In our society we force people to go to school for a certain number of years during childhood. Have you ever considered how strange that is? We’ve decided as a society that we want everyone to have a certain amount of education, becuase it’s better for them and it’s better for society as a whole. People who are educated more often live longer, get better jobs, have less health problems, go to jail less, and have more stable families. It was normal in the not too distant past, like all thoughout the 19th century and during the Great Depression, for children to begin working as soon as they could. We now consider it normal to put off working, and thus making money, and even to pay extra money to go to school, because it prepares us for life.
Religious Education, of course, is different. No one is legally forced to get religious education, at least in the United States. It’s something that we choose to do. So, why would someone choose to learn more about God, the Bible, and the teachings of the Church, for themselves or for their children?
There are some practical reasons. We want our children to be baptized, receive First Communion, and receive Confirmation. Without Baptism and First Communion we can’t fully participate in the life of the Church, and without Confirmation we can’t be Godparents. These are valid reasons, and I’ll accept any reason that gets someone in the door; however, we also want to convince people to continue with religious education after the formal classes end through spiritual reading, personal prayer, Bible studies, Catholic online resources, and, most important, Sunday Mass. Here are three reasons this is not just important, but necessary, for all of us.
If regular school is supposed to prepare us for life, then religious education is supposed to prepare us for heaven. We dedicate between 8 and 20 years of our lives to school to prepare for 80-100 years of life. The afterlife will last far longer than that, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll end up in heaven. The Lord Himself said, “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! (Mt 7:13-14),” and “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth (Rev 3:15-16).” We can’t take our salvation for granted, but must “with fear and trembling work out your salvation (Phil 2:12).”
Learning more about God and growing in the faith will also help us in this present life, and not only in the life to come. The lives of the saints are evidence that living a life of faith brings great joy. It’s not an easy life. The spiritual life is about learning to set aside our own wants and desires and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in life, to follow God’s commands, and to follow the Lord’s example of sacrificial love. For these are the things that make life worth living and bring the greatest joy. Mother Teresa is probably the best example of someone who lived a life of extreme sacrifice for the sake of the poorest of the poor, and yet exuded such great joy and zeal for life. As St. Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
We want to learn more about God not only to live a good life and get into heaven, but because we love God. When you love someone or something you dedicate yourself to it. If you have a hobby you spent time learning about it, practicing it, and sharing it with other people. If you love a person you want to spend time with them, learn about them, and work for their good. Practicing a hobby or being with someone you love is its own reward. These things, as good as they are, only reflect the goodness of God. In an even greater way God is Good in Himself. Love of God is its own reward, because He is the summum bonum, the highest good or ultimate goal, which we were all created for and without which we cannot ever be satisfied. This, ultimately, is why religous education must be voluntary, and why it must continue even after formal religous education classes have ended.
Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy god: thou shalt do no work on it... For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. - Exodus 20:8-11
The third commandment finishes out the section that deals primarily with our relationship with God, while the fourth through tenth commandments deal primarily with our relationship with our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor always go together; they’re inseparable. The sabbath is the seventh day, Saturday, which is when Jews and certain Christian groups like the Seventh Day Adventists observe this commandment. Catholics and most other Christians observe the sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday. Sunday is the day that the Lord rose from the dead, all of the Lord’s appearances after His Resurrection took place on Sundays, and the early Christian community always gathered for Mass on Sundays, which they called the Lord’s Day, or the eighth day. The Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday because that was the seventh day of creation, when the Lord rested, so they rested on the seventh day to give thanks to God for the creation of the world and for their lives. We celebrate on the eighth day, Sunday, to show that God did something new when Jesus rose from the dead, a new creation, if you will, and to give thanks to God for bringing us to life in Christ.
On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, we are required to do two things, go to Mass and refrain from servile labor. This is the time for us to turn our attention away from the way we make a living, our jobs, and towards the things that make life worth living, our relationships with God and with our families. It’s a day of renewal for our bodies and for our souls. We’re required, if possible, to avoid work, or servile labor, on Sundays. The rule of thumb is to abstain from work that hinders you from fulfilling the purpose of the day, worshipping God and true recreation. For example, if gardening is your job, then don’t garden on Sundays, but if it’s your hobby then it’s okay. Fulfilling family obligations or important services, like healthcare professionals and other necessary jobs, are excused from the day of rest. Some people may have jobs that require them to work on Sundays; in that case it’s not a sin to work on Sunday, but don’t let it become a habit of ignoring the Sabbath, but do whatever you can to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Remember that everyone has a right to their day of rest, so avoid things that require others to work on Sundays.
There are at least three reasons that God commands us to rest on the Sabbath. As the Lord said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” After all, God doesn’t get tired, so He didn’t need to rest on the Sabbath, but He also knows that we do need time to rest, recuperate, and refocus on what matters in life. Second, the Sabbath rest requires us to put our faith in God. We could work seven days instead of six and make more money and get more done. Instead, we give one day a week to God. On that day we serve God (the Hebrew word for worship also means serve) instead of ourselves or other people. By taking one day off we’re telling God that we trust Him to provide enough for ourselves and our families. Finally, in respecting the Lord’s Day we give everyone a public witness to our faith in God and show that our faith should affect our lives in a real and demonstrable way.
St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology was written in the second century AD, about 100 years after Christ, to explain Christianity to the non-Christians. Talking about the Mass, it says, “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. And this food is called among us Eucharistia, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.