One of the strongest pulls in the United States is work. Technology hasn't made this any better like it promised. We are always working. One of the professors at our school says that this is a direct result of the implicit atheism of the modern age. She says that the depression of the modern era effected Europe by sending them into a state of helpless immobility. However, in the United States, she said, we just became really busy. This is definitely my experience. As the years have gone on it has only gotten worse. We are so busy that we have become obsessed with productivity methods. Just look at the plethora of productivity apps available for your electronic devices, the books, podcasts, etc. litter the ethos of current American culture. Literally, we are so busy we can't keep up with our work, so we develop methods so that we can do even more work. It's insanity!
Make no mistake. This is a symptom of a society that lacks true Hope. When we expend so much energy on earthly tasks, how concerned are we with heavenly tasks? We need to reject this cultural trend. Busyness does not lead to holiness. Rather, silence is necessary. Peace is necessary. Contemplation is necessary. Yet, underneath each of these things is something else. In order to live out this call toward contemplation must have leisure.
Yes, leisure. I love how this goes against our American mentality.
Leisure does not mean having the time to sit around and do nothing. It's time that should be used for pursuing virtue and contemplation. It is only in the context of leisure that we can attain to our highest happiness. It could be said that heaven is a perpetual state of leisure.
But we can't wait to attain to the life of contemplation in the next life. We must start that life now in this earthly state.This goes for all of us. Both the layman and the monk must make time for leisure. Yes, even monks get caught in a sort of "rat race" mentality. The monastery isn't a complete refuge from the world. Each monk brings a little bit of the world into the monastery. This is even more true with those of us Religious that have a vocation that takes us frequently into the public square.
Sometimes, as Religious we forget that we need leisure. Often we mistake our Regular Observances for leisure. This is a false understanding of Regular Observance. Public acts of worship like the chanting of the Divine Office or the Celebration of the Mass are not leisurely activities. Rather, they are our most profound work. They are our Opus Dei. Our first job is to fulfill these public obligations of worship with and for the Church. The graces that stem from these are more powerful and effective than any apostolic work or internal ministry we can do. To believe the contrary is to fall into the American sense of usefulness which is fundamentally a form of Utilitarianism. Worse, it could be a type of Pelagianism. Either way it at least looks like either some sort of Messiah complex or a convenient way to avoid intimacy. We must always remember the saying, "there is only one Savior and I am not he."
The activities of leisure are not necessarily bound up with public works. Study, Holy Reading, personal prayer and devotions, communal recreation, these are activities of leisure. These are essential. if we do not take a significant time to embrace silence and enter into these sort of activities then we will never be able to attain to the habit of contemplation. Without contemplation we will never be able to live a properly balanced, happy and holy life.
Our daily labors are not unimportant. I don't want to create a false dichotomy. i just want to point out the current pressing problem. We as a people are currently work oriented. We don't really need to learn how to work more or work harder. Rather, we need to learn how to slow down and make time for leisure. It will make our life more fulfilling and our work more fruitful. We need to learn how to properly balance time for work, refreshment, and leisure. We ought not spend too much time in any of these categories of life. We must learn to enter into each as completely and intensely as possible. For me, as a Dominican, these life categories will be filled with different content than the average layman. However, the common human need is to have a balance between the three.
I would challenge everyone to regularly evaluate their life and see if each of these areas are properly balanced. If not, rearrange what needs to be rearranged. If you can't rearrange then it is probably time to cut something out of your daily life.