I am always intrigued by how each blog begins formulating in my mind. This week’s blog started as I was writing last week’s blog on maintaining the equilibrium between the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act. The thought crossed my mind about how this aspect of Church teaching doesn’t apply to me since I am single and living permanent abstinence.
But then the Holy Spirit plucked at my conscience and asked me to consider if there was another Church teaching that I struggle to follow. The answer came to me as quickly as my own name: celebrating the Lord’s Day as a day of rest.
Ironically, twenty-one years ago I wrote an article for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper on this exact topic. Even back then I tussled with this aspect of God’s beautiful plan for human nature. I wanted to both laugh and cry as I reread my article from 1998. In those days of single parenting, I was rushing from work to the school bus stop to teaching tango to returning phone calls to attending Little League games to badgering my son to clean his room. When Sunday arrived, I simply wanted to withdraw from the world. Back then, I wrote these words: “I realized how backwards my life was: Sunday is not the last day of the week, but the first. I shouldn’t be digging out from the debris of the week before, but preparing my soul and spirit for the week to come.”
Sheepishly, I could write those same words today. Of course, the week’s debris would be a bit different – preparing and giving TOB talks, guiding my dedicated group of 12 TOB Mentoring participants through reading the entire TOB text, answering way overdue emails locally and from Australia, writing and rewriting my TOB Tuesdays blog, working on mountains of raw audio and video footage along with daily prayer, exercise, and Mass. The result, however, is the same: by Sunday I desperately crave narcissistic “me” time and I’m tempted to lift high my DNRAMP banner – Do Not Request Anything of Me Please!
Fortunately, I resisted unfurling my DNRAMP banner last week and instead decided to re-read St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter on celebrating the Lord’s Day entitled, Dies Domini. I was stunned at how the words leapt off the page (okay, it was the screen of my computer) twenty-one years after my first encounter with this document. I thought not only do we need to “re-read’ the language of the body as St. John Paul II constantly exhorts us, but we also need to re-read the teachings of the Church.
In that spirit, I hope you won’t mind if I share a few gems with you from Dies Domini and the healthy convictions they stirred up in me.
Gem #1: “The disciples of Christ, however, are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, and the ‘weekend,’ understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation” (no. 4).
Conviction #1: I had fallen (again!) into seeing Sunday as merely part of the “weekend,” and therefore subject to the stress of needing to complete everything leftover from the week. Knowing that the Holy Spirit and St. JPII were speaking directly to me, I kept reading…
Gem #2: “The duty to keep Sunday holy, especially by sharing in the Eucharist and by relaxing in a spirit of Christian joy and fraternity, is easily understood if we consider the many different aspects of this day…” (no. 7).
Conviction #2: The “duty” to keep Sunday holy spoke to my heart in a new way. To relate this conviction to last week’s blog, we can say that married couples have a “duty” to preserve both the unitive and procreative meanings of the one-flesh union. As a result, this duty “constrains freedom and places healthy boundaries on our choices so as to liberate a true freedom of the gift” (see Blog 27). Even as I wrote that sentence last week, I knew it would make some readers feel uncomfortable, but I still wrote it because it is true.
This week, I have to preach the same message to myself: the duty to keep the Sabbath constrains my freedom and requires me to place healthy boundaries on my choices so as to liberate a true freedom of the gift.
The true freedom of the gift, in the context of honoring our Sunday duty, is, as St. JPII says, “relaxing in a spirit of Christian joy and fraternity.” And another word for Christian joy is frui.
Frui is an incredibly important word for St. John Paul II. He uses it to emphasize the deeply-felt joy and delight we experience in another for his or her own sake. The word comes from St. Augustine’s writings, and it is often used in contrast with the word uti. Uti is associated more with regarding something as a means to an end, often according to its usefulness or utility.
Perhaps I’m over-simplifying Augustine’s distinctions, but these two words provided a helpful way for me to distinguish Saturday from Sunday: Saturday is a uti day and Sunday is a frui day. The “duty” of Sunday and therefore the manner in which our freedom should be directed, is to delight in God, life, others, creation, even food and recreation for its own sake (aka, Happiness Levels 1, 3, 4, and 5 from Blog 25). I need to establish healthy boundaries on my uti time the other six days of the week so that Sunday can be liberated and fully embraced as frui time.
Gem #3: “Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ, that he may cast light upon it and give it direction. He is the One who knows the secret of time and the secret of eternity, and he gives us ‘his day’ as an ever-new gift of his love” (no. 7).
Conviction #3: This is perhaps the hardest for me: to give all of my Sunday time to Christ. I don’t mind setting aside the morning or afternoon, but morning and afternoon and early evening seems too, well, unproductive. However, I’m making progress due to a lecture series I stumbled across two weeks ago by an Anglican theologian name N. T. Wright. Called “The Gifford Lectures,” this retired bishop and world-class scholar made a comment about the Sabbath that’s been ringing in my ears. He said, “What the Tabernacle is to place, the Sabbath is to time.”
