Tag Archives: work

We All Need Leisure – August 1, 2016

“No philosopher has ever been able to grasp the being of a single fly,” pondered St. Thomas Aquinas. The scientist ceases to wonder when he receives his results. Yet, those who philosophize and contemplate the nature of the world, reality, and God, can never fully comprehend, and never cease to wonder. To contemplate spiritual and eternal things is to wonder and to hope, never fully grasp the infinite nature of God. The philosopher Josef Pieper calls this wonder and holy puzzlement “leisure.” Leisure, he says, is the basis for all culture. Derived from the same word, the ancient Greek “skole” means to educate or to teach.. They understood that the idea of leisure as something more than our limited interpretation today.

Here in the summer month of July and heading into the dog days of summer, with families focused on vacations, cookouts, swimming and the beach, taking a break from work, it is fitting to reflect upon leisure. What is leisure? To Pieper, leisure is not a break from an activity or a distraction, but a state of the soul. It is a contemplative and spiritual attitude consisting of an inner silence. It is receptivity to the world and an embrace of who we truly are.

One unfortunate tendency of the modern age is to idolize work. In the West, we tend towards careerism, to be workaholics. On the other side, under Communism and Marxist rule, all of life was oriented towards “the worker,” with all activities focused on material economics and work itself. In either extreme, the idea of the worker becomes an idol, and work becomes idolatry. The person lives to work, rather than work to live. The dignity of man and his personhood is subsumed under his utility. How useful is he to society? Utilitarianism is the ultimate purpose of the worker. There is no higher dignity, no contemplation of God, no comprehension of spiritual things. In short, no leisure.

It was not always so. Although modern philosophy and science focuses primarily upon utilitarian ends, the ancient Greeks and Romans considered liberal arts an end in themselves. In our current times the “hard sciences” of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and medicine are favored culturally, and monetarily, over the “soft sciences” of philosophy and theology. The Aristotelian and Thomistic views of knowledge, however, focused not exclusively on the empirical senses, but also on a broader spiritual base of knowledge. Knowledge to them meant more than materialism, but also an understanding of ultimate things. It does not necessarily need function or utility, and the worker does not need to be tied to the State or production. Pieper called this the “de-proletariarizing” of the worker. Higher work and higher knowledge in ancient times were generally non-utilitarian and spiritual in nature.

Leisure is a form of rest. It does not necessarily mean “non-work.” It is an attitude of the mind, a state of the soul, whether working or not working. It does not imply that work is bad. God commanded man in the book of Genesis to work, then declaring, “it was good.” Work is good, but God also gives us the Sabbath. Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for rest. In the Creation story, on the seventh day, God rested. God commands us to rest on the seventh day as well and observe the Sabbath by doing no work. It is not a rule whimsically imposed on us by God. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man,” or, in other words, for our benefit. Rest in this Judeo-Christian sense does not mean to do nothing. It means to engage in restful contemplation and thanksgiving towards God. We are to worship in awe at all that God has created and wrought for us. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Leisure involves true knowledge. It involves recognition of who we truly are, in light of the knowledge of God. We can rest and be still in the knowledge that God created us, redeemed us, and it is to Him that we are ultimately to return home for eternity. This is the peaceful spirit of leisure that should inform our lives whether we are working or not working. The spirit of leisure can be our constant state of mind.

The ancient philosophers also had a term for idleness, “acedia.” It was not meant in the modern notion of laziness, or a lack of work or activity, but rather a sense of restlessness. It is a restlessness of our being when we refuse to receive God’s command to rest in Him. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Him.” The restlessness of acedia is to ignore the third Commandment to observe the Sabbath, and take our rest in God. When we refuse God’s rest, we will remain in a spirit of restlessness. Jesus renews the gift of the Sabbath: “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For My yoke is easy and burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28, 30) Jesus here is speaking of leisure of the soul.

Whether we are steeped in work or driven to distraction, God calls us first and foremost to rest in Him. This is our true leisure. We are not called to withdraw from the world, but rather, to fully reconnect to reality. The term religion comes from the Latin “religare” meaning to bind or to connect. When we engage in religion, and specifically the Church and the Mass, we are re-engaging with God, with spiritual things, with reality and ourselves, who we truly are. This is our leisure. Leisure is that briefest of glimpses of eternal rest when we will, with awe and wonder, behold the Beatific Vision.

This summer as we take our vacations, let us remember to embrace leisure in our minds, for we are not made for work alone. We are made for God. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of being “contemplatives in the midst of the world,” we can seek leisure in the midst of all our summer activities, as we orient all of our work and relaxation towards its proper end, with the true knowledge of God and of ourselves. In so doing, we will use our work and our rest to “consecrate the world itself to God.” (Lumen Gentium, 34)

Laborers in the Vineyard (the Vocation of the Laity) – October 23, 2015

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; “and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’” (Mt. 20:1-7)

God is calling each of us to work in His vineyard. Just as the landowner in the parable hires laborers, so too, Jesus says to us, “You also go into the vineyard.” The vineyard, of course, is an allusion to the world around us. God is the landowner, and we are His potential laborers. And, what is God’s work in the vineyard? Jesus Himself answers this saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29) Later on, just before His final Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives the “Great Commission,” telling His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20) The work Jesus commands us to do in the vineyard is to spread His Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world. We are to herald the Kingdom of God. This is the universal mission of the Church. Christianity is not confined to any one region, or to any one people, or to any one time, but the Gospel is meant for all. Our labor in the vineyard is to evangelize all peoples for the salvation of souls. This is the harvest. From the time that Jesus spoke those words, 2,000 years ago, till now, it is estimated that approximately fifty billion (or 50,000,000,000) people have lived. Today alone, the world has over seven billion (or 7,000,000,000+) people. Now, that is a lot of grapes! As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Mt. 9:37) And so, we see in the parable, the landowner keeps coming out to the marketplace in the hours throughout the day each time to call for more laborers.* It doesn’t matter what “hour” we are called; whether in the early morning or in the late afternoon, whether early in life or late in life, God is calling us just the same, now, at this hour, urgently, “You also go into the vineyard.”

