Diocesan director Chris Newkirk, left, and Dcn. Rick Miech, right, pastoral associate for St. Peter the Fisherman Catholic Church, Eagle River, presented on the importance of “Sabbath time” in October. (Catholic Herald photo by Marcy Kasper)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“Taking Sabbath time is not only important for the clergy and those in full-time parish ministries, it is important for the spiritual life of anyone who has a servant’s heart and chooses to give of themselves for the good of others.”

This affirmation by Christine Newkirk, who works in various roles within the diocese and in connection with parish life, underlines much of the message on “Sabbath Time” presented by Deacon Rick Miech at an Oct. 9 professional development day held at St. Joseph’s in Hayward. Newkirk added her comments to broaden the scope of the topic and apply it to those in volunteer roles.

The Eagle River deacon spoke about the consequences of when one does not take enough time for Sabbath. The group discussed parallels between the lack of sleep and the lack of Sabbath and summed it up as “burnout.”

What Sabbath is and isn’t

Dcn. Miech clarified that Sabbath isn’t “having a day off.”

Sabbath is a commandment of God, pointed out multiple times in Scripture in the New and Old Testaments – Genesis 2:1-2, Exodus 20:8-11 and 34:21, Deuteronomy 4:39-40 and 5:12-15. In the act of creation, God himself was the first to command and keep holy Sabbath as a time of rest. Jesus renewed its understanding not with negative rules and restrictions, but with its foundational mindset. In Mark 2:27 he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

The deacon reiterated that “Sabbath isn’t a responsibility; it is a gift.” He said, “Don’t make it holy; keep it holy.” He gave various examples of Jesus dismissing crowds, taking time away from the disciples and his ministry for solitude with God.

Newkirk affirmed this aspect of replenishing mind, body and spirit. She defined Sabbath also as, “Taking time away from the ordinary, specifically to pray, to give thanks, to rest, reflect, refocus and just simply be – to imagine our own potential holiness.”

She said, “Sabbath time is taking sacred time, in sacred space, to get sacred results.” When lay volunteers keep this commandment, they can bring that sacredness to all the marketplaces of life just by their very presence, inspiring those in ministry of its importance as well.

Dcn. Miech further reflected on what happens when Sabbath is neglected, the damage and suffering caused when neglect and distractions take the place of healthy relationships and humanizing balance.

Building on that idea of balance and humanity, Newkirk added, “Jesus took Sabbath time to appreciate all that is good from God and to focus on his call and mission in the world.

“If Jesus needed and practiced Sabbath time, this should be an indication to all of us that it is essential to being fully human and collaborating with the divine. We meet God in Sabbath time and He helps us to clarify the mission that He has given to each of us, while re-filling us with the strengths, energy and desire to fulfill that mission in our daily living, whether volunteer or paid.

“Sabbath time helps us identify and name the joys of striving to be holy.”

Managing time and distractions

During the seminar, Dcn. Miech addressed time management and distractions. Starting from a perspective of time as a blessing, one to be used and spent well, he offered a foundational claim of how time is understood as something holy in both Judaism and Catholicism.

He then juxtaposed the modern-day attitude that scorns wasting time, praises perpetual busyness and touts technologies and devices that make mindful leisure almost impossible.

In a society that prefers action and accomplishments, the challenge for ministerial staff and the volunteers they depend on is to understand that rest and Sabbath is not empty, wasted time.

The deacon said, “So many wonderful things grow in the soil of time. Time is not money. Time is eternal. Space and things are not.”

Participants agreed social media is a major area of distraction, as well as the mindless use of technology and smartphones as unhealthy coping mechanisms, avoiding stress and the deeper issues threatening healthy balance.

Noting that God’s command for rest is a one-to-seven ratio, Dcn. Miech calculated that to be eight minutes an hour. He discussed and led the group through an example of centering prayer where distractions are not fought, but refocused and the body’s senses engaged in the present moment.

‘We are not machines’

Dcn. Miech shared a quote from Pope Francis: “We live with the accelerator down from morning to night – this ruins mental health, spiritual health and physical health. More so, it affects and destroys the family, and therefore society… One day of the week, that’s the least. Out of gratitude, to worship God, to spend time with the family, to play, to do all these things. We are not machines.”

He also spoke of St. Augustine multiple times and shared concepts he said “hardly exist in our vocabulary” nowadays. Concepts like unburdened time, contemplative leisure, incubator of wisdom and joyful uselessness. Referring back to the topic of Sabbath, he said it is “a time to slow down and be, time to appreciate the beauty of the world, along with remembering who you are.”

One very concrete suggestion given was that of a “Sabbath box” inside which one would place the things committed to not using during Sabbath time – smartphone, “iThings,” car keys, TV remote controls. If it is too big to put in the box, write it down on a slip of paper. He advised additionally writing down what might be a temptation to work on as well as concerns to set aside during that time.

He added, “We are not supposed to accomplish anything on the Sabbath … Sabbath is the white space.” White space to “reflect on the people, things, places and events that bring you true joy.” During Sabbath, reflect on why they are sources of joy, focus on that and let it fill you up.

“When the Sabbath is done, you return to labor refreshed,” Dcn. Miech said. He added that when one large block of time cannot be carved out, break it up into smaller ones, but do not neglect it all together.

Relating these concepts again to lay volunteers, Newkirk said, “Once someone volunteers and others know they are willing to be part of something bigger than themselves, it is inevitable that the word gets around and those volunteers are more greatly in demand. Sabbath time helps ask the questions of priority and what is really worthy of our time and energy.”

She said, “Sabbath time can point to how our own gifts, talents and skills have the potential to fill the deepest needs in the lives of others … It is a way to prime our spiritual pumps on a regular basis, so that our wells of generosity and gratitude don’t run dry.

“Our own wells must be full if we are truly going to be effective in ministry or as a volunteer – we cannot give what we do not possess.”