Here’s how I’ve tried to unravel his statement. For the Jews, the Tabernacle or Holy of Holies was the one physical location on earth where God’s presence was present in the most concentrated manner. It was the infallible, geographical intersection of heaven and earth. Wright claims the Sabbath operated in a similar manner: it served as the most concentrated experience of God’s presence in the present moment. It was the infallible intersection of heaven and earth in the realm of time.
To these two observations, I think we can add a third, inspired by the Theology of the Body: What the Tabernacle is to place and the Sabbath is to time, the conjugal act is to human relationships. If you’re following my logic, this means the beautiful act of love between a husband and wife in which they give themselves to each other totally and without reservation through the body is another concentrated experience of God’s presence. In a Sacramental marriage, the one-flesh union is designed by God to be an intense experience of the intersection of heaven and earth through the human communion of persons.
Might I dare add a fourth? Here it is: What the Tabernacle is to place, the Sabbath is to time, and the conjugal act is to human relationships, the Eucharist is to Liturgy. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are meant to experience the most concentrated presence of God’s Presence, his Real Presence, among us. It is more than just the intersection of heaven and earth: it is heaven on earth for a few brief moments.
Somehow, and I’m still trying to work it out, to truly celebrate the Lord’s Day with frui is to bring place, time, spousal love, and God’s real presence into one integrated whole. It is to recognize that Jesus is Lord of all four: of the Tabernacle (“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us,” John 1:14); of the Sabbath (“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” Mt. 12:8); of the one-flesh union (“This is why a man shall leave his father and mother and unite to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church,” Eph. 5:31-32); and of the Liturgy (“This is my Body, which is given up for you,” Lk. 22:19).
Not surprisingly, what ties all four together is communion: communion with God, with the community, with the couple, and with the Church. And this communion is not first and foremost useful and productive, but the joyful fruit of presence arising from a contemplative gaze, “a gaze full of joyous delight” (no. 11). This gaze of joyous delight leads to our final gem.
Gem #4: “It is a gaze which already discloses something of the nuptial shape of the relationship which God wants to establish with the creature made in his own image, by calling that creature to enter a pact of love” (no. 11).
Conviction #4: The nuptial or spousal shape of God’s relationship with each person, and with salvation as a whole (see Blog 4 on “The Spousal Meaning of Salvation”), generates the ultimate meaning of the Tabernacle, Sabbath, one-flesh union, Liturgy, and the Lord’s Day. The “duty” to rest on the Lord’s Day is an invitation to deepen the bond of belonging between the Trinity and me as well as with the whole Body of Christ (i.e., all humanity). Put in JP2 language, it is the vocation to virginal-spousal eros.
Being given permission, even more, being commanded, to dedicate a whole day every week to deepening my bond of belonging to God and others sounds like a reason for great rejoicing. Let the frui begin! On the contrary, this thought provokes anxiety bordering on dread in my introverted and goal-oriented interior. In this sense, perhaps my reaction approximates the reaction of a married couple grappling with God’s invitation to a contraceptive-free marital relationship. It seems incredibly risky and the outcome is unknown.
Yes, that’s precisely it. If I were to shift my mode of being and acting for one day a week to union in communion for its own sake, for the sake of deepening the bonds of belonging that unite me to others and accomplish nothing else, then I would have to trust God more deeply. I would have to trust that relational time together, just like the one-flesh union and the Liturgy, is a good for its own sake and, incrementally, makes me more human. It is cultivating in me, ever so slowly and surely, a resting in the fruitfulness of God rather than the productivity of man (i.e., my own ego achievements of Happiness Level 2). The nuptial shape of life can become the soil where my embodied being is planted and flourishes. I can learn to live more and more from a unitive love that is fruitful, even when that fruitfulness is hidden and may never be known by me.
Celebrating the Lord’s Day by resting in the unitive love of God that is fruitful, and sharing that love and fruitfulness with others, makes the truths of Humanae Vitae real not just for married couples, but also for those who are single or who are infertile or past childbearing years. We are invited to enter into a deep, Sabbath rest that is not one of passivity and inactivity, but of deep delight and frui for all those present to us. I am grateful to N.T. Wright, to St. John Paul II, and to even my own interior dread for pushing me to shift from uti to frui at least one day of the week so as to liberate a true freedom of the gift.
This week I invite you to reflect on your own attitude toward celebrating the Lord’s Day as a day of frui rather than uti. In what way could you adjust your schedule and life demands so as to deepen your bonds of belonging with God and others on Sunday? (Or on another day every week if you are in the medical profession or other social services that require you to work on Sundays?) Perhaps you could plaster the following quote on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror to remind you daily of this truth: “Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human” (Dies Domini, no. 7). And, as you seek to give your time to Christ, remember…you are a gift!
© Katrina J. Zeno, MTS