Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/2/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Leisure is a part of living a fully human life and receiving the fullness of the gift of being human

It is in the hopes of recapturing this entire lost world that the Church urges that "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."  But legality alone will not transform our culture of "total work."  For that we must pray: Dona nobis Domine otium sanctum!  Lord give us holy leisure!

Being Still,leisure, is a part of being human

Being Still,leisure, is a part of being human


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

2/2/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Leisure, rest, recreation, holiness, human, sabbath rest, new humanism, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - It is important to see not only that we moderns misunderstand the purpose of work, we also have to see that we misunderstand the notion of leisure or rest.  It is a contemporary folly to look at leisure as the mere "lack of work," something we fill exclusively or even principally with entertainment, relaxation, or vacation. 

The Christian is not given the Sabbath so that he can go to the circus with the Pagan.  "Believers," the Compendium tells us (adverting to the rise in violence in entertainment which is a sign of rising neo-Paganism) "should distinguish themselves on this day too by their moderation, avoiding the excesses and certainly the violence that mass entertainment sometimes occasions." (Compendium, No. 285)

It is also wrong to look at leisure as equivalent to relaxation, something to re-charge the batteries so we can get back to work refreshed.  Leisure must also be distinguished from idleness.  The leisure the Church and the philosopher Josef Pieper have in mind is not the leisure of the "leisure class" excoriated by Thorstein Veblen in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class, or the leisure of the "idle rich" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.

The leisure or rest the Church has in mind is what the Cistercians called otium sanctum, a holy leisure.

Indeed, this holy leisure is worlds apart from idleness, mere relaxation, or entertainment.  It requires a devotion, discipline, and effort of its own.  This more rugged form of holy leisure is what the Trappist monk Thomas Merton appears to be grasping for when he wrote in his book The Other Side of the Mountain: the End of the Journey: "I, for one, realize that now I need more.  Not simply to be quiet, somewhat productive, to pray, to read to cultivate leisure--otium sanctum!  There is a need of effort, deepening, change and transformation."

St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke oxymoronically of a negotissimum otium, a very busy leisure, a leisure that in Merton's words required "effort, deepening, change, and transformation."

It is a challenging task to learn how to be receptive, how to empty oneself so that one might accept something that is not one's own.  In fact, the original word from which we derive the word vacation is Latin vacatio, which means to empty oneself out.  We moderns think vacations are times we fill with things like trips.  But vacations were originally times where we emptied ourselves of things and of ourselves so that we had space for God. 

Monastic writers speak of vacare Deo, to vacate oneself for God.  Indeed, this notion is scriptural.  The Psalms speak of it: Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 45(46):10) The word "be still" is (in the Latin Vulgate) vacate and in the Greek Septuagint scholasate, a form of the very word the philosophers used to describe leisure.  We might translate this Psalm as "be at leisure" or "be at rest" or "empty yourself" and know that I am God.  This notion of leisure is outside the pale of modern life, and this is why T. S. Eliot in his poem "Ash Wednesday" includes the prayer, "Teach us to sit still."  T. S. Eliot realized this is what moderns need.  We have to go to school to learn to be on vacation.

Of course, activity is not to be regarded as evil though it is ordered to leisure.  We have a duty to work.  And work has a tremendous dignity of its own.  Sometimes even activity is the prerequisite to grasping truth.  The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote the poet Robert Bridges who had asked him how he could learn to believe.  Gerard Manley Hopkins told Bridges to quit thinking about it and "give alms."  Here, it was right to recommend action over thinking. 

If one's work is properly ordered and subordinated to leisure, then everything goes along harmoniously.  Then one can pray along with the Benedictine, laborare est orare, to work is to pray.  In his book The City of God, St. Augustine seems to have grasped the balance: "The love of truth seeks a holy leisure, but the urgency of love undertakes the work that is due."

All that we have reflected upon in our last two articles on leisure, "The Recovery of Leisure" and "Regaining the Mind and Redeeming the Time," is necessary to understand so that we can grasp what the Church means when she says in her Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church "Rest from work is a right." (Compendium, No. 284).  Within this short statement is included the entire notion of the primacy of leisure or rest over work, of Mary over Martha, of the contemplative life over the active life, of intellectus over ratio, of kairos over chronos, of the intrinsic connection between leisure and rest and the divine worship, and of Augustine's "urgency of love that makes us undertake the work that is due."

