How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Treasuring Sabbath Time
 
By Kathy Coffey

Third Commandment: “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8).

We’ve all gotten a Great Idea in the shower, on the bus, at the gym, eating a sandwich or staring into space. We might suddenly remember where we left the keys, decide what’s for dinner or solve a problem that’s been annoying us. The mind seems to relish empty spaces, becoming more creative in fallow stretches cleared of clutter.

If that is true in ordinary life, the Third Commandment shows how rest is even more important for a healthy spiritual life. The root meaning of the word sabbath is “to separate.” It marks the end of one week and the start of another or the close of work and the beginning of play.

As soon as a good directive like this is given, people exaggerate it. Apparently some folks really ran amok with this one, even to the extreme of forbidding doing good on the Sabbath. The religious authorities spun into a special frenzy when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Clear-sighted as always, Jesus reminded people: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, if it helps you live a happier, more fulfilled life, do it. If you’re going through contortions to keep a law and losing compassion in the process, forget it.

How delightful when the commandments, carved solemnly on stone and written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, usually a grave document, both tell us to relax, lighten up. Did Moses, representing God’s voice, and the Catechism authors have a sudden burst of irresponsibility, a wacky moment of “what the hey?”

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It’s more likely that these usually serious sources look past the drudgery of work and lift us beyond our cultural habits.We tend to think as people around us think. For many North Americans, Sunday becomes the “junk drawer” of the week: We cram into it all the errands and duties that can’t get done because of work pressures every other day. Retailers are happy to accommodate, and Sunday becomes Shopping Day.

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s probably not one of the century’s greatest moral evils, but we could do better. In this pattern, we sell short, substituting our functions for our bright call as Christians. We lose sight of what we were made to be: God’s delight. We forget that we have blessings in abundance and should take time to savor them, awash in gratitude.

The original meaning of the Sabbath was the day set aside for Israel to honor its covenant with God. Today, one way we observe it is with Sunday Mass. Sabbath time can also remind us that God is eager to enter our lives, eager to have our attention, quick to pour out graces. When we clear our calendars and minds, we remember who we are, just as if we are making a retreat.

And if we don’t? If we keep cranking out the work and churning out the errands, we look like responsible, tax-paying citizens. But if we give up quiet Sabbath time (and given some peoples’ work schedules, rest may occur on Tuesday), we dehumanize ourselves and lose sight of what’s most important about us.We were made for loving God and each other. All other accomplishments are fine, but they don’t measure up to that.

Clearing Space for God

Some people may legitimately protest: “But I’m working three jobs to feed my family! Where am I supposed to fit in Sabbath?” For those who are this tightly scheduled, maybe it becomes an hour before the kids wake up or after they go to bed. Maybe it’s an hour in the evening without the television or computer. In such times we remember we are God’s beloved, and no matter what life throws at us, nothing else is as fundamentally important.

Wayne Miller writes in Sabbath that when we pause to restore our sense of the wholeness, strength and beauty underlying creation, we can “delight in the gift and blessing of being alive.” There are as many ways to keep holy the Lord’s Day as there are people. What refreshes one might drain another. But the goal of leisure is to restore calm and order, clear space for the centrality of God.

Modeling a sense of Sabbath is especially important for parents. What do we want our children to remember? The mornings when the family snuggled in pajamas, built blanket caves, held tickling contests and cooked something delicious? Or the fact that Mom and Dad dourly trooped off to work like robots?

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: The Fourth Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• Why is it so difficult for us to do “nothing” for a whole day?

• What would a day of rest look like to you?



FAMILY CORNER
Keeping Sabbath
By Judith Dunlap

Of all the Commandments, I believe that the Third Commandment is the one Christians most disregard. We do our share of lying and coveting. We dishonor our parents and too often worship the false gods of money and possessions. But I think the commandment most casually ignored is keeping holy the Sabbath. Probably one of the reasons it is disregarded is that we don’t totally understand its intent.

When I think about keeping holy the Sabbath, I always associate it with going to Sunday Mass. And I’m not alone. Most “examinations of conscience” relate the Third Commandment to fulfilling our Sunday obligation. But when we read what the commandment says, we discover there is much more that God asks of us. “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God” (Ex 20:8-10).

In the Bible, the punishment for working on the Sabbath was death (Ex 31:15). Indeed, constantly working and never taking a break could lead to our death, spiritually or even physically. God understands that we have to be out and about in the world working, learning and interacting with good and evil. But it just isn’t healthy keeping up that pace 24/7. So God blessed and consecrated the Sabbath as a day of rest.

For Christians, Sunday is the day of the week set aside to breathe in God’s goodness so that we can be refreshed and rejuvenated. If we hope to find that vitality, participating in the Sunday liturgy is essential. But we also need time to refresh and rejuvenate relationships with our families, friends and even ourselves. I know it is difficult to just rest, but consider the consequence. Try putting some time aside so that you can truly keep the Sabbath holy.

For Family Response:

Draw up a list of favorite things you can do together as a family on a Sunday afternoon.



