Labor Day is a day of rest, given to us to slow down from our fast-paced world. Author Josef Pieper offers us a way to find true and restorative rest everyday, whether it be a federal holiday or not.
Leisure, the Basis of Culture
He does this in his book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by showing us how to transport ourselves “out of the weariness of daily labor into an unending holiday”.
Section 1 // Leisure as Contemplation
Did you know that the history of the word “leisure” comes from the Latin word scola meaning “school”? It indicates the place where we learn and also where we teach. The root word for leisure becomes easier to understand when we think of education as taking the good of the entire person into account.
Education concerns the whole man, man capax universi (meaning “containing all”), capable of grasping the totality of existing things.
This doesn’t mean being trained in one particular thing or the other, it means to have the ability to contemplate, and to contemplate means to experience leisure.
Section 2 // Difficulty Does Not Equal Better
Hard work is celebrated, as it should be. But we must watch out for the danger of falling into a Kantian way of thinking that the more difficult something is, the better it is. Aquinas refutes this idea in his Summa Theologica where he states “the essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult. Not everything that is more difficult is necessarily more meritorious.”
For example, having a good time while hosting friends for dinner is a good and beneficial thing. No hardship is necessary to make it meritorious.
Pieper also points out the importance of not counting the cost of our suffering. We do not suffer simply to say we endured something difficult and therefore our actions are “higher.” We suffer because it leads us to salvation and ultimate happiness. Pieper quotes Aquinas’ words, “The end and the norm of discipline is happiness” and as we practice virtue, we are able to choose the moral good more naturally.
Section 3 // Leisure, Idleness, and Acedia
Our culture today often equates leisure to idleness, but Pieper begs to differ. He writes that idleness means that man “does not want to be as God wants him to be, and that ultimately means that he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally, is.” This leads one to the sin of acedia, a sin which makes leisure impossible. Pieper writes that acedia takes place when man realizes that God resides within him, but is saddened by this realization because he doesn’t want to live as God intends.
When I first read this idea that man could be saddened by the knowledge of God living in him, I was confused. But then I was reminded of how easily we become conditioned to have sin live in us and the security we find in our weakness (like the false feeling of control).
Just think of the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew. When he asks Jesus what is needed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven “he went away sad” because it meant he would have to sell his many possessions and give alms to the poor.
Embracing Jesus means embracing His call to us. Choosing to live a life of virtue is not easy, but it is what God created us for.
So what do idleness and leisure look like?
To go to the beach to enjoy a sunny afternoon and the glistening of the water is leisure. Being able to sit back, to be at peace, and to sense God’s love is leisure.
Idleness on the other hand, is a “deep-seated lack of calm which makes leisure impossible.” It would look like being at the beach, but mindlessly scrolling through your phone. As author Dr. Michael Naughton writes in Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World, “modern leisure amuses us into escaping from our lives”, it removes us from uncovering our identity as it often takes us out of reality.
Leisure allows one to be steeped in the wonder and contemplation of God’s creation and to worship God through recognizing its goodness. My favorite line that Pieper gives is when he describes leisure as “like a man falling asleep, for one can only fall asleep by ‘letting oneself go.’ When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean we are to always be “sleeping.” Work is necessary to, after all, income is needed in order to support the family. Yet we must put work in its proper place.
Section 4 // Vocation Over Career
Pieper describes that to be addicted to work is interiorly impoverishing. He argues that if man is only fulfilled by the utilitarian process of his work or career “his life has shrunk inwardly, and contracted, with the result that he can no longer act significantly outside his work, and perhaps can no longer even conceive of such a thing.”
Pieper is not saying that fulfillment in the workplace is a bad thing; indeed it is very good. The point he is making is that work should not be the only place we find fulfillment. It is key that fulfillment be found in our faith and our community, and this leads us to what Pieper describes as “festivity.”To be addicted to work is interiorly impoverishing. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Section 5 // Leisure = Celebration/Festivity
Now it’s time to party! At least that’s what Pieper would say, for in his own words, “to hold a celebration means to affirm the basic meaningfulness of the universe and a sense of oneness with it, of inclusion within it.”
The kind of celebration he is implying is not the holiday that is created by society or political powers, but celebration in terms of feast days and holy days. Celebrating holy days and the Sabbath are excellent ways to foster leisure and prioritize and honor one’s vocation over their career, through generously offering ourselves through worship. Worship not as a means to an end, but worshipping God for His own sake.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church even encourages us to celebrate through leisure:
The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, and religious lives. -CCC 2184
Contemplate and Receive
Take a few minutes of silence to receive the world around you.
Is this a bouquet of flowers in your home, the depth of your child’s eyes, birds singing outside, or the turning color of the trees?
As Pieper writes, leisure is “a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude…the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”
Listen to Music
Taking five minutes of my day to listen to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune fills my heart with peace and gratitude. I can’t help but have awe and wonder of God’s creation as I listen to the notes of the piano.
Praise God through praise and worship, either by sitting and being mindful of the words, worshipping with your voice, or playing your own instrument.
Celebrate Holy Days
As Catholics, we have a variety of reasons to celebrate throughout the year, for example, feast days!
Celebrate by going to Mass or spending time in Adoration. Then, think of an activity that corresponds with the day. For example, on the Feast of Saint John Paul II you could cook a Polish meal to celebrate the country of his birth.
How will you find leisure today?
BIS Reads: Leisure, the Basis of Culture #BISblog // Click To Tweet
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