Dear Fr. Joe: is it a sin to work on Sunday?

Dear Fr. Joe: is it a sin to work on Sunday or eat meat on Friday?

What about the people who ate meat on Friday – now that it’s not a mortal sin, do they get retroactively pardoned or something?

I did a bit of research on this and found out a lot of interesting things; but perhaps the most important thing is that I found no evidence that eating meat on Friday was ever a mortal sin.

The practice arose from a spirit of penance – denying ourselves on Fridays, in memory of the day Christ was crucified.

Although eating meat on Friday is no longer proscribed, we are still called to penitence, particularly on Fridays. During Lent, the church in the United States obligates Catholics over the age of 14 to abstain from meat on Fridays.

The practice of refraining from meat on Fridays during Lent is a form of penance, and, if you ask me, a particularly effective one if done right. Especially for us Americans – meat is such a part of our everyday life that not enjoying it is something we definitely notice. Hopefully, the next time we have the “It’s Friday during Lent, I can’t eat that” moment, we’ll pause and rest in the realization that this time of the year is different from all others. We have, at that moment, a whole ton of options: We can skip the meal and go to church and pray; we can try to get to confession; we can form a brief prayer right then and there. So many choices to offer as a gift to God.

There are, obviously, exceptions. The church always allows wiggle room for people with health problems, or the elderly. If there is any question as to whether you can or should abstain from meat, make sure and talk to your doctor about it. If your health doesn’t allow you to do this, make sure and work with your priest and create a special form of penance that you can do.

Now, we’ve hit upon my true skill: I’ve typed hundreds of words and have yet to answer your question. My nephew calls this “Uncle Joe chasing the shiny thing.” Thanks for sticking with me this long.

When it comes to issues such as this, the important thing to remember is that the sin would not have been in the eating of meat, but in the disobedience to the church’s laws. The deliberate defiance of Christ’s church is the real sin.

Now, the church is clear that there are some things that are simply objectively wrong – for example, we should never need the church to tell us abortion is wrong; it simply is. Abstinence from meat, however, is what we call a discipline, so it can change with the times.

Lent is to be a time for us to pause and enter in to the passion and death of Jesus. It’s a time for us to focus and repent; to reorder our lives and ditch those things that draw us away from God. Abstaining from meat on Friday deprives us of something we like, but don’t need, in order to remind us of what we should focus on.

Is it a sin to work on Sunday?

There are circumstances where such a thing is unavoidable, and I want to be clear that I understand that. In particular, I know there are some service industry and medical jobs where an individual simply has to work on Sunday.

I am not addressing this to folks in those situations; I am writing this for people who work on Sundays because nothing else occurs to them: Stop it.

Sunday is a holy day. It’s a commandment that we honor the day and use that time to rest. In most situations, it is more important that we spend time with our family and take them to church than make more money. I remember in college reading about the great labor union strikes and how one of the early demands was that workers get Sundays off. How far we’ve come that we can’t even give God one day where we relax, pray and spend time with the family.

Let’s keep the Lord’s day holy, brothers and sisters.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!