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Monday, September 12, 2016

On leisure

7/31/2016      10:20 AM

It is Sunday morning. Cool enough to sit outside under the roof of our patio. The day is bright and clear. I am wearing rose-colored sunglasses.

This is the way it should be, I say to myself. I feel good--no pains, everything in my body working, at least as far as I can tell, and for the time being. At age 81, I know that that will not continue very long, no one knows how long.

But Sunday mornings have always been special times for me. I have a couple of memories that enrich each Sunday.

This morning. I am there on the patio, singing the psalms for Week 2 Sunday, in Latin, and out loud. A couple of them even in Greek. And I think of women and men around the world using these same words, probably not in Greek or Latin, probably in their own languages, but the same words.

The same words. The mystery of language. NPR this morning had a story about Native American people working to keep alive the Crow language. Some Native American groups are down to fewer than ten people who can still speak the language of the group.

A language can only exist in a group of people. Words are more than just the sounds, and the sounds are more than just the letters. Words float among the group. Words are spiritual.

The Latin and Greek are special to me because they tie me to my early years preparing to be a priest, and to the centuries of people who used those languages before my time. Very few people these days have those experiences.

But more and more I am drawn to recall experiences from my days in the seminary. We had no TV, no computers, no cell phones, not even newspapers. Leisure for me, even when I was studying theology in Teutopolis, Illinois, was walking around the small pond on the property. That’s all I needed. One Sunday memory is Brother Adolph, a World War II veteran, and apparently something of a war hero, though he never spoke about that--in fact, he never spoke at all--flying a kite. On Sunday afternoon he would get this kite way way up, sometimes even with a flashlight on it for when it got dark. That was his leisure.

We could live that way because other people were supporting us. The time came when we had to support ourselves and the rest of the community, so I taught for thirty-plus years.

Early in my life the Second Vatican Council came along and overturned so much of what I cherished. I did not regret the overturning, in fact I promoted it, because I thought that that was what God was calling us to. And I still think God was calling us to it. But, like so many people in our world, we got away from some things that were very rich and good for us, like leisure that did not depend on material gadgets.

Francis of Assisi struggled with the tension between doing things for other people, like preaching, and going away for time alone--leisure. He spent large blocks of time in such leisure. In fact, he even wrote a small rule of life for hermitages. The rule suggested that a hermitage should have four men, two of them mothers and two of them sons. The two mothers would provide the necessities of daily living, like getting and preparing food, for the two sons. After a period of time, the mothers would change places with the sons.

I reflect that so much leisure in history has depended on a subservient class. In Greece and Rome it was slaves who provided the leisure for the people on top. In religious life, there were lay brothers and sisters. Even in the seminary we had a cadre of lay brothers who were making the place run: cooks, bakers, carpenters, plumbers, etc. Brother Herb Rempe told me that at one time there were over 30 brothers in the seminary at Teutopolis.

We have abolished the subservience in our Order--even our General Minister in Rome, Michael Perry, signs himself sometimes in official documents as “Fr. Michael Perry,” and other times as “Br. Michael Perry.”

I am benefiting from another form of leisure in my society: retirement. Some people dream of spending their retirement traveling. I dream of spending mine sitting on Sunday mornings on a patio, and walking around the area. And I try to keep busy most of the time by doing other things. At the moment the other thing is working on a history of our Province.

If we are ever to create a society where everyone earns a living wage without destroying the world we live in, it will help if we can do leisure without consuming stuff. There are elements in our traditions that give us hints about how we might do that.

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