During my years in Spain and Mexico, it would be inevitable that interesting conversations with either Spaniards or Mexicans would take place regarding the differences between their countries and ours. One man put it bluntly: “Look, the difference between us and you is that we work in order to live, and you live in order to work.”
As I wrote in my book Get Serious! A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics, the root of America’s extreme activity is a profound restlessness rooted in troubled consciences and lives that have lost the sense of what it means to be a creature of God. This frantic pace of life is being put to sleep with sex, drugs, alcohol, excessive entertainment and frantic work schedules. Most people equate true leisure to laziness and irresponsibility.
In ancient Athens, a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.”
During one of my recent summer visits to my parents’ home who now live in Binghamton, NY, we were all playing a favorite card game on the back patio one Sunday afternoon. All of a sudden a neighbor began to mow his lawn with a very loud lawnmower. The noise of the lawnmower pierced the silence of the Sabbath. Modern man needs long moments of silence. Modern man needs a day without machines and gadgets.
“To avoid silence, we blindly grasp diversion, distraction. As an effect of all this, disintegration is produced within us. This ends up by giving birth to the feeling of aloneness, alienation, sadness and anxiety. This is the tragedy of the people of our day. Without a doubt, the periodic cultivation of silence, solitude and contemplation are more necessary, religiously and psychologically, than ever before. Our interiority is assaulted and battered by speed, noise and frenzy; we are at the same time, our own victim and executioner; and we end up feeling insecure and unhappy” ( Ignacio Larrañaga, Sensing Your Hidden Presence, p. 187).
When a people no longer understand true leisure, they no longer know how to live. Do not get sucked into this matrix of despair.
Hillaire Belloc once wrote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!” Adding to this thought, Father George Rutler said, “Joy on earth is a foretaste of the beatitude in heaven.”
Summer is here. Learn how to relax. Sunday is a day of rest. Go to church and stay away from unnecessary work. Be sure to take a nice vacation this summer. Even the Pope takes a vacation.