“Summertime, and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high,
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin ’, So hush little baby, Don’t you cry... ”
So sings Bess in her famous lullaby from the American opera Porgy and Bess. It’s a song celebrating hard work, prosperity and family life, and during this week of summer time it was also the theme of Pope Francis’ general audience.
Beginning a three-part teaching in support of the family, Pope Francis began with the subject of celebration. His down to earth teaching in his usual accessible style was a reminder of the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. The pope said rest and celebration are part of the very order of creation, “We recall the conclusion of the account of Creation... ’And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day.’” In other words, Catholics believe in taking time off for rest, relaxation and recreation, and what is recreation except “re-creation”? The pope reminds us that a day off or vacation is therefore not laziness or shirking from work. He said, “A celebration is first of all a loving and thankful look on work well done; we celebrate work.... a true time of celebration halts professional work and is sacred, because it reminds man and woman that they are made in the image of God, who is not a slave of work.”
While encouraging the celebration of time off, the pope also reminds us that there are many around the world who do not enjoy this simple right. “Millions of men and women and even children that are slaves of work! In this time they are slaves, they are exploited, slaves of work and this is against God and against the dignity of the human person!”
While work is good, he teaches, it is not everything. Greed drives us to work without a break and to put ourselves and others at risk and leads to terrible waste of human lives and resources. So he cries out, “Do we work for this? The greed of consuming, which entails waste is an awful virus that, among other things, in the end makes us feel more tired than before. It harms true work and consumes life. The disorderly rhythms of a celebration create victims — often young people.”
Instead, life should be abundant and full of joy. We should take pride in our work and be satisfied with a job well done. We should enjoy the financial benefits of hard work and celebrate that prosperity with family and friends. Sunday is the unique day when Christians should take time off work to celebrate positively with family and friends.
The focus and ultimate expression of this special day is the Sunday Eucharist. It is no mistake that we say that we “celebrate” Mass. It is no accident that the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”. Through this holy celebration all our human celebrations are transfigured. Pope Francis said, “The Sunday Eucharist brings to a celebration all the grace of Jesus Christ: his presence, his love, his sacrifice, his making us community, his being with us ... And in this way every reality receives its full meaning: work, family, the joys and efforts of every day, also suffering and death; everything is transfigured by the grace of Christ.”
Finally, the celebration of the Mass on Sunday, along with a time of family celebration —like a good Sunday dinner and a time of recreation together — is a pointer to the “eternal Sabbath” of heaven. Heaven is the time and place where our work is ended and our rest begins. On the threshold of heaven we will be full of joy. It will feel like the last day of school. We close the books, loosen our collar, kick off our shoes for the summer vacation with our family has begun.
Pope Francis concludes by reminding us that it is within the family that our celebrations have the deepest meaning. “The family is endowed with a extraordinary capacity to understand, direct and sustain the genuine value of the time of celebration. But how lovely are the celebrations in the family, they are most beautiful! - and, in particular, those of Sunday. It is no accident that the celebrations in which there is place for the whole family are those that succeed better! Family life itself, looked at with the eyes of faith, seems better than the efforts it costs. It seems a masterpiece of simplicity, good precisely because it is not artificial, or false, but able to incorporate in itself all the aspects of a true life. It appears as something “very good,” as God says at the end of the creation of man and of woman (cf. Genesis 1:31). Therefore, a celebration is a precious gift of God; a precious gift that God has made to the human family: let’s not ruin it!”
—Fr. Dwight Longenecker, August 13, 2015