A Summertime Reflection on Holy Leisure
In April, I had the opportunity to visit our college seminarians at St. John Vianney Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. After Mass with the entire community, I met with just the seminarians from the Diocese of Joliet for dinner and fellowship. It was a wonderful evening filled with conversations, support and encouragement. We can be proud of these young men in formation for the priesthood.
During the conversation, one of them asked me a very innocent question: “Bishop, what have you been doing for fun in your free time?” His question provoked an awkward silence in me as I tried to think of something, anything, I had been doing for fun lately.
I finally responded by saying, “In general, when I have free time, I really like to swim, attend major league baseball games and go to the movie theater.”
(Parenthetically, I have found that, when I try to watch a movie at home, I am distracted by many interruptions, such as my phone, doing laundry, etc. The movie theater provides me with a place to escape in which I can focus solely on the movie instead of the many tasks around me at home.)
So you may ask, “Bishop, why have you done anything fun lately?” The most obvious answer is that the pandemic has altered my access to those venues. However, the more subtle answer is that I tend to lose myself in work.
I must pause here and ask that you please do not think that I perceive my life to be sad or miserable. On the contrary, I truly feel happy and blessed. Also, I thank God daily for the countless blessings in my life, which include wonderful people like you in the Diocese of Joliet with whom I share the journey.
Like many of you, I believe in working hard. Indeed, we should dedicate time and effort to our work involving ourselves, our families, and our Church and its many necessary ministries. Yet, we must also recognize that it is too easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of producing and consuming.
“Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
Leisure should not be equated with idleness or just a break from work. Instead, it should lead us to a renewal of mind, body and soul.
Therefore, as we now find ourselves in the heart of the summer, it may be a good time to reflect on our work/leisure balance. So, I ask you, where are you finding some leisure time? Perhaps it is by losing yourself in a good book? Participating in a social activity or simply spending time with family or friends? Practicing or viewing a sport? Volunteering out of sheer goodness instead of asking what you will receive in return? How about engaging with the arts, such as music, film, drama? Or maybe by connecting with beauty, especially in nature and the awe of God’s creation.
As Catholics, we also can find that true work/leisure balance by embracing a spiritual life, including prayer, worship, Mass and even silence. Like you, I hear some people say that going to Mass is a waste of time. They opine that their time would be more productive by working and doing something to make this world a better place.
That is a dangerous and slippery slope because, unless we stop to reflect, pray, worship and contemplate, then we become like machines and lose contact with our true identity as daughters and sons of God.
Martha and Mary illustrate this tension. While the work is necessary and important, Jesus affirms Mary’s desire to sit at His feet and contemplate His words, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42).
It is also a good reminder that, in order to go out and be Christ in the world, we first need to be nourished by Christ. This is not only the right balance, but it is also the correct order of the spiritual life.
I hope you are beginning to safely enjoy some of the things that were put on hold during the pandemic. For me, I hope to get back to a swimming pool, the baseball stadium or a movie theater sometime soon. But until then, I encourage you to join me by looking for ways to balance your lives with some sort of consistent and holy leisure. And whatever that path may look like for you and me this summer, may it always lead us to a renewed peace and joy in our minds, bodies and souls.