The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Work and Leisure

Pope Benedict, in a recent address, touched on the dignity of human work and the associated need for leisure so one can rest, spend time with one's family, and devote time to divine worship. I've included a brief video (below) of the pope's comments.

Listening to the pope I couldn't help but realize how society has changed so drastically in just a few decades. When I was a child very few businesses were open on Sunday. The Lord's Day was still considered a day of rest, a day to worship God, a day which we were commanded to "keep holy." Today, however, it's hard to tell Sunday from any other day. Just go to your local shopping mall. Okay, the stores may open a few hours later on Sunday, but they will open nonetheless.

Here in Florida some stores that sell alcoholic beverages make customers wait until noon before they can purchase them on Sunday. A few weeks ago Dear Diane sent me to Sam's Club to buy some items for the soup kitchen. It was 11:30 a.m. Sunday. (Yes, I know, I should have done it on Saturday, but I forgot. And it was for the soup kitchen, which should mitigate my guilt a little.) Anyway, I was in the checkout line and the man ahead of me had four bottles of wine among his purchases. When the checker told him he couldn't purchase them until noon, he began to rant and take it out on her. The poor girl was almost in tears. I tried to quiet him down with some nice, soothing and meaningless words, but that only caused him to turn his attention to me -- very unpleasant. Eventually he regained control and agreed he'd have to buy the wine some other time.

Thankfully, many of the smaller, mom-and-pop retailers, and most non-retail businesses, still remain closed on Sunday. But I believe it's telling that the large retailers, those whose employees are probably among the lowest paid, are the same businesses that remain open seven days a week, thus depriving their employees from keeping the Lord's Day holy.

But even some highly paid employees in certain industries are expected to be "on the job" 7x24. In many companies for whom I consulted back during my working days, engineers and others regularly put in very long work weeks of 60 or 70 hours. This left little time for family or faith, and both suffered as a consequence. But for them work had become an end in itself. Lacking faith, it became their reason for being.

Some work, by its very nature, includes unusual demands. I recall my years as a naval officer and pilot when long days and nights were more the rule than the exception. And sadly, wars and rumors of wars don't stop just because it's Sunday. Police officers, firefighters, and those who keep our nation's infrastructure up and running are also required to work when most of us are resting. It requires strong, loving relationships and even deeper faith for families to withstand the stress this can generate.

Why these changes in our society? Well, I think the reason is pretty obvious. We've become much more materialistic, more acquisitive, more attracted to the so-called good life than were the generations that preceded us. We want it all, the big-screen TV, the Lexus and the Corvette, the country club membership, the second home in the mountains or at the beach, the vacations at the fancy resorts, the au pair to relieve us of childcare -- yes, we want it all and we don't want to wait for it. We don't even want to wait a half-hour to buy our wine on Sunday morning. And we certainly don't want that unplanned pregnancy and the costly child that will no doubt have a negative impact on the family's bottom line.

And businesses aren't stupid. They saw these developing "needs" and decided to address them in every way possible. They lobbied for the repeal of the old "blue laws" that shut the doors of many businesses on Sunday. They filled the coffers of our politicians' reelection campaigns and peppered them with appeals to their patriotism: "Don't you want our economy to grow? Don't you want to create more jobs? Dump these antiquated laws and good things will happen." The politicians listened. After all, such laws obviously violated the time-honored principle of separation of church and state. And so the laws were changed, and one more of God's Commandments became lost in all the noise of our modern society.

What does the Church say about all this? Among the many excellent sources of Church teaching on the subject is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Published in 2004, and available online at the Vatican's website, it encompasses virtually all aspects of human life and the Church's associated teaching. I decided to see what it had to say about work and leisure. Regarding rest from work and keeping the Lord's Day holy, here are some direct quotes from the Compendium:
284. Rest from work is a right.[609] As God “rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done” (Gen 2:2), so too men and women, created in his image, are to enjoy sufficient rest and free time that will allow them to tend to their family, cultural, social and religious life.[610] The institution of the Lord's Day contributes to this.[611] On Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation, believers must refrain from “engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body”.[612] Family needs and service of great importance to society constitute legitimate excuses from the obligation of Sunday rest, but these must not create habits that are prejudicial to religion, family life or health.
285. Sunday is a day that should be made holy by charitable activity, devoting time to family and relatives, as well as to the sick, the infirm and the elderly. One must not forget the “brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery”.[613] Moreover, Sunday is an appropriate time for the reflection, silence, study and meditation that foster the growth of the interior Christian life. Believers should distinguish themselves on this day too by their moderation, avoiding the excesses and certainly the violence that mass entertainment sometimes occasions.[614] The Lord's Day should always be lived as a day of liberation that allows us to take part in “the festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (cf. Heb 12:22-23), anticipating thus the celebration of the definitive Passover in the glory of heaven.[615]
286. Public authorities have the duty to ensure that, for reasons of economic productivity, citizens are not denied time for rest and divine worship. Employers have an analogous obligation regarding their employees.[616] Christians, in respect of religious freedom and of the common good of all, should seek to have Sundays and the Church's Holy Days recognized as legal holidays. “They have to give everyone a public example of prayer, respect and joy, and defend their traditions as a precious contribution to the spiritual life of society”.[617] “Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day”.[618]
Wow! The Church pulls no punches in its treatment of the subject. Notice, too, that it places the onus not only on employers, but also on public authorities and on each individual Christian.

Perhaps as Christians we can, in some way, return to God's will for us in such matters by restraining our materialistic impulses and, as the Church instructs us, begin to once again "enjoy sufficient rest and free time" that is necessary if we are to take care of  our "family, cultural, social and religious life."

One more thought. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy of Josef Pieper's book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. Written over fifty years ago by the famous German philosopher, it prophetically explores the current crisis facing our civilization and provides a means for each person to avoid falling prey to its dehumanizing effects.

Off to Church. Our parish is offering a ten-week program based on Fr. Robert Barron's remarkable video series, Catholicism. So many people signed up for the course that we had to offer three separated classes each Tuesday: morning, afternoon and evening. I'm facilitating the afternoon session, and enjoying it immensely.

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