When I was in my final year of college, my boyfriend (now husband) challenged me to make Sunday a day of rest and leisure.
“That means no homework,” he said.
I was intrigued but also skeptical. Who could possibly put aside one full day every week for rest and relaxation?
However, his invitation stirred something in my heart, and I agreed to at least give it a try.
It took a little time and a lot of intentionality, but I figured out how to make Sundays truly a rejuvenating day, not only as a student but now also as a woman living in the vocation of marriage.
Making the effort to “keep the Sabbath holy” was the single greatest change I made to my life and relationship with God.
But on the seventh day, God himself rested: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Gn 2:3)
This might strike us as a little odd. Why did the all-powerful creator of the universe need to rest? Well, in short, he didn’t. Rather, he was giving us something he knew we needed.
Living in a world that treats the human person like a machine — valuable because of what we can produce — has twisted our understanding of rest. Rest, most of us have come to believe, is good only insofar as it allows us to produce more.
However, taking time to rest — truly rest, not merely unplugging for a few hours — gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our families, with God and with our truest selves.
In Genesis we read that man and woman are made in God’s image and likeness (cf. 1:26-27), a phrase that tells us that humanity was not merely another creation, but his own children.
When God sets apart the seventh day as a day of rest, he seals the covenant between himself and his creation, specifically with his children Adam and Eve. (A covenant is made by swearing an oath, and in Hebrew, “to swear an oath” literally means “to seven oneself.”)
The Sabbath became a sign of this covenant in which God promises himself to man, and man promises himself to God in return. Similarly Sunday, the day we remember the Resurrection and the new creation, becomes a sign of the new covenant established by Christ. (Sundays are not the Christian replacement of the Sabbath, but rather the fulfilment of it.)
God sets aside a day to remind us that we were made for something even greater than having dominion over the earth. We were made for a relationship with our heavenly Father.
Keeping the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and leisure reminds us that we were made in the image and likeness of a father who desires a relationship with us and that a relationship with him is made possible through Jesus. It reminds us that our dignity flows from our identities as his daughters alone, not from anything we can say, do or produce.
Keep Holy the Sabbath
Reclaiming Sundays as the Lord’s Day — a time for rest and communion with God and others — will inevitably shift how you view the other parts of your week. In order to reserve Sunday as a day of rest, you will need to orient your whole week toward that end.
For many of us, deciding Saturday evening to make Sunday a day of rest would present many challenges. Rather, we need to begin preparing on Monday to prioritize and complete the necessary tasks, leaving Sunday as open as possible.
Unlike the Jews who were forbidden to work in any capacity on the Sabbath, the Church recognizes the reality that you might not have the ability to completely forgo work on Sundays. Even still, the Church invites us to set Sunday apart through three unique ways.
In Dies Domini, Pope St. John Paul II points out: “The commandment of the Decalogue by which God decrees the Sabbath observance is formulated in the Book of Exodus in a distinctive way: ‘Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy.’ … Before decreeing that something be done, the commandment urges that something be remembered” (No. 16).
On Sundays, Christians remember God’s saving work particularly through the Paschal Mystery, or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And of course, the most perfect way to remember this saving mystery (and our first obligation as Catholics when it comes to keeping Sundays holy) is participating in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
But this prayerful remembrance can (and should) extend throughout your Sunday. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary, pray with Scripture using lectio divina.
Take time to recognize God’s presence in your life and allow this remembrance to inspire your rest.
Sundays give us a taste of our eternal rest in heaven, the fulfillment of our soul’s longing for communion with God; therefore, our idea of rest must transcend a state of mere inactivity. The rest to which God invites us mirrors his rest in the creation story and our heavenly rest–– contemplation, wonder and complete enjoyment of the works of his hands.
True, holy leisure facilitates an encounter with he who is goodness, truth and beauty himself.
As Pope Benedict XVI said: “If leisure time lacks an inner focus, an overall sense of direction, then ultimately it becomes wasted time that neither strengthens nor builds us up. Leisure time requires a focus — the encounter with him who is our origin and goal.”
If you can leave certain chores and work for another time during the week, give yourself a break! But don’t spend your free time on this holy day binge watching Netflix or scrolling for hours on your phone. Let your Sunday rest involve activities that rejuvenate you, fill you with life, and allow you to catch a glimpse of God’s radiant face.
Get outside, dig your hands in your garden, listen to music while you paint or bake cookies. Play a game, read a book, gaze at the stars. Set aside time on Sunday to do those activities you “don’t have time for” during the busyness of your week.
Our remembrance was meant to be alive and our rest, celebratory. The Church considers Sunday to be a weekly Easter, and therefore it should be a day of jubilant thanksgiving.
Break out your fancy dishware and table cloth. Cook your favorite food and enjoy your drink of choice. Celebrate by sharing a meal with your family and friends. Celebrate the saving work of God with your brothers and sisters.
Your Sunday feast doesn’t have to be extravagant for it to be enjoyed; in our house, we celebrate by having baked brie on homemade bread for breakfast, which is a meal we reserve for Easter and Sundays. Intentionally choose to enjoy the good parts this life and world have to offer.
By rediscovering Sunday as the Lord’s Day, you will have more opportunities to reconnect with God and yourself, and ultimately better prepare yourself to enter into the joy of the eternal sabbath in heaven.