It's amazing how people respond when there is a blizzard in the forecast. No matter what their work or family schedule normally is, they somehow manage to make it to the store to stock up on food. If there's a possibility of a power outage, they get the laundry and vacuuming done. They make sure the dishes are washed, the cellphones are charged, the blankets are ready, and the snowblowers are working. People get the work done, so that when the big event comes they can cozy up in front of the fire and relax until the snow stops and they can begin shoveling. This is a great testament to the human ability to prepare and plan well.
And it can also serve as a way to help us think about Sundays. The observance of Sunday as the Lord's Day, a day set aside for rest and worship has become uncommon, and yet it remains crucial for the Christian life. From a natural perspective, human beings need a break and an opportunity to rest. From a supernatural perspective, the commitment to resting on a Sunday is a way of affirming our humility. It might seem that we can accomplish more by working more days, but taking one day off from work attests to our trust in God and belief that we do all things through God and not simply of our own power.
It might seem strange to try to categorize Sunday rest as a parenting mortification, since it truly is a precept of the Christian life. But in many ways, the Sunday observance for a busy family does involve a death to self, a sacrifice and a commitment in order to live more fully for God. This is partly because it has become counter-cultural to keep Sunday as the Lord's Day; kids' activities are now increasingly scheduled for Sundays, for example. Busy families face another obstacle for good observance of Sunday, namely, they often find themselves behind on chores or work because they are balancing so much in terms of the house, children, and work outside the home given the imperfect circumstances in which we live.
And this is why I think it is helpful to recognize keeping the Sabbath as a mortification. It is a sacrifice that may be difficult to embrace in addition to the many challenges of having kids. But like other parenting mortifications, it is a sacrifice that brings us and our children closer to God. How we parents observe Sundays also provides an important example for our children. Here are a few ideas for observing Sunday rest.
1. Abstain from your professional work. Unless you hold a job, such as a nurse or police, where you cannot avoid working on Sundays, do not get trapped into doing your outside work on a Sunday. This may take planning, but it is usually more possible than we like to think.
2. Avoid unnecessary household work. Many times Sunday becomes a catch-up day for chores, which is regrettable. There is constant maintenance in the upkeep of a house, and this means there is always something more that can be done. Of course, on Sundays we will need to do the dishes and sweep the floor, but laundry, vacuuming, and similar chores should be postponed until Monday or completed on Saturday. Please do not make Sunday "chore day" for your children, especially if you tend to get frustrated and angry when getting your kids to do chores. You do NOT want your children to associate Sunday with grumpy parents and extra housework. Nor should you think of Sunday as the day that you have to marshal your children into cleaning up the house.
3. Attend Mass. This is the most important activity a Catholic family should do on a Sunday. Dressing up for Mass is a way of reinforcing that Sunday is different from the other days of the week.
4. Eat well. Sunday is a Solemnity, the highest feast day in the Church. So celebrate it with a good meal, whether an elaborate brunch or simply a dessert after dinner. It's also a good day to set your table differently than it usually appears - with a nice tablecloth or some candles.
5. Engage in family prayer. Perhaps the most popular family prayer on a Sunday is saying the Rosary as a family. Reading Scripture aloud or saying a novena are two other possibilities of many prayer practices.
6. Do something fun as a family. Sunday is a good day to go for a hike, hang out at a park, go fossil hunting, have a dance party in the living room, etc. Choose an activity that you aren't normally able to do on a weekday.
7. Give your spouse a break. If one spouse spends more time with the children, Sunday is a good day to let that parent do something he or she normally doesn't get to do, such as go for a swim or read a novel.
8. Extend hospitality. Hosting friends or extended family can be a nice way to make Sunday feel different from the rest of the week.
9. Don't let sports or other kids' activities dominate your Sundays. It is difficult to make a hard and fast rules about children's activities on Sundays, but if you know that a particular activity only takes place on Sundays, you should carefully discern if it is worth it for your child to participate in that activity at all. Sunday can easily become "soccer day" or "wrestling day," where the focus of the day is on these activities. On the other hand, a late afternoon baseball game could contribute to a nice Sunday. If you make the decision to take your child to hockey practice instead of Mass, you are setting a very dangerous example for them, one that can imperil their soul far more than any damage that might result from missing a practice.
10. Limit screen time. Don't let technology take over your Sunday. Avoid letting "rest" and "family time" become everyone staring individually at a phone screen, tablet screen, computer screen, or television screen. Remember that the reason for guarding your Sundays is to focus on resting in God.
There can be a certain discipline involved in making Sundays feel like Sundays, distinct from the rest of the work week. It involves planning and preparation. But it is possible. And it is nourishing for both our bodies and souls.