“You” is, in fact, us. The vast majority of “us” are the lay faithful of the Church, or the laity. In a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Pope John Paul II, addressed the vocation and the mission of the laity in the document, Christifideles Laici, or “Christ’s Lay Faithful.” It explains the “unique character of their vocation” to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” (CL 9; LG 31) We, the lay faithful, are to live the Christian life in the midst of the world by bringing our spiritual values to our temporal surroundings. We need not recoil from the world or embrace all aspects of it, but should live out our Christian vocation in whatever state we find ourselves. The Exhortation says the lay faithful “contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven.” (CL 15; LG 31) God has assigned us an insider job! We are Christ’s leaven sprinkled throughout the “dough” of the world, specifically into the particular areas and communities that He has sent us. By definition, yeast is to have an “altering or transforming influence.” Jesus Himself compared the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast in making bread, saying even though only a little yeast was used, it “permeated every part of the dough.” (Mt.13:33) And, so it is with us. The laity is to have a transforming influence, like yeast, upon the whole world. Jesus also proclaims us the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13,14) These are strong words showing the unique dignity of our vocation as Christians. We would do well to remember the great significance Jesus placed on His disciples. The laity is called to shine that significance and that dignity in the people around us by fostering a “Christian animation of the temporal order.” (CL, 36) This call is even more urgent today. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (“Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People”), the Council recognized the great need in modern times for an “infinitely broader and more intense” lay apostolate. (AA, 1) Before Jesus would come to a town He sent pairs of disciples ahead of Him to preach to them and prepare them. (Lk. 10:1) So too, “It is the Lord who is again sending them [us] into every town and every place where He Himself is to come.” (AA, 33) We are His messengers still, sent to prepare the way before Him.

God sends us into the vineyard to work for the salvation of each person. Each of us is “unique and irrepeatable.” (CL, 28) We have distinct identities, character, and actions, which, in total, will never be repeated again. Each of us is unique in the history of the world. There will never be another one of you.  We have a unique and irrepeatable contribution to make.  We were all a distinct and individual thought in the mind of God before our creation. As the prophet said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5) God calls us personally by name. The Church exhorts, “from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us He called by name, as the Good Shepherd ‘calls his sheep by name’ (Jn.10:3).” (CL, 58) We receive our dignity as individual persons from Him, for this is the image of God within us. The personhood (“I”) in our consciousness, our minds and souls, is derived from the personhood of God (“I Am”). Thus, our dignity as an individual person is our “most precious possession.” (CL37) It is for this reason that the Church fulfills her mission in the world primarily through the person and in service to all humanity. (CL, 36) All human life is precious. And so, part of the way the laity evangelizes the world is in upholding our basic human rights and promoting a culture of life, not death. The laity must evangelize on the unique, unrepeatable, and inviolable dignity of each person as an image of God; in short, with an authentic humanism. (CL, 38)

Man is important because of our foundational dignity in Christ. He is the source and the primordial sacrament. Jesus references this when He says, I am the vine, you are the branches,” and “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn.15:5) We are unique and irrepeatable, but we are also, in some way connected as one with Jesus as part of His mystical body. The Church recognizes the “extraordinary and profound fact that ‘through the Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion to every person.’” (CL 36; GS 22) This is an under-appreciated fact of our religion. Because the infinite God became man, we are now connected in our humanity back to God through the human nature of Jesus Christ. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, or “Joy and Hope,” (ie, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) refers to this unity between God and Man, via the Incarnation, in the human nature of Jesus Christ. It says, “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare.” (GS, 22) Christ, the Son of God, has lived the same human existence as us in the ordinary conditions of life. The magisterium teaches that the laity can “through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him.” (AA, 4) We can live in unity with Christ by living out our vocation in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. As the Word of God entered human history, He recapitulated everything in Himself. (GS, 38) So, by gathering up “all things in Him” (Eph.1:10), Jesus sanctified and redeemed human nature. We, the laity especially, can achieve holiness by living “above all in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.” (GS, 38) Our daily activities are actually occasions for us to join ourselves with God. (CL, 17) Christ ennobled the dignity of work by using the labor of His hands in the carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. When we offer our work up to God, through faith, it is ennobled in association with the work of Christ. (GS, 67; CL 43) In our work, in our leisure, in our sufferings, and in all of our activities, we can unite ourselves ever more intimately with God in our every day lives. Each day is another opportunity to work for the plentiful harvest in the vineyard. And so, here now again, we the lay-faithful, must follow that resounding call of the Lord echoing through the centuries, “You also go into the vineyard.”

*There is an interesting juxtaposition of the hours of calling the laborers matching the Liturgy of the Hours.