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Theology of leisure

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

The current pandemic acutely affects people who are accustomed to industriousness and productivity. They are morally uneasy about having so much free time on their hands.

A theological reflection on leisure could help them. The first pages of the Bible present God working for six days and resting on the seventh (see Genesis 1-2). In the last contemplation of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius explains the revelation of God working and resting by clarifying that he "habet se ad modum laborantis," that is, he reveals himself as the one who works. This is a way of indicating that we cannot exactly attribute to God what is proper to humans.

The case of St. Thomas Aquinas illuminates theological work. One day the great theologian and philosopher had a very strong mystical experience of God. From that moment on, he did not want to write anymore because he realized that the divine reality surpasses the explanations of the best theologians.

Now, let it be clear what God wanted to reveal, namely, that man, created in his image and likeness, is not only obliged to work, but also to rest.

If we jump to the final stage of the history of salvation, named "the fullness of time" by St. Paul, we see that the Incarnate Word alternated work with rest. We read that the Holy Family went to Jerusalem once a year for a feast, an activity that was not at all productive for Joseph the carpenter (see Lk. 2:41ff.).

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus did not refuse the invitation to a wedding banquet at Cana because he considered it a waste of precious time (see Jn 2:1-12). Jesus and his apostles participated in the feast, even contributing to finishing off the wine!

When Jesus saw that his ministry and that of his apostles were diminishing the physical strength of all, he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while" (Mk. 6:31).

By nature, the "homo sapiens" is not only "homo faber" (hard worker), but also "homo ludens" (playful). Humans need fun games and hobbies. The pandemic provides opportunities to kill time with a game of dominoes or a movie or to go outdoors, if possible, for physical exercise. None of these activities is for profit. They are practiced to rest the troubled mind.

Let us not forget the best of hobbies, reading. It is not the dog that is man's best friend, but the book. Recreational reading kills two birds with one stone: It helps to rest while at the same time provides us with goods that money cannot buy. The reader is culturally and spiritually enriched. Let us stress that there are authors of fiction who communicate transcendental realities more successfully than many theologians. The masterpieces of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, Bernanos, Mauriac, A.J. Cronin, Flannery O'Connor and many others come to mind.

God has provided us with wonderful saints to serve as our intercessors and models of life, as well. When St. John Henry Newman arrived in a city, he would ask if there was a zoo. He, a saint, found rest by contemplating exotic fauna. St. Philip Neri is known to have been one of the funniest saints ever. St. John XXIII does not lag far behind. There are many humorous anecdotes about both.

God's will is that we should be industrious in order to support ourselves and be able to do works of charity, but not to the point of fearing to pronounce the slightest idle word or to spend a minute in some pleasant activity lacking in utilitarianism. There is nothing wrong with stopping completely to look at and admire what surrounds us. Sometimes we must give in to the desire to do nothing, what the Italians call "il dolce far niente."

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

John Lorenzo - 01/13/2021 12:27 AM
My dear Catholic brothers and sisters, There was a time when the Catholic Church told its flock that God’s 3rd Commandment “To keep holy the Sabbath Day” not only obligated every Catholic to attend Sunday Mass every week under pain of mortal sin, but it also stipulated that it was a day of rest. It also advised no work at home or away from home unless absolutely required. Sunday was a day devoted mainly to first being close to God and the Eucharist for our benefit in developing a close relationship with our Creator. Secondly, to physically rest from forms of labor to benefit our wellbeing. God knew this way of living would help our spiritual lives in attaining eternal salvation with Him in Heaven and our human lives in being able to live healthy and stressful lives. Sunday was also a day observed by almost all stores which closed for busines to give workers a day of rest. Unfortunately, as time passed, man believed he would be better off if he lived by his own way of doing things rather then the way God’s 3rd Commandment and His Church proclaimed. So, how are Catholics living today as compared to seventy or eighty years ago when God’s 3rd Commandment was obeyed more seriously? During the 1940’s and 1950’s, 80% of Catholics attended Sunday Mass every week, 100% of Catholic school children attended Sunday Mass every week and almost all the CCD children did the same. Today, prior to Covid19, Catholics attending Sunday Mass was about 15% and most school children rarely if ever attend Sunday Mass. With few exceptions, all stores are open for business on Sundays and most holidays. Working on Sunday is now the norm. That day of rest is something of the past. God only knows what the future holds after Covid19. Living the past two generations by man’s way of thinking instead of God’s law and wisdom has hurt both our spiritual and human lives. So, what is the answer? With God, nothing is impossible. Deacon John Lorenzo
Mariana S. Lopez-Oña - 01/12/2021 01:30 PM
Thank you Fr.Barrios for this most needed message.Blessings and prayers to you.
Kathy Werthman - 01/11/2021 11:06 AM
I appreciate this message. Thank you, Fr. Barrios!

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