I have never been part of a protest movement, but I am starting one, and I hope you will join me. Let me explain.
Several weeks ago on a sunny morning in my neighborhood in Levittown, Pennsylvania, landscapers were landscaping, a roofer was roofing, and all around the lower county wallets were opened and debit cards swiped in restaurants and supermarkets. Backed-up traffic crawled along Business Route 1, the main highway through Bucks County’s sprawling shopping mall/chain restaurant/commercial retail megaplex.
It was another busy, busy day in Levittown. It was Sunday.
As I returned from Mass, I said to my wife that Sunday has become just another day of the week for a lot of people. Sunday is catch-up day. I’m guilty, too, running to get groceries or to have the car washed or the oil changed.
After the priest says, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” I’m off to the rat race. The Day of Rest has become a Day of Restlessness.
That was until the Thursday before Mother’s Day. I was having lunch with a friend at a local diner. We chatted with the waitress, a single woman with grown children and a new grandchild.
“What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” my friend asked her.
The waitress said she would be working. The diner does such huge trade on that day, and the boss ordered her and all the wait staff to work. She had no choice. Neither did her daughter, who is also a waitress at the diner.
“At least we’ll be together,” she said.
Sunday. Mother’s Day. Work, work, work.
How did it come to this? As a child, I could stand in the middle of Route 1 on a Sunday afternoon, the traffic was so light. Maybe it’s the destiny of a consumer-driven economy to be open seven days a week.
But our desire for consumer convenience directly affects the lives of people in less fortunate financial circumstances. The young man who changes oil in the quick-serve garage, the supermarket clerk bagging groceries, the landscapers who engage in backbreaking labor from dawn until dusk.
These are almost always working class and working poor — people employed in low-wage jobs who ring the registers, wait the tables on family holidays, who cater to our consumer whims.
The catechism is clear. Sunday is a day of grace and rest from work. Sure, there are people who must work because what they do preserves peace and safety: police officers, firefighters, emergency medical professionals and other public safety employees.
But car washes? Oil-change joints? Lawn-cutting services?
Sunday is a day to cultivate the Christian interior life, not cash double coupons.
“Those Christians who have leisure,” states the catechism, “should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery.
“Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day.”
Which is my protest movement. I will no longer shop on Sundays. I will do everything I need to do — groceries, car maintenance, clothes shopping for the kids — on other days of the week.
It’s a radical notion because convenience is an unwritten civil right in the American consumer culture.
Waiting a day or two to make a purchase can be a burden, but as Catholics, we should consider the burden we place on people who are forced to work because we want what we want when we want it.
J.D. Mullane writes from Pennsylvania