I have to admit it: for many years, I had a “weekend” mentality. Saturday and Sunday were, for me, a unit of time between work weeks. Apart from Sunday Mass, there wasn’t much difference between the two days. It was like one big block of time off.
I’d read a biography of St. John Vianney which detailed his fire and brimstone homilies against the abuse of the sabbath rest, which had been rampant when he came to Ars. I dismissed those admonitions as being only for 19th century France. This was, after all, a different time and a different culture.
What finally got me thinking more about Sunday, and how it ought to be special, was John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Dies Domini. Even then, however, I wasn’t convinced that our family needed to treat Sundays all that much different than Saturdays. Fortunately, my wife was convinced otherwise. Together, we agreed to try making a radical change in the way we approached Sunday. Going forward, on Sundays, we would do only essential chores and tasks. No more working on cars, butchering animals, building fences, planting trees, or non-critical repairs. Shopping, even for Sunday dinner, had to be completed on Saturday. Exceptions could be made if we were traveling, or if something extraordinary came up, but otherwise Sunday would be kept strictly as a day for family, or for having friends over to visit.
The transition was a rough one for me, and wasn’t without some conflict, but it didn’t take long before I grew to appreciate our family’s new aproach to the Sunday rest. Week by week, we increasingly “took back” the seventh day. We slowed down. We enjoyed the time together, and we enjoyed the liberation from all the bustling around and feeling that we had to be “getting something done.” My mentality changed: I began to treasure the abundance of time-freed-from-expectations we had each Sunday. After we get home from Mass in the late morning, the kids and I read, or watch a sporting event on TV, or go for a walk down country roads with the dogs, or we watch a movie. Today we watched part of the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary, and later tonight we’ll read the last chapter of one of the Great Brain books.
We also try to have something special for dinner, and it’s usually my responsibility to select and prepare it. Today, I picked beef roast. The roast came from a pasture-fed cow, raised on a neighboring farm, by good friends of ours from the local parish. Before the cow was sent to the slaughterhouse, we arranged to buy half of the beef that came off that animal. We ended up with a wonderful collection of steaks, roasts, hamburger, and soup bones in our freezer, and it’s by far the best beef we’ve ever had. What makes it even more special is our personal connection to the people who raised it, and knowing just how healthy and well cared for the animals in that herd are.
Temperatures here were in the single digits this morning, and the wind chill was well below zero. We got a roaring fire going in the woodstove, and decided this would be a good day to cook in it. I put the roast in a cast iron Dutch oven, then filled the remaining space with seasonings and thinly-sliced carrots, potatoes, and onions. I added some water, and then put the lid on the Dutch oven. Finally, I slid the Dutch oven into the oven compartment of the woodstove. As this picture shows, the Dutch oven is in the oven compartment to the right; the firebox is to the left. The slot at the bottom left is the combination ash tray / air intake. By opening or closing the door to that tray, we can increase or decrease the fire’s air supply — and thus the size of the fire.
The woodstove kept the house quite comfortable, even though the temperature outside never got above twenty degrees. And the roast was absolutely delicious.
Apart from cooking dinner and doing the usual chores, we didn’t really get anything “done” today. Yet I wouldn’t trade this Sunday time for anything. And just a few years ago, I never would’ve imagined the day when I’d say that.