watering, and pruning. What are we to do? Remember, the way we treat this hallowed day of rest and recreation may be formative to the young people in our lives and subsequently to the culture at large. Sunday observance reveals the priority of our values; our observance is a way of witnessing to truth.
Enthusiasts of baseball history might recall the refusal of Sandy Koufax to pitch a World Series game on the highest of Jewish holy days, Yom Kippur. Other players have made similar choices. Such witness reminds us of holiness and the boundaries that preserve the relationship of a people with God. It is important that our Sundays and holy days have a different feel.
We ought to make sure that the top priority on Sunday, especially when traveling, is that we go to Mass. The extra effort sets a tone of importance. Also, when at home on Sunday, we make sure we are not arguing and raising our voices. I have often told parents in confession to be kind and refrain from violent yelling, especially on Sunday!
We ought to make sure that the top priority on Sunday, especially when traveling, is that we go to Mass.
Sunday dinner can be a wonderful time to make something special and pray the blessing together. Shopping and preparing for this beforehand is good, if possible. Christians ought to be mindful, too, of those, related or unrelated, who live close and who are lonely and could use visitors or a shared meal. Belonging to Christ means we share in his mission of mercy.
Sunday is also a day of family recreation, and while it is important to have some quiet time, time spent together in ways that exercise the body is also good. Many of us have sedentary work lives, and our entertainment tends to be sitting in front of a glowing screen. Exercise rests the body better, and the Lord has given us bodies, temples of his Holy Spirit, in which to live, receive grace, worship, and be of service.
Siblings helping in the kitchen can be a creative time in which they learn the sacrifices of life and the arts of hospitality. Tending to a garden can allow younger ones to anticipate, with patience, beautiful aspects of living. Playing ball in the yard brings family and friends together in active teams while providing teaching moments for virtue and humility.
When thinking about lawn and garden care, do so with a prudence proper to a Sunday. Maybe you will wind up making a garden shrine that will become important for all your Sundays. If you join with family, do it in a recreational way. If alone, in a contemplative prayerful way, don’t overwork or set heavy expectations.
Remember, too, that your neighbors have a right to their Sabbaths, and so your lawn mower may be disruptive because of the noise. Sunday is not exactly a day for a free-for-all; rather it is a day in which God cares for us by making a command that we rest in love. What a delightful command — our task is to keep that day delightful!
“Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not lament, do not weep! … Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength! (Nehemiah 8:9b–10)