I remember learning the 10 Commandments when I was little. I’d decorate the little paper with the list of them, and hang it on the wall or off a doorknob. I would then memorize them. You know, “I am the Lord your God…You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day…” et cetera, et cetera. When I hit middle school, I learned the precepts of the Church. These were pretty new for me; I had never heard of them before. If you don’t know them, check this out:
According to the Catechism, the Precepts of the Church are: “set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:” (CCC 2041)
The Catechism lists them in 2042 to 2043:
1. 1. "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor"—it “requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.”
2. “You shall confess your sins at least once a year"—this “ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness.”
3. "You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season"—“guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.”
4. “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church"—“ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.”
5. "You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church"—“means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”
When I learned the precepts, my teacher taught us that they dictate “the bare minimum” that needs to be done. And they always seemed pretty simple to me, not that big of a deal.
Fast-forward a few years.
When I turned sixteen during my sophomore year in high school, I remember my elation and excitement at collecting job applications for my First Real Summer Job. That exciting endeavor which would involve coworkers, a boss, managers, fun customers, and money for college, school and church trips, movies, and whatever other random expenses would come up. With that empty application in front of me, I would try to put as much ink on there as possible. I had to show that I was a good candidate for the job, and that they couldn’t possibly do without me. Those little blocks for “availability” soon were filled with scrawls that showed huge chunks of time that I could work. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday…but Sunday? Always left it blank.
This may seem like a ridiculous move on my part. After all, if I’m competing with hundreds of other teenagers in Wichita for a summer job, I would need to make myself totally available to work. So why leave the Sunday box blank?
My whole life, my parents raised us kids with the understanding that Sunday is for God and family. Sunday is a day which God and the Church (just take a look at the 3rd Commandment and the Precepts) have ordained to be for God. A day to rest, a day to build up the domestic church (the family), setting apart the day for God. Homework and housework were done on Saturday, so leave Sunday open for Mass, board games, playing in the yard, making and eating food together, and just being a family. And so I left the Sunday box blank. I wanted a summer job, but could I push my religious convictions to the side? I just couldn’t do it.
I ended up landing a job at a local pizza restaurant, and from the get-go, I made it clear that, as a Catholic, I was not working on Sundays. They still hired me, and didn’t really schedule me for Sunday shifts. But that didn’t stop the pressure. There were plenty of times that my boss would meander on by while I was working, and casually bring up the idea of me working on Sundays. “Oh, so-and-so is a good Catholic and works on Sundays.” “So-and-so just goes to church first and then works.” I would express my gratitude that they did not force me to work on Sundays, and reiterate how I couldn’t speak for others, but looking to the special place the Church gives to Sundays, I wouldn’t be working then. Sunday was a day to sacristan at Mass, to play games with my family, to go to other church activities, and to actually rest up after a week of work. And I’m not going to lie, having this pressure bearing down on my religious practices was lame. After a while, it would get to me and I would start feeling guilty. Oh, if I worked every Sunday, then other Catholics maybe wouldn't have to work on Sundays. Oh, they’ve kept me off the Sunday schedule for so long, maybe I should just start working then for them. But how could I let this guilt shake me from my beliefs? What kind of strength does that show? I had to stand convicted, and I did.
There were a few occasions, in nearly two years of working there, where I had to come in on a Sunday evening for various reasons. On my way in, I would always pray and ask Mary to make work super slow, and on most of those occasions, do you know what? We were so slow, with barely any customers, that I would be sent home early. Way to go, Mama Mary! I know that my bosses disagreed with me about some things, and couldn’t really understand all of my convictions. But I do know that they respected my strength. On the last paycheck I received, my boss had handwritten a thank-you note, expressing gratitude at all of my work there.
I thought about this experience last night, as I was watching Rick Santorum’s new movie, “One Generation Away.” This documentary is about the decline of religious freedom in the United States, and shows how the secular State is imposing on people’s freedom to practice their religion. After the movie, Rick Santorum spoke for a few moments about this decline, and he mentioned that this has been a gradual process over time. A frog in a pot of water may not notice the heat getting turned up gradually until the water is boiling, and Catholics all over the U.S. may not notice the State infringing on their religious liberty until there are some extreme cases (which, Rick Santorum said, he has seen more of in the last four months than the past two years). The gradual process of religious liberty declining is what really hit me.
In the workplace, I made it clear that consistently working on Sunday wasn’t compatible with my religious practices. Yet I would still face pressures from my boss (and really, from all of society-since society thinks this is OK) and I had to fight to stay off the Sunday schedule. And sometimes I wondered: if I was of another Faith, would my religious practices be respected more? Who knows? I do know that there has been, for several years, a tendency for Catholics to let society push them around. I once heard a teacher say that when Catholicism is mocked and blasphemed in literature, it oftentimes is because Catholics really don’t put up a fuss, for Catholics are used to being made fun of.
If you’re a Christian, you have every right in the world to celebrate Sunday with God and family. Out of seven days in the week, the least we can do is take one day to stop working and praise God for all that He does for us. If you’re a Catholic, please note that the Catechism even talks about it. It’s true that there are some jobs (hospitals, police and firefighting, etc) which may require you to work on Sunday. But even then, you need to give priority to God above all things. If you let people boss you around and keep you from practicing your Faith in all areas of life in the smallest ways, don’t think that they will stop. Society will keep on bossing you and pushing you around. Stand up for yourself, and stand up for your Faith. Let’s stand together and let the world know that we are Catholic, and we’re not backing down.
“Just as God "rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done," human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord's Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health…. In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church's holy days as legal holidays. They have to give everyone a public example of prayer, respect, and joy and defend their traditions as a precious contribution to the spiritual life of society. If a country's legislation or other reasons require work on Sunday, the day should nevertheless be lived as the day of our deliverance which lets us share in this "festal gathering," this "assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."”
(From CCC 2184, 2185, 2188—but all the passages about Sunday are really good, check them out!)
Even if people aren't working on Sundays (which is great for them!), I think more people need to realize what happens when they still frequent businesses on Sundays. When people do this, they may not think about the fact that they are causing the business owners to make people work. Working in a restaurant, I really saw this first-hand. If lots of people came to eat on a Sunday, not only would quite a few workers be scheduled, but the boss or manager would call up and tell people to drop everything and come in. But, when the restaurant was slow, with practically no customers, the manager would start sending people home. I know that people have traditions of going in big groups to eat and shop after Sunday Mass regularly, and it sounds like fun—but maybe, these people could start a new tradition of making a meal together as a family, or with other families and friends. At least on a couple Sundays a month, I think more people can figure out ways to not go out to businesses. Get creative, and find ways to celebrate the Lord’s Day with prayer, rest, relaxation, building up the Church on Earth.