May 3, 2017

Continuing the theme from Erin's reflection on St. Joseph the Worker, I'd like to reflect a bit on "leisure".

But before I get to that, I've got to get something off of my chest: We have made a god of productivity, and it is one of the hardest idols to speak against.

Balance in our relationship with work is incredibly difficult to maintain. On one hand, we come from an incredibly rich tradition of appreciation for the personper se, for the sake of their existence. Contemplation and reflection are also cornerstones of our Catholic worldview; you'd be hard-pressed to find a practicing Catholic, ancient or modern, that would say that advancement in work is the primary motivator and ultimate goal in life. Yet what we profess with our mouths is often contradicted by our actions. While we might never admit it, our self-worth and general demeanor is so intricately interwoven with our professional accomplishments (or accomplishments in other ares of life that we give primary importance).

Let me rephrase these abstract thoughts in a specific way: While I, Aidan, profess a sort of "holy" detachment from my work, even to the point of being proud that my success or failure there doesn't truly affect me, the day that my boss (fairly or unfairly, I'm not sure which is worse) calls me out on a mistake is an awful day, no matter how "other-worldly" I fancy myself to be. Conversely, the days where I cross the most off of my to-do list are the days that I feel most energized, alive, and optimistic. These effects of work aren't inherently wrong, but let's make this clear: My accomplishments never change God's view of me.

Again, my accomplishments never change God's view of me. I'll try and parse that claim out a bit. Because we are God's creations made in His image, there is an untouchable quality to our relationship with Him. We are His children, and we can only be definitively separated from Him by our own choosing. His mercy as seen through Christ's passion only renewed and redoubled this father-child bond. Yet when we possess an unbalanced view of our work, our actions, like those of greed or procrastination, the cardinal sins of our culture, we separate ourselves from Him; the Lord is not the one creating distance. Both of these sins stem from the ubiquitous and undue importance that has been placed on work, which manifests in our human behavior as fight (greed) or flight (procrastination). Our alternative, as Erin stated on Monday, is to "make an offering of our work to God...Our ordinary work can be elevated and united to a heavenly mission when we carry it out for the sake of Jesus."

So why spend all of this time talking about work when I said I would talk about leisure? Because, at least for me, leisure is more easily defined by what it is not. In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, the philosopher Josef Pieper says:

"Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude -- it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend, or a vacation...Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being 'busy', but letting things happen...Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear." (p. 46)

Without the practice of leisure (e.g. contemplative prayer, engaging discussions with friends and family, appreciation of created and natural beauty in the world), our work will inevitably stray from a righteous balance toward one of those two paths: avaritia or acedia.

So what do we take away? Work is not holy in and of itself, and the world's idea of leisure or rest often leaves you all the more restless (let's face it, nobody actually feels good after a day of binge-watching Netflix). Instead, Pieper's metaphor about silence gives us our direction: We must have a healthy life of leisure, for this is how we are silent and see reality as it was given to us. Then we respond with our work, uniting it to Christ's work of building the Kingdom of God here belowWe listen, and then we respond.

Praised be Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd

St. James the Lesser and St. Philip, pray for us.

Frassati NY