The Church has institutionalized rest, and seeks to have its value recognized in our social life.  The "Lord's Day," the Christian Sabbath, is a time specifically set apart for rest.  Holidays--as the original word "Holy Day" attests--were the additional days set apart for rest, for the divine cultus or worship.  For this reason, the Christian faithful are urged to "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.'" (Compendium, No. 284)  "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." (Compendium, No. 285)  "Sunday is an appropriate time for the reflection, silence, study, and meditation that foster the growth of the interior Christian life." (Compendium, No. 285)

Finally, the Church, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, recognizes that it is proper sometimes to act--to give alms and quit leisure or rest, even in those days especially set apart for leisure or rest.  The Church has learned the lesson of her Lord that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore, "[f]amily needs and service of great importance to society constitute legitimate excuses from the obligation of Sunday rest."  But even then the exception must not swallow up the rule, but must prove the rule, as the exception "must not create habits that are prejudicial to religion, family life, or health."  Sunday in particular "should be made holy by charitable activity."  The end of the worship of God ends with a commission--ite missa est.  Go!  the mass is ended, the commission is given you! That commission is what is called the missio Dei, the mission of God for the service of our brother.  Therefore, time should be devoted to "family and relatives, as well as the sick, the infirm, and the elderly." (Compendium, No. 284) 

It is in the hopes of recapturing this entire lost world that the Church urges that "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."  But legality alone will not transform our culture of "total work."  For that we must pray: Dona nobis Domine otium sanctum!  Lord give us holy leisure!

This rejection of the world of total work, the recovery of leisure over work and its relationship to divine worship, the regaining of our intellect, the redeeming of time: these are essential.  For only then shall we leave the false gods we worship and be able to receive the God who is Love.  As John Donne wrote in his poem "Break of Day":

The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.

Spare us, O Lord, from being busied men! Libera nos, Domine!


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Living Faith

3 Biblical ways to achieve small victories in our Walk with God Watch

Image of Walk with God.


Life struggles are inevitable but to look at them more than just a bump in the road is like putting rocks in your backpack before a hike. God doesn't want that - our journey to Him is meant to shape us in a way He planned for us. Little by little, we achieve victories ... continue reading

Families 'free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of After recently concluding a series of catechesis on the family as a lead-in to this year's synod gathering, Pope Francis explained that he would start a new catechesis on the

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Family rescues us from indifference and loneliness and teaches us the essentials of life, Pope Francis said - adding that as the family of God, the Church has the same role and must evaluate how to live this out. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "Like Saint ... continue reading

Respecting life the Gospel way Watch

Image of

By Tony Magliano

For the sake of our salvation, we need to pay serious attention, and act with purpose, to what Jesus teaches here in Matthew's Gospel: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will ... continue reading

Young girl blessed by Pope Francis during visit to U.S. believes the 'miracle has begun' Watch

Image of Julia Bruzzese was blessed by Pope Francis.


12-year-old Julia Bruzzese, who has been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, suffered from sudden paralysis that doctors are still unable to explain. However, following a blessing from Pope Francis, the young girl seems to be healing. NEW YORK, NY (Catholic Online) ... continue reading

'God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone,' Pope Francis says of marriage Watch

Image of Pope Francis' comments were made during his Oct. 4 Mass marking the official opening of this year's Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.

By Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis formally opened the synod of bishops Sunday, telling participants that the union between a man and woman is the foundation of God's plan for the family, and a solution to the many forms of loneliness in today's world. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - ... continue reading

FULL TEXT: Family synod prayer vigil, Pope Francis's full address Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Presiding over a prayer vigil in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis led the beginning of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, at the Vatican. Drawing tens of thousands of the faithful, many were present in the Square since the afternoon for a ... continue reading

Vatican issues statement in regards to monsignor's declaration of homosexuality Watch

Image of


The director of the Holy See press office has issued a statement in response to Vatican official Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa's declaration in a recent interview that he is homosexual and has a boyfriend. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Msgr. Charamsa, 43, granted a ... continue reading

Guardian Angels are always by our sides, Pope Francis says Watch

Image of Pope Francis explained that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God could have left them to fend for themselves. Instead, as an act of love and mercy, the Lord sent with them an angel to guide and protect them.


Each of us has a Guardian Angel who, acting on behalf of God, advises us and protects us from evil, if we only listen to him, Pope Francis said during his homily at Mass on Friday. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - "May we ask the Lord for the grace of this ... continue reading

Top 5 Bible verses to turn to when you're angry Watch

Image of What does the Bible have to say about anger?

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What makes you angry? Maybe you don't like the way your boss talks to you at work or your spouse spends too much money. What do you do when you feel anger coming on? Who do you turn to? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When we get angry we can say or do things we ... continue reading

Megachurch Pastor's new book tells people to 'get over themselves' Watch

Image of Pastor Kyle Idleman (YouTube).


Megachurch Pastor Kyle Idleman claims that to live life, "everyone simply needs to get over themselves" to truly "experience abundant life with Jesus," a theory he promotes in his new book The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins. LOS ... continue reading

All Living Faith News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Malachi 3:13-20
13 'You have said harsh things about me, says Yahweh. ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
1 How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 11:5-13
5 He also said to them, 'Suppose one of you has a ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 8th, 2015 Image

St. Pelagia
October 8: Pelagia, more often called Margaret, on account of the ... Read More