When I look at our culture, I sense that everyone is worn out. We’re overworked, lonely, and bored. Our idea of rest is binge-watching Netflix and working from home. We keep everything on all the time (our email, texts from co-workers, TV, headphones, etc.) so that we are “on” all the time. We think that taking breaks and resting means we are wasting. We’ve lost something important in this work-obsessed culture, and the idea of leisure has been fading for the past 50 years. But there is much to learn about the saints and holy leisure.
Leisure: The Basis of Culture
Josef Pieper, 20th century German theologian and author of Leisure: The Basis of Culture argued that work should flow out of a life of leisure, not the other way around. He said, “Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.” (Leisure: The Basis of Culture). Pope St. John Paul II also talked about leisure, even calling it a right (source). It’s not surprising that leisure was so important to him because he spent a lot of his early priesthood camping and hiking, and he was extremely interested in skiing, poetry, theater, and art (JPII even skiied as Pope until his health would no longer allow it!).
Now, leisure isn’t “vegging” and binging Netflix or Amazon Prime for 12 hours, because after all, who feels rested after doing that? Leisure is purposeful, rejuvenating, should fill our cups. Holy leisure helps us interact with the world as Christians and have a “well of life” to draw from when ministering to others (there’s a really good episode of Pints with Aquinas about leisure vs. vegging).
Maybe the idea of real leisure has been fading because everything we do now has to “produce” something. Maybe we are just suffering the effects of an Industrial Revolution mindset, but we consider our once a year vacation to be our leisure time and everything else has to be productive. I find myself in this place so often: feeling guilty for sitting and chatting with my husband, or going to the pool with our baby because “I didn’t get anything done”.
We might think that we don’t have true leisure now because we are just so busy, and maybe busier than any generations that came before us. But, I look at the lives of saints like Pope St. John Paul II and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and I realize that they weren’t any less busy; they just prioritized leisure, prayer, and solitude. They happened to be pretty productive in their work and ministries, but also extremely holy.
Frassati, the Mountain Climber
Frassati joined the St. Vincent De Paul Society when he was only 17. He helped the poor, sick, and injured veterans of WWI, and he was a member of Catholic Action. He went to daily Mass and daily adoration, and every day he meditated upon 1 Corinthians 13 and the writings of St. Catherine of Siena. However, he still found time to go to the theater, the opera, and museums, and go mountain climbing with his friends (which was his favorite pastime). All of this he did before reaching the age of 25 (learn more about the amazing Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati here). The time he spent with the Lord and the time spent with friends mountain climbing and enjoying the arts enabled him to serve and work with clear purpose, and place work in its proper place in his order of priorities.
Leisure for Us
Maybe it’s these priorities that we can build into our daily routines. What would happen if we set aside one day a week to rest (and leisure) and truly took a Sabbath? What if we gave ourselves 5 minutes each day to sit in silence and meditate on scripture? Could we turn off our emails, texts, and devices for an evening to just relax and enjoy wine and good food with friends?
How can we build quality leisure time into our lives? If we add in leisurely activities into our schedules, we might begin to view work differently. Work might become something born out of our leisure time. We might begin to work to live instead of live to work. What if we added rock climbing, theater, playing music, kayaking, reading for pleasure, knitting, cooking, or any other activities into our routines? We wouldn’t be wasting time, but using the time to enjoy the gifts and passions God has given us, and in turn filling our cups to overflowing.
Pope Francis summed up the balance between work and leisure pretty well:
Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society.Pope Francis (source)
Maybe we can take some cues from Blessed Frassati and JPII and start building a culture of leisure and resist overworking. We can re-prioritize and refuse to work on Sundays and refuse to buy into the consumer culture.
What activities bring you true rejuvenation? How do you enjoy your leisure time? How do you balance work and rest in your life? Even if you work on Sunday, is there another day you could take as a Sabbath?
Keep the “Holy Leisure Saints” close!
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s medal pictures a mountain range. He loved mountain climbing and the opportunity it provided for evangelization. He is famous for the quotation “Verso l’alto,” which means “To the heights” in Italian. Check out the Frassati collection here and JPII collection here.
Read a great article from a Daughter of St. Paul to learn more about holy leisure here.