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Mass in Memory of Our Children

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Advent Day of Prayer: Allowing Christ to Become Flesh in Us

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Sounds of a Celtic Christmas

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Theology | Leisure plays a key role in our reception of the world’s reality

Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s classic work “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” still has lessons today

What could a text written in Germany more than a half-century ago teach us about our contemporary lives? Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s classic work “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” still matters in an age of “busyness.”

For Pieper, “leisure” properly understood is not just “sitting around,” but is a disposition of the heart and mind to receive the reality of the world as it is given to us; to receive life as a gift. This work still speaks to us today in several ways.

First, Pieper offers a richer idea of what it means “to know” in the Catholic intellectual tradition. Knowing isn’t just analyzing, but attending in a receptive-contemplative way to the whole of reality. Pieper challenges the notion that all human knowing can be reduced to deduction, logic, measurement and technique. Knowing is also composed of receptivity, of relational knowledge. We only know certain things, for example, by being in love. The depth of knowledge acquired in being in love with other people and with God can’t be quantified, measured or captured by a technique. For Pieper, both of these kinds of knowledge are important to a flourishing life.

Second, contemplative/meditative rest is indispensable to being human. Such rest also gives rise to insight and even innovation. In a knowledge economy, the efficiency of our work comes from great ideas, not necessarily how long we sit as our desks. As many of us know from experience and recently supported by neuroscientists, ideas often tend to arise when our minds are at rest. Think about how often insights emerge when you are driving or wake up in the middle of the night or are out for a run.

Third, leisure reminds us of the indispensability of the humanities and the liberal arts in a STEM age. Science, technology, engineering and math are certainly critical, but not at the expense of literature, the arts, philosophy, religion, history and language. With the Catholic humanistic tradition of education in mind, Pieper affirms a more holistic, wisdom vision for education.

Fourth, Pieper names one of the fundamental ills of our time – Acedia. Etymologically, the term acedia (as I wrote about in a previous column) means “lack of care” and refers to a paralysis of the interior life. It’s manifested in our constant restlessness and instability. It can mean doing everything (busyness) but the one thing we should be doing. In the monastic tradition, instability literally referred to the temptation of the monk to leave the cell, to acquire a change of scenery, as a superficial answer to a deeper interior instability. In contemporary life, it is characterized by the frenzy for novelty. Acedia manifests itself in the need to continually change one’s occupation, geographical location or life commitments, and in smaller ways, in the impulse to excessively check our social media.

Finally, the cultivation of leisure is more relevant than ever in a “sabbath-less” society. If you’re entrenched in youth soccer or any equivalent, like we are, you know firsthand that the traditional times reserved for the sacred are no longer sacred. But leisure, as Pieper argues, at its root is connected to the sacrifice and sacramentality of worship. The most intense form of festival connects creatures to their Creator. The Eucharistic celebration offers us not pragmatic results, but the abundance and generosity of true wealth. The Sabbath is a day of rediscovering our true humanity.

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