By Ray Almanza
When someone asks me, “how are you doing?” nine out of ten times I reply, somewhat unreflectively, “busy,” or, “very busy!” I’m sure this response is not unfamiliar to most people.
Contemporary life feels like a giant ball rolling downhill, it just keeps picking up speed. Work as an economic necessity encroaches on our personal life more nowadays through mobile devices and increasing digital connectivity. The maxim “time is money” orients us toward work as primary and leisure as subservient to it. But this perspective is unbalanced.
Pope Francis reminds us that, “together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society.” (Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words)
Fortunately, summer time is here, and this is a time of leisure for many. But what is Christian leisure? How can we enhance our practice of leisure so that it results not only in rejuvenation but in holiness?
Genesis 2:2 tells us that God “rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. He blessed it and made it holy.”
He made it holy by being present in his creation. He sanctified it with his gaze, saying, “it is very good.” We can make our rest holy, too. We do this by taking the time to engage in prayer that nourishes our soul that puts us in contact with the Holy Spirit. We attend Mass, and make a sanctuary in our life that slows us down to meet our God in silence and peace.
The Catechism explains that “God’s action is the model for human action. If God ‘rested and was refreshed’ on the seventh day, man too ought to ‘rest’ and should let others, especially the poor, ‘be refreshed.’ The Sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite. It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.” (CCC, 2172)
Yet, when scripture tells us that God rested, it is not the same rest that our human nature requires after exhaustion. God is omnipotent and is not diminished in any way by His work. This is not the type of rest God enjoys on the seventh day. This type of rest more closely resembles the concept of recreation from the Latin recreatio, meaning restoration to re-create. Recreation makes us ready for work again, restores and replenishes lost energy, both physical and psychic. It is not an end in itself.
We can gain insight into God’s rest by attending to the tradition that precedes Christianity in the practice of Sabbath rest; i.e. the Jewish faith. The Hebrew phrase found in Genesis, Shabbat menuchah meaning ‘Sabbath rest,’ is made meaningful in the actual practice of ‘Sabbath rest.’ The Shabbat liturgy speaks of a truly nuanced concept, distinct from recreation or idleness. ‘Sabbath rest’ connotes truth, peace, safety, and grace, yet holiness and an orientation towards God as creator.
This rest gives us a faith context to understand leisure. “Human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives (CCC, 2184). By attending to this rhythm, and following God’s model, we can say, with the Psalmist, “he restores my soul” (Ps 23:3).
As you experience this season of leisure, and possibly take a vacation, consider not only recreation but true leisure. Allow the vacation to reorient you toward the things that matter more than money and work. Seek out what is intrinsically valuable.
How will you rest this summer?
Ray Almanza is Vicariate Coordinator in the Diocesan Office of Catechetical Ministry.