Quiet: The Sunday Revolution

Growing up in rural Kentucky, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. On Sundays, the pace of an already slow world nearly came to an absolute stop: we went to church, ate lunch, and then took naps. That was my Sunday schedule for the better part of the first eighteen years of my life.

What irked me, though, was a precept my parents held for Sundays: no shopping, no going out to eat, no spending money.  This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but 90% of the time, it held up (unless our proverbial ox was in a proverbial ditch). And I HATED it. When everyone else was going out on Sunday afternoons, having lots of fun that I wasn’t having, I was stuck at home, looking at four walls. On the rare occasion that we did have to make a Walmart run or out to a restaurant, I felt like I was finally liberated into proper society.

Growing in Wisdom

Now, that I’m much older, I understand why my parents were so serious about Sunday rest. The seventh day (our Sunday) was set aside by God as a day of rest from the very beginning. After laboring over creation for six days, God takes the seventh day, and makes it holy (Genesis 2:2). Even God, creator of all that we can fathom, took the time to rest. Yet, my younger self saw no need in rest when there was a perfectly open day to fill with activities. I failed to see that if God rested, and even commanded it to the Israelites, that I certainly was not exempt.

But, to paraphrase St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child. Literally.

As an adult, I too often see the empty parts of my schedule quickly filled to capacity. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. If I’m totally open during one evening of the week, you can bet that by the time that day rolls around, I have some type of commitment in my schedule.

Sundays, too often, aren’t much different.

Near the end of Mass each Sunday, I’m often thinking about my grocery run to Walmart. Not only the groceries but, How can I get a good parking space close to the door? Did I remember my coupons? Should I get my hair trimmed? Should I grab a bite to eat before heading back home? All of this is going through my mind before the announcements have ended. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation, your mind thinking of everything but the miracle of the Mass. You’re definitely not alone.

24/7/365

In the midst of our rushed society, it seems so difficult to turn off. We’ve gone from laws in place banning any business on Sunday to it as just another day of the week. I remember, before my brother was born, my mom used to work part-time at a Walmart in the next county over. On Sundays, the store would open at 1:00 PM. Yet, as time went on, the time became earlier and earlier. If it wasn’t 1:00 PM, it was noon. Noon soon faded to 10:30, and 10:30 faded into 24/7/365. This was in 1995.

Perhaps one of my favorite stories from my mom’s Walmart days is one I’ll call “You’re Going to Hell.” On a rare occasion, my mom would have to work at the store on Sunday afternoons for a few hours. This day, my mom was approached a young boy who informed her that “my daddy is a preacher.” Well enough.

What happens next, though, has gone down into clapback history.

The little boy proceeds to tell my mom, “My daddy says you’re going to hell because you’re working on Sunday.” 

My mother, not one to be schooled by a child, immediately responds with “Well, if your mom and dad weren’t out shopping today, I wouldn’t have to work.”

Point taken.

The Sunday Revolution: A Brief How-To Guide

My mom’s story is in possession of a truth nugget: If we keep Sunday holy, we allow other people to keep it holy as well. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, we must “live simply so others may simply live.” Even more, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds the faithful to avoid any unnecessary work on Sundays, especially if it hinders the worship of Our Lord (CCC 2184-2186).

Often, as I stand in the checkout line at the supermarket, I wonder how many people were unable to attend worship services due to my choice to shop for groceries on Sunday. Sure, I’m only one person. But, one person plus one person after time can add up to a society that disregards the holiness of Sundays. And as I write this, I am speaking to myself as much as I am you, my attentive reader.

I am not asking you to immediately forego your weekly family lunch at Cracker Barrel, nor am I seeking to induce guilt because you have to run into the local Save-a-Lot for a gallon of milk. Rather, I am asking all of us to change the way we think about Sundays.

Consider this:

  1. Shop for groceries on Saturday or another weekday.
  2. Host a meal at your home, as opposed to a restaurant.
  3. Block out a segment of time on Sunday afternoons solely for rest: don’t engage in any weekday-related work. Just rest.

I firmly believe that once we change our thoughts about Sundays, ultimately, our behaviors will change. I challenge you, next Sunday, to engage the quiet holiness of the day. Make one tiny change this week, and then next week, make another tiny change. You and I may be surprised at the differences we can make in not only our lives, but the lives of others.

