As Catholics we hear quite a bit about the love of God. We are reminded…
The Third Commandment reminds us to spend our time honoring God
This is the fourth installment of a 10-part series looking at the Ten Commandments.
The commandments are personalizing because God addresses us personally. Something that’s depersonalizing is working all the time. Most of us are familiar with feeling like we’re always plugged in, always on, always reachable, always either running from one thing or running to the next thing. We forget what time is for. In a world like this, it is really hard but really important to listen to the Third Commandment: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”
A man for all time
Louis Martin, the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, knew about time.
He grew up the son of a soldier, with a soldier’s appreciation for discipline and order. But he longed to take on the religious life. He made an application to join a mountain hermitage, but he didn’t know Latin and was therefore denied. This forced his retreat back to the active life, to take up the craft in which he had apprenticed: clockmaking.
Part of the appeal of the monastic life for Louis was the order of time. He was drawn to how the days were arranged according to periods of prayer, years were measured in liturgical feasts, and work, sleep, eating and reading were all ordered accordingly. The monastery was like a clock with its intricate gears working in rhythm.
The monastery shaped Louis even though he didn’t enter it, because he wanted his craft of making clocks to resemble the rhythm of the monastic life. He made his workshop into a little monastery, where periods of silence and prayer punctuated periods of work. The measured order he created around himself shaped his interior life.
Still, Louis lived in a world of commerce. He sold and fixed clocks. He provided a service. He had customers and competitors. As commerce bustled, merchants worked harder to outcompete each other. It became customary to keep shops open each day, including Sunday.
That’s when the central gear of Louis’s life and work became a sign of contradiction in his own time. Louis observed the Lord’s Day. He did not work on Sunday — he rested. He walked. He prayed. He played with his children. And by doing that, he was freed from the world of competition that was swallowing up those around him.
The difference for Louis is that he did not order Sunday according to the demands of the other days of the week. Louis ordered the other days of the week according to his primary duty of Sunday. Sunday came first.
As the Catechism puts it, “Sunday is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” (No. 2172). That tells us what the day is not for: It is not for more of the same.
The positive reverse of that protest is that the Lord’s Day is a memorial and observance of the day of liberation. For Israel, their Sabbath recalled their freedom from slavery in Egypt. For Christians, Sunday is the celebration of our freedom from sin and death in Christ.
The extraordinary ordering of the ordinary
Louis Martin is extraordinary. He intentionally created the conditions on the outside to order his interior life. The central gear of that order was observing the Lord’s Day.
This wasn’t just a personal discipline for Louis; it shaped the culture of his family. They observed the Lord’s Day together, freeing the whole family to worship, pray, play and love. This all became most visible in his youngest child, Thérèse.
Here’s how Thérèse recalls discerning her vocation at age 13 or 14:
“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls. The cry of Jesus on the cross sounded continually in my heart: ‘I thirst!’ These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my beloved to drink, and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls” (Story of a Soul, Chapter V).
That’s heavy stuff for a teenager. But we get so absorbed in her vision of the Lord’s passion that we miss the first thing she says: “one Sunday.” This is not insignificant, because most of Thérèse’s most profound and life-defining experiences had two things in common: They took place at home, and they happened on Sunday.
Is that a coincidence? No, because her father was anything but unintentional in this practice. He and his family observed the Lord’s Day. This custom nourished family culture. Their exterior practice shaped Thérèse’s interior life.
What this is all for
Keeping holy the Lord’s Day might be the most difficult to observe in our busy modern world. It also might be the most necessary practice to save us from becoming consumed by “all the other things” (cf. Mt 6:33).
The First Commandment is the basis of all the others: worshipping God alone is the key to life. The Lord’s Day is ordered to worship. And on the authority of Jesus, worship of God and the exercise of mercy are interrelated.
When Jesus cures a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees protest to Jesus’ work (cf. Mk 3:1-6). They accuse him of not dedicating the Sabbath to worship. They see this very clearly, but they see it wrong.
Again he entered a synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
Consider this: Jesus heals the man so that the man can worship, in full. At Jesus’ command, the man stretches out his hand to Jesus, and Jesus restores the man’s hand. The man entrusts his ailment to Jesus, and Jesus gives him health. This is mercy. It’s the trust of encounter, the skillfulness of diagnosing suffering and then the work of restoring the health that’s lacking.
What that man does is an image of worship for us now: the act of entrusting our condition to the Lord — placing suffering into the hands of the Lord to whom we entrust ourselves. We treat God as God.
What Jesus does is also an image of what worship for us now: the act of easing others’ suffering. Jesus liberates the man from his suffering so that he can give more of himself. The man may now add his gratitude for being healed to his worship. When he liberates the man from his suffering, Jesus also liberates those trapped in a pharisaical mindset from focusing primarily on their own private good, as if we’re always in competition with one another.
The Sabbath belongs to man, and not just one man but all. God counts healing others as an act of worship. This is more than lawful; it’s the law’s fulfillment.
On the Lord’s Day especially, we are to live as if we were members of one another, as if we were God’s holy ones, as if the sacrifice of the Mass shapes the sacrifice of our lives. When the Lord’s Day becomes the primary, it shapes the other days of the week, as exterior practice shapes our interior life.
For those who do not have to work on the Lord’s Day, it is important to be mindful of and serve those who cannot rest on the Lord’s Day, whether for financial or health reasons, or injustice or poverty. We’re responsible for each other. By easing their burden, we worship God.
That’s what time is for.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo, Ph.D., works in the McGrath Institute for Church Life and teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame. His new book is A God Who Questions (OSV, 2019).