When I was in Israel last May, I was very impressed by the nation’s observance of the sabbath. Saturday in Israel resembles Christmas Day in Australia: businesses are closed, there’s almost no traffic on the roads, and everyone is at home. Work is unimaginable; it’s a day of very intentional rest and recreation with family and friends.
Most Israelis are not religious; they are secular. But they observe the sabbath with the same fervour that secular Australians observe Christmas Day. It struck me that Australia lost something valuable when it repealed Sunday trading laws.
Six months into my psychology degree, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern: modern discoveries of science very often corroborate the ancient wisdom of religion. Studies have established that the best work-rest cycle — the balance which best harmonises the health of individuals and relationships with the productivity and efficiency of the economy — is a cycle of six days of work and one day of rest.
For believers, this should come as no surprise. Men and women, after all, are imago Dei, and just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day, so should His children. Perhaps the divine law is as “hardwired” into humans as is the natural law. The secular case for a sabbath is, I think, every bit as compelling as the religious case.
Modern Australia, “the land of the long weekend,” is one of the most medicated, addicted, obese, over-worked and stressed out societies in human history. This is part of the wider malady of twenty-first century Western culture. Maybe the decline of the sabbath has something to do with this. Australians, as a rule, don’t live the sabbath well. I certainly don’t.
Hence, one of my new year’s resolutions is to live a scriptural sabbath. For 24 hours each week, I will do no work. No e-mails. No work phone calls (except from hospitals and the funeral directors.) No scheduling or planning or visiting. Not even household chores. Just prayer, and rest, and recreation with friends and family.
I’m conscious that a Catholic priest can’t be too literal in his observance of the sabbath. Cancelling Sunday Masses is hardly advisable! But I see no reason why a priest can’t translate the sabbath to Monday — or any other day — and sincerely honour the spirit of the Lord’s command to “keep holy the sabbath.”
In the same way, some lay faithful are forced by circumstance to work on Sunday. That’s one of the consequences of the Sunday trading “reforms.” Working on Sunday doesn’t abrogate the obligation to attend Mass. It’s unusual, for city-dwellers at least, not to find the means to satisfy the Sunday obligation.
But what about the command to rest? (In the context, I think rest also includes recreation.) I think we all have to get serious about one day every week dedicated to intentional rest and recreation. Twenty-four hours when we can switch off, without feeling guilty or lazy. And if we can’t do that on Sunday (which is certainly the preference), then another day must be found.
Until I do this myself though, who am I to exhort others? Right now it’s an ideal. An aspiration. By the end of 2018, I hope, it will be a part of my lifestyle.
Happy new year!