Media Watch
Charlotte's Web
By Frank Frost

The book by E.B. White has been a best-seller since its publication in 1952. It was made into an animated film in 1973. And now Charlotte’s Web has been woven into a delightful and satisfying live-action movie.

A young farm girl, Fern (Dakota Fanning), awakes with anticipation one radiant spring morning and hurries to the barn, where her father (Kevin Anderson) is caring for a sow and her new litter of piglets. He culls a runt from the litter and picks up an axe. But Fern, already in love with the little pig, pleads for the right to take care of it as a pet. She names him Wilbur.

As Wilbur (voiced by Dominic Scott Kay) grows and Fern must return to school, he is put in the care of Fern’s uncle in the barn of an adjoining farm. There, Wilbur’s naïveté and joy in living are made fun of by the established residents of the barn, including a horse (voiced by Robert Redford), two cows (Kathy Bates and Reba McEntire), five sheep (John Cleese), two geese (Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer), and a rat (Steve Buscemi) named Templeton.

These worldly wise animals (who provide a sort of Greek chorus, rich with character and humor, that provides perspective and dimension to the central story) know that before the snow falls Wilbur is destined for the smokehouse near the barn, from where he will emerge as bacon. While politeness prevents the farm animals from sharing this unpleasant truth with Wilbur, Templeton feels no such restraint.

Now knowing what the future will bring, Wilbur feels friendless and terrified during the night, until he hears the soothing voice of an invisible speaker. Daylight reveals this voice to be that of Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a spider in the corner of the barn door, busily weaving a web.

Wilbur’s unlikely new friend Charlotte (the value of friendship being a strong theme running through the film) vows to save him from the slaughterhouse. To persuade his owners that he should be spared, she weaves words describing him into her web: Some Pig, Terrific, Radiant and Humble. These “miraculous events” create a huge stir among the country folk, and come to a climax at the local fair, where Wilbur receives a medal—and a reprieve.

This is a story that could easily lean too much on sentimentality. But the use of humor, especially in the lively debate among the animals, pulls it back from the edge. Visually the movie does a good job of blending physical realism of human and animal characters with computer-modified landscapes and settings in tune with the mythic quality of the story. The weaving of Charlotte’s web becomes positively magical.

Charlotte’s Web stands out among other current children’s movies in that it doesn’t depend on exaggerated peril and aggressive action for its drama. Its celebrative and nurturing tone reinforce the movie’s theme that the world is full of miracles if we just know where to look for them.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?



SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. John of God (1495-1550)

He came to be known as John of God, but it wasn’t until he reached his forties that he began to see the place of God in his life.

Born John Ciudad in Portugal, he was separated from his loving family at an early age—the details are unclear—and spent some years on his own before joining the military. He lived an immoral life as a soldier and abandoned his faith, but he could not shake the sadness of his lost childhood and the remorse for the suffering he felt he had caused his family.

A conversion experience filled him with the determination to do good at any cost. He hoped for martyrdom in Africa until his confessor discouraged such notions. While living in Granada he sold holy cards and devotional booklets. It was there he heard a sermon by John of Avila, and was so moved that he publicly beat himself and was committed to an asylum. John advised him to focus on doing good for others rather than punishing himself.

He established a house for the sick, poor and homeless, including ex-prisoners, prostitutes, the sick and dying. Soon, people who had once dismissed him as a lunatic were touched and inspired by his love and devotion. Many supported his work, including a local bishop who began calling him “John of God.”

Though his days and nights were filled with never-ending demands and challenges, John of God welcomed them as opportunities for penance. Each act of sacrifice brought him the peace that had eluded him for so many years.

A new religious congregation of men devoted to hospital ministry was formed after his death. His feast day is March 8.

Cathy Maravetz

Ask Cathy Maravetz why in the world she agreed four years ago to help lead a prayer group at East Jersey State Prison and you get a simple, no-nonsense answer: Because prayer is key in her life. So why wouldn’t it be for men behind bars, especially those in a high-risk security facility?

At 1 o’clock each Thursday, Cathy and several other women, most of them from St. Helen Parish in nearby Westfield, stand outside the gates of the facility, waiting for permission to enter. When the O.K. is given, they walk into the complex and are escorted to the chapel. Soon, 60 or so prisoners file in and take their places for the weekly meeting of the centering prayer group. For the next 90 minutes they all read a passage from Scripture, discuss its meaning in their lives and practice centering prayer.

“Centering prayer is very much about listening,” Cathy said. “It’s designed to facilitate contemplative prayer. It begins with a sacred word—Jesus, Yahweh, God—and stays focused on the presence of God. That awareness of the God within can be very helpful to men who spend almost all their days behind bars,” she told Every Day Catholic.

Cathy knows from many years of experience and practice what centering prayer does for her: It continuously reminds her how God is working in her life, calms her in difficult situations, keeps her focused on the essentials. To pray with others—whether in her parish centering prayer group or at the prison—“is more powerful than praying alone. It deepens in all of us a sense of God’s presence.

“I don’t feel I’m doing the prisoners a favor. We’re all deepening our spiritual lives. It’s win-win.”

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