It is the end of the academic year and, like me, millions of students and educators are experiencing the final crunch of studying, reading, writing, and grading. As the semester comes to a close, the release of a new book titled, Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words, could not have come at a more timely moment according to some of the coverage about the book in the popular media. Although I have not yet read the book, early reports have focused on his seemingly curious emphasis on the restoration of something resembling a pride-of-place for a Sabbath spirituality — a recognition of our fundamental need to “take a break,” rest a little, and make time for leisure.
The New York Times writes:
Responding to the question, “Do we need to rediscover the meaning of leisure?” Pope Francis replies: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society.” In such cases, he concludes, “work ends up dehumanizing people.”
Some pages later, he derides people who think of themselves as Catholic but don’t make time for their children. This is an example, according to Pope Francis, of living “with fraud.”
Catholic social teaching is known for promoting the idea that workers deserve dignity, which includes rest. But Pope Francis seems to be saying something more: that an authentically Christian life includes a proper dose of leisure and family time.
There is something here worthy of further reflection. Whether one wishes to tie a spirituality or theology of leisure to the tradition of Sabbath rest or not, there is a basic human need to set time aside in order to focus (or simply be unfocused) on non-exclusively-labor activities. As Pope Francis is quoted above as saying, such a workaholic tendency in our consumer culture leads to a dehumanizing tendency that can be difficult to escape.
A few months back, I offered another reflection here about a theology and spirituality of rest that drew on some interesting studies about the value of taking it easy and having leisurely breaks throughout one’s work day, as well as the theological insight of Karl Rahner who, like Pope Francis, was a Jesuit.
I am a big fan of the general message here, particularly during the especially stressful times of the academic year. I encourage all students and educators to take the time they need to step away from their work periodically, go for a run, have a drink with friends, take a walk outside, or watch some mindless TV. You and your work will be better for it!