May God bless you as you engage in the Sunday revolution.

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Hallmark Mary: Thoughts on the Rosary and Life with Jesus

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This post was intended for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, December 8th, 2017. Two days later, I’m sure you’ll find it still as useful and relevant as ever. God bless!

Do you have a Nativity set in your home?

If so, and you’re nearby, take a look at it. What do you see? More than likely, it’s a very serene scene. Pleasant faces on Mary and Joseph, well-behaved animals, and eager magi. Personally, I own peg-doll nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, a shepherd, and angel depicted as ethnic Koreans in traditional Korean dress. It’s a lovely, homey scene that reminds me of my year living in East Asia. Yet, my own nativity scene that I love depicts a very clean, socially acceptable first Christmas.

Today’s (12/8/2017) Gospel reading is the Annunciation in St. Luke:

Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

The retelling of the Annunciation is a favorite: it fills Christians with hope and joy, the moment that it was revealed to Mary that she would become the mother of Our Lord. I often think about Mary on that day. What did she do after learning she would become the mother of God’s only son? While we can’t know what she was thinking, we do know from Scripture that Mary did not dawdle to accept her call as Jesus’ mother. After hearing the angel Gabriel’s news Our Lady replied, “May it be done to me according to your word.” While Mary may have been confused about this good news, she did not hesitate to say “Yes” to God. Her one “Yes” or fiat, changed the course of humanity’s salvation history.

Nevertheless, a little over 2,000 years later, Christians (myself included) are often guilty of transforming the stories of the Bible into Hallmark shop renditions. The story of Christ seems so distant from our era, that it’s easy to flip through our Bibles and think, “Yes, how nice!” Often, the Christian art in our homes is pleasant. Our religion, unfortunately, is sometimes reduced to pleasantries.

How can we avoid “Hallmark Mary”? Or worse, “Hallmark Jesus”?

I believe one answer to this question lies in the practice of praying the Rosary. For my Protestant readers, the Rosary is prayer based in Scripture that allows us to meditate on events in life of Jesus and Mary (often using beads). These events are called “mysteries” due to their miraculous and mysterious nature. There are four sets of mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous. Despite its criticism from non-Catholics for existing as a “vain repetition” with its over 50 Hail Marys and numerous Our Fathers, the Rosary is a powerful tool that helps us delve into an authentic understanding of the life of Jesus.

For example, in the Joyful Mysteries, the first mystery we ponder is the Annunciation (from today’s readings!). After meditating upon the Annunciation, the next four mysteries are The Visitation (Luke 1:39), The Nativity (Luke 2) The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22) and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41). All of these events are happy, wonderful times in the early life of the Holy Family. We meditate upon Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and extending all the way to when Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple after frantically searching for him in Jerusalem. When I pray the Joyful Mysteries, especially in the mystery of the Nativity, I like to ask Christ to be “born” anew in my heart each day.

On the other hand, the practice of praying the Rosary also acknowledges that Christianity is not a religion of perpetual, temporal happiness. On Tuesdays and Fridays, devotees of the Rosary pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. These mysteries include Jesus’ Agony in the Garden (Mark 26), The Scourging at the Pillar (John 19:1), The Crowning of the Thorns (John 19), The Carrying of the Cross (Matthew 27:31), and the Crucifixion (all four Gospels). With these mysteries, Catholics can meditate upon the events leading up to Good Friday, while also thinking about how we can unite our own suffering with the suffering of Christ. With Mary, we can stand at the foot of the cross as we pray through each sorrowful moment of Holy Week.

Finally, with joys, sorrows, and everything in between, Catholics are able to use the Rosary to combat the idea that life with Christ is like an idyllic Hallmark cliche. We recognize that yes, while there are joyful mysteries and glorious mysteries to our Faith, there are also sorrows. Luckily, we have Our Lord to carry and guide us along the way. And like our Blessed Mother, we too can say “Yes” to God without fear.

Don’t be daunted by the cross. The surest test of love consists in suffering for the loved one, and if God suffered so much for love, the pain we suffer for Him becomes as lovable as love itself. // St. Padre Pio

Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did. // St. Maximilian Kolbe

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!