Embrace holy leisure Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Thursday, Jul. 11, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

We live in a frenzied culture of hyperactivity and stress; we probably all feel the pressure to do more, be more productive, and somehow find a perfect balance in it all.

To slow down, purposely do nothing for a while, and to rest is difficult in our sleepless, overstimulated culture. Yet, how can we hope to grow our prayer lives, deepen our relationship with God and others, and grow in our spiritual awareness if we never embrace holy leisure?

Sunday as a day of rest

Orthodox Jews take the laws of Sabbath rest very seriously, not even driving a car or pushing an elevator button from Friday evening until the end of the Sabbath, in imitation of the Lord’s seventh day of rest.

I am old enough to remember Sundays as a child, when most people still went to church, stores were closed, and no one was supposed to do work. Sundays felt qualitatively different with a focus on God, time for family and friends amidst a slower pace.

A little-known apostolic letter from Saint John Paul II, Dies Domini, issued on May 31, 1998, profoundly articulates the beauty of Sunday as the Day of the Lord, the weekly celebration of the Resurrection, the center of the whole liturgical year, the day to spend in holy leisure — worshiping, celebrating, resting, spending time with loved ones, studying, and thinking.

As Christians, the Lord calls us to imitate Mary every Sunday, the friend of Christ who peacefully sat at his feet, enjoying His company, resting in the precious friendship she was blessed to have with the Son of God, being attentive to His presence and words.

Living in the present moment

Holy leisure demands that we live in the present moment, disciplining our senses and awareness to be fully immersed in the NOW. Most of the time, the present moment is perfect!

When I feel anger, regret, fear, sadness, or anxiety, usually I have gone either to the past or the future. The Lord is always in the present! When God reveals His name to Moses, He does not say, “I WAS” or “I WILL BE.” He says, “I AM.”

A big part of my spirituality is trying to live in the present moment, attempting to put aside all distraction, so that I can be fully engaged with the people and the tasks that are immediately in front of me. If I fail to do this and wander off to the past or future, I am missing out on my life and the wonder of what God is doing now.

My favorite spiritual book is Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre Caussade, a French Jesuit priest from the 17th century. In his writings, he speaks of the sacrament of the present moment as the place where God and His will for us is revealed.

We do not need to go somewhere else or be somebody else in order to obey the will of the Lord; we simply are called to do the task that lies before us now, whether that is going to work or school, finishing a project, cooking a meal, changing a diaper, or spending time in prayer. This living in the present moment frees us from undue anxiety about where God is or what He is calling me to do.

Reclaiming Sunday as holy day of rest

I invite all of us to consider how we can better reclaim Sunday as a holy day of Sabbath rest. Worshiping God at Mass together, sharing a family meal, resting, reading and praying, visiting a shrine or someone who is ill, and refraining from unnecessary work and frenzied activity are all ways that we can honor the Lord and embrace a holy leisure which humanizes, refreshes, and sustains us in the spiritual path.

How do we keep Sunday from simply being another day when we catch up on all of the stuff we did not have time to do during the week? How do we keep our children’s sports from becoming more important than the practice of our faith? For many of us, these questions may be difficult challenges, requiring prayer and discernment as we purposely surrender some of our schedule and activities.

Every day, I try to do nothing productive for a while. Whether it is watching the sunset, sitting in a chair, taking a walk, or riding my bike, I need a little bit of holy leisure to remember that being precedes doing and that prayerful contemplation, born of silence, peace, leisure, and stillness, is the highest human aspiration.

In these beautiful days of summer, I pray that each of you may find that sacred place of rest where you can live in the present moment and hear the whisper of God’s love for you!