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Archbishop Dolan Urges Sunday Observance
Weekends often are periods of such intense activity that “some people might even find it a relief to get back to the regular routine on Monday morning,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said in a St. Patrick’s Day pastoral letter that discussed both the Sunday observance of the Lord’s Day and the meaning of Sabbath rest. Titled “Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy,” it was Archbishop Dolan’s first pastoral letter since his April 2009 installation as New York’s archbishop.
The importance of the Lord’s Day for families was accented by the archbishop when he recounted the recent experience of a long-time friend. A couple of years ago his friend “landed a very prestigious and high-paying job as a geologist – the profession he cherished – at a mining exploration company in Montana,” Archbishop Dolan said.
At that time, the man and his wife “agreed this career opportunity was well worth” what it required, which included time away from the family, though they regretted that aspect of his work situation. The man worked “three weeks at a time, in a very isolated area of the mountains,” then spent “a week back home in Illinois with his wife and three children,” Archbishop Dolan said.
But last Christmas Archbishop Dolan received a card in which his friend reported quitting his job, despite the fact that he enjoyed the work and found it rewarding. The friend wrote:
“I missed my wife and kids, and I missed Sunday Mass. Up in the mountains, at the site, we were over a hundred miles from the nearest Catholic church, so I could only go to Mass one Sunday a month, when I was home. The job — as much as I loved it — was ruining my marriage, my family and my faith. It had to go!”
His friend’s card drove home “the power, the meaning, the beauty, the necessity of Sunday Mass,” said the archbishop.
A number of contemporary lifestyle factors threaten observance of the Lord’s Day and pose challenges to authentic Sabbath rest, Archbishop Dolan said. In families, a “subtle challenge” to Sabbath rest may come in the form of communications technology, he suggested.
“It is possible to be at home with the family on Sunday but engaged elsewhere, answering e-mails from work, text-messaging friends far away rather than talking to family members in the same house,” Archbishop Dolan explained. He said that “with multiple televisions and computers in the same house, it is possible for members of the family to isolate themselves from each other.” Thus, “a 21st century update to Sunday observance may well include a deliberate setting aside of mobile phones, laptops and video games!”
Other threats to Sunday observance may include work on Sunday, the archbishop said. For some people, he acknowledged, “there may be little choice” but to work on Sunday. Yet, he added, it may sometimes “be a moment of evangelization to tell the boss, ‘I would like to have Sunday to worship God and be with my family.’”
And Archbishop Dolan pointed to Sunday recreation, particularly children’s sports and other activities, as “another obvious challenge” to observance of the Lord’s Day. “At the very least, children’s activities should be organized in a way that permits the family to go to Mass, together if possible. There is no denying that this will occasion some sacrifice, but the development of a child is not well-served by indicating that Sunday Mass is secondary to other things.”
Sunday social activities, as well as sports, “can be a real occasion for family togetherness and fruitful rest,” Archbishop Dolan said. However, he continued, “if just getting to everything on Sunday leaves everyone in the family worn out, then some adjustments need to be made.”
To recapture “our sense of Sunday,” Archbishop Dolan considers it important to realize “that the Sabbath rest is our liberation from the profane and our encounter with the sacred.” He indicated it is a misunderstanding to think that the purpose of Sabbath rest is simply to ready people to work harder during the week.
Archbishop Dolan asked: “Do we look forward to Sunday as a day dedicated to the Lord which gives meaning and purpose to our whole week? Or have we become accustomed to a weekend mentality, wherein we sleep late, catch up on chores around the house, run errands, drive the kids to sports, do a little recreation and then fit Sunday Mass in between?”
Exhorting Catholics to “make Sunday Mass once again the heart” of their week and to “live once again for Sunday,” the archbishop wrote, “Put Sunday Eucharist at the heart of your parishes and your families!”