Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work;
but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God;
in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son,
or your daughter, your manservant,
or your maidservant or your cattle,
or the sojourner who is within your gates;
for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
and rested the seventh day;
therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
The idea of the Sabbath day is a familiar one: Jews and Christians alike, though varied in day and practice depending on the specific faith tradition, are called to observe a day of rest and reflection. For many, it is a day away from the busyness of daily life and work and a time for spiritual renewal through community worship and personal reflection.
What happens, then, in the life of a professed religious? The “busyness of daily life and work” IS the Sabbath day; though no doubt spiritually satisfying, it is nonetheless a day of great work. Is it considered “keeping the Sabbath” to spend one’s whole day working, albeit at church? If not, does one simply skip this requirement and go back to work Monday? These are important questions for which the Order doesn’t have strict answers.
At this point in my formation, I find keeping the Sabbath to be critical to the life of a friar, though I recognize that making it once a week, no more or less, is a bit arbitrary. In my time with the friars, both in discernment and now in the Postulancy, I have witnessed great examples of what it means to keep the Sabbath, as well as some examples that leave something to be desired. Each method characterized below has its obvious positive and negative aspects, but offer a unique and fruitful perspective to religious life. Because they’re not mutually exclusive ideas, I see the best solution at this point to be a combination of the three, mixing and matching based on the situation of each friar’s ministry.
Make a different day the Sabbath. There’s really no good reason that the Sabbath has to be Sunday; the bible simply dictates that it should be observed, not when it should be (Since the early church saw Christianity as a movement within Judaism, they observed the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday, and began celebrating the Eucharist on Sunday. Eventually the Saturday part was dropped.) Because of this, a good number of friars will choose a regular day of the week, usually Monday, as their “off” day, to relax and spend time in prayer. In a similar vein, friars at the St. Francis Inn (Philadelphia) take off one day a week for leisure and rest, as well as one day specifically set aside for prayer and reflection. The former allows for more work to get done while the latter doesn’t make the friar choose between leisure and prayer each week.
Cut the day in thirds. Probably as common as an alternative day off, a number of friars have told me that they cut the day into three shifts, (8-12, 12-5, and 5-10) and require themselves to rest during one of them. This method guarantees time for prayer and reduces the risk of burning oneself out, while still allows them to be “always available” if needed. The upside to this method is that everyday, in a sense, can be a partial Sabbath day, allowing an opportunity to remove oneself in the midst of great stress to be with God; the downside is that one is never “off the clock” mentally, and it can be very easy to slip back into work mode during prayer/relaxation time.
Fill up only when empty. The last method is probably the least desired but not uncommon in our province. Rather than taking a specified time or day off each week, some friars choose to work as needed, taking short breaks for prayer and rest sporadically throughout the day, going long periods of time without a “formal” break. When they feel like they’ve worked to the point of exhaustion they will take a short leave, usually in the form of a week long vacation or retreat. Healthy friars are able to see work as an additional form of prayer and remain spiritually nourished, though physically exhausted; unhealthy men begin to see work as a replacement for prayer, and will eventually find themselves not only physically exhausted, but spiritually as well.