Sunday, 6 July 2014
Sabbath Rest, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
I want to say a few words today about rest, and about why we find it in Jesus.
The words of The Lord Jesus that we just heard just now are among the most popular bible quotes, popular because pretty much all of striving humanity experiences itself as "labour[ing] and heavy laden" and in need of "rest for your souls"(Mt 11:28;29). And so this Bible verse frequently produces a pious sigh within us. Yes, I know He forgives me, that He loves me, yet, the promise that He will give me "rest" is a promise that touches me.
We need rest at every level of our being. We need rest for the body: and so we sleep, and we know it when we suffer the lack of sleep. We need rest for the mind and spirit: and so people go on holiday for a change of scenery, to refresh our mental outlook. And, similarly, we know it when we are not able to go on a holiday of some form.
But there is an even deeper level within us that needs rest: our soul.
But why is JESUS the one us gives rest? First, by our imitation of Him: and this is why His call to rest and His call to imitate His humble heart are linked.
If you think about the opposite of humility, namely pride, to be all puffed up and proud is exhausting. To be stubborn, to refuse to admit our mistakes, to assert ourselves: these and all the other manifestations of pride are EXHAUSTING! In contrast, when we can bring ourselves to be small, to put others first, to yield our preferences to others, not clinging to ourselves: these and the other acts of humility bring peace and rest to the soul.
And so Jesus links rest with the eternal call to come to Him and imitate His meek and humble heart.
There is an even deeper reason, however, why true rest can only be found in Jesus, why He, ABOVE ALL OTHERS, is the one who issues this call to come to Him for rest:
I was reading a couple months ago a lengthy commentary from a Jewish rabbi on the words of Jesus (C.f. Citations of Rabbi Neusner in Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1, esp. pp.106-112), and he was noting many things in the words of Jesus that you and I might miss, because we don't hear them the way that a First Century Jew would have heard them.
The rabbi notes that the words we just heard from Jesus precede His actions and teaching about the Sabbath. You will recall that Jesus did many things that the rabbis said were forbidden on the Sabbath, and you recall that Jesus said that He Himself was "The Lord of the Sabbath"(Mt 12:8). This goes to the heart of my topic of 'rest': the Sabbath of old was the day of rest, Jesus says that He is The "Lord" of this Day, and He says that HE is the one who gives rest: we must come to HIM if we would find rest.
All this holds because Jesus was not just a teacher or a prophet or a wise man, but because He was and is GOD Himself, God come among us.
To be with Him, therefore, is to be with the source of deepest rest.
The Sabbath of the new covenant is thus the day of The Lord Jesus: the day of His resurrection, Sunday. It is thus observed differently to the old Sabbath: it is still a day of rest, to refrain from work, to refrain from business and shopping etc, but it does not have the prescriptions of the Old Law specifying the length of a Sabbath walk etc: And, it is still a day of worship, to attend the Mass each and every Sunday, performing the act of worship that Christ our Sabbath gave us, rather than the worship of the old covenant -of blood sacrifices and so forth.
To conclude: Rest has been, and remains, one of our most basic needs: rest for the body, rest for the mind, rest for the soul. We suffer when we do not rest. And our spirit yearns, even when we try to deny it, when we do not seek our deepest rest in The Lord of Sabbath Himself:
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"(Mt 11:28).
The following texts from the Catechism were printed in the parish newsletter:
Sunday - Fulfillment of the Sabbath
A day for rest
A day for family
A day for worship
A day to refrain from work, business, shopping, and other servile activities
2175 In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God.
2176 The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship "as a sign of his universal beneficence to all."(St Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II q122 a4)
2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass"(Canon law 1247). "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."(canon law 1248.1)
2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor (canon 1245). Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.
2185 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.
2186 ...Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.
2187 Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.
2188 ... 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."(Hebrew 12:22-23)
2189 "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Deut 5:12). "The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord" (Ex 31:15).
2190 The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.
2191 The Church celebrates the day of Christ's Resurrection on the "eighth day," Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord's Day (cf SC 106).
2192 "Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church" (canon 1246 # 1). "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass" (canon 1247).
2193 "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labours and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body" (canon 1247).
2194 The institution of Sunday helps all "to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives" (GS 67 # 3).
2195 Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day.