Today at Holy Mass we read the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 20. Let’s focus on the third commandment, since God Himself focused on it, by instructing the wandering Israelites to keep the sabbath, even before they arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the commandments.
The Western world has never officially adopted atheism as a principle of government, like communist Russia and China did. (France was officially atheist, but only for six months, during the 1790’s.) Here in the U.S., of course, we officially trust in God, as our money plainly indicates.
But: Hasn’t the sabbath vanished from our life as a nation? And doesn’t that mean that we are, if not atheist in theory, actually atheist in practice? I don’t intend this as a guilt-trip for anyone. Let’s simply consider what the sabbath means for our understanding of reality.
First and foremost, keeping the sabbath means that we put into practice our awareness that God is God. That He reigns supreme in unfathomable, holy goodness and beauty. That everything exists because of His merciful kindness.
Second, the sabbath means that we have immortal, spiritual souls. We human beings occupy planet earth in an utterly unique position, as the supreme pontiffs of creation. Among all the creatures here, we alone perceive the harmony and loveliness of God’s handiwork, and on the sabbath we praise Him and glorify Him for it.
These days supposedly sophisticated people don’t use the words “mankind” or “man.” Instead, sophisticated people say “humans.” But “humans” suggests that we are just one animal species among many. Whales, humans, monkeys, bats, etc. But mankind has a unique destiny, which we attain by keeping the sabbath.
Someone rightfully asked me after my homily yesterday: Father, how can you say the crisis of our times involves the third commandment, when so many babies get aborted, in flagrant violation of the fifth?
An eminently reasonable question. But I think it actually serves to make my point. What would move us to such acts of violence? The crushing of innocent life in the womb, so full of promise for the future? The only explanation for millions of abortions and the culture of death is widespread desperate hopelessness.
So, why have we fallen into such desperate hopelessness? Because we have no silence, no rest, no interior space that God can fill with Himself—He Who is our only enduring joy. We never stop to contemplate Him. We have lost sight of the fact that contemplating God is the meaning of life. Life without the sabbath is a living hell. So it’s really no wonder that we have become so unchaste and violent.
But God is still God, of course. And mankind still stands at the pinnacle of creation as high priest. And Christ’s sacrifice still opens the heart of infinite divine mercy.
We can always find sabbath rest for our souls at the Church’s altars. And it seems to me that nothing will evangelize better than our having that sabbath refreshment within ourselves–and inviting others to share in its true joy.