“And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.” Genesis 2:2
Catholics and other Christians have been accused of fetishizing the poor, making angels of them, as it were. While this extreme is less harmful than the view which claims poverty as a sign of God’s disfavor, the political philosopher Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn makes a very good point when he asks whether a workman unable to make time for religion because of constant work is actually holier than a pious rich man? In the essay Leisure: The Basis of Culture (required reading for the modern gentleman, according to a friend of mine), another philosopher, Josef Pieper, describes modern society as a society of total work. On this surface, this point seems flawed: don’t we have more free time than a medieval serf? We may have more free time, but not the same worldview. The worldview of the medieval man distinguished three kinds of goods: pleasurable, useful, and intrinsic. The secular worldview, especially as influenced by Karl Marx and even many of his opponents, sees only pleasurable and useful goods.
In devising the present essay, the anime The Rose of Versailles and Legend of Galactic Heroes figured prominently on my mind. The battle between the aristocracy and the working class presented in both of them make the two worthy of comparison; but, I would instead focus on a particular quality I noticed in these series’ heroes which the villains lacked. If you guessed leisure, you would be right. Leisure spent rightly makes us focus on human things or the liberal arts, i.e. studies done for their own sake irrespective of a tangible benefit. Work and politics are absent from true leisure, which is the proper goal of work. Yours truly does not work five days a week so that he can find ways of enriching his bank account or drowning himself in bodily pleasures! As Aristotle says, “We give up leisure so that we may have leisure, just as we go to war that we may have peace.” Admiral von Lohengramm defeats his enemies so that he may enjoy the company of his sister and his best friend, Kircheis; Admiral Yang Wen-li hopes to peacefully pass the days drinking tea and studying history; and Oscar de Jarjayes performs her military duties so that she might pass the time fencing with Andre, riding fast horses, and enjoying brandy by the fireplace with choice friends. They do not fight or engage in politics as ends in themselves but as means to attain more human ends.
Yet, the characters above are all rich or well off. The poor can’t own fast horses, build personal libraries, or hang out in mansions. What is leisure for the poor, who are forced to work very hard to make ends meet? At one time, religion used to hold this place. Businesses were closed on Sunday, and the workers went to Church and had the rest of the day for leisure. Besides Sunday, even certain saints’ feast days used to be considered so sacred that servile work should not be performed on them. In the Orkneyinga Saga, certain persons went mad when they labored on St. Magnus of Orkney’s feast day. (April 16th, if you’re curious–and no, I doubt that the day is presently a solemn day of holy obligation even on Orkney.) While a young boy, Padre Pio actually tore up a girl’s needlework because she refused to desist on a Sunday. Also, the story of a Hebrew who was stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath is probably well known to you (Numbers 15: 32-36). Why this severity against those who break the Sabbath?
The reason must lie in how easy it is to keep men’s minds on pleasure, profit, and power if they only have the realms of work and politics in which to reside. They forget the pursuit of virtue and wisdom–the intrinsic goods. For myself, I know how absorbing politics and pleasurable goods can be, but I always feel stressed on days when I can’t seem to escape their orbit. True leisure is not found withing their spheres. People who pursue pleasure, profit, and power to the exclusion of intrinsic goods end up warped, as we see in the examples of Saint-Denis, the Duke d’Orleans, Madame Polignac, and Jean de Valois in The Rose of Versailles and in the characters of Andrew Fork and…well, there are too many villains to remember in Legend of Galactic Heroes.
As a matter of fact, true leisure cannot be found even in those happier pursuits of the heroes I named above: we can become bored of friends, the motions fencing and horse riding hold no new pleasures, and history seems full of repeated banalities. When Oscar de Jarjayes’s love life becomes relentlessly complex and frustrated, no pursuit is able to bring joy back to her life until she realizes her love. But, in love lies the answer, or rather Love Himself: all true leisure flows from God. Leisure is the basis of culture and culture is established upon the cult or religion. Acedia or depression grips the modern world because people cannot see the good God has placed within them or, despite seeing the good, they neglect to thank God and soon lose sight of the goods within their souls. Human beings were made to be human, but the highest good made for human beings–the Beatific Vision–stands above human capacity. Yet, whenever we go to mass, pray, or meditate on God’s goodness, God Himself performs in us what our actions are unable to accomplish–perfecting our humanity and filling us with that peace the world cannot give.
Our Lord replied to St. Martha’s complaint about St. Mary, her sister, by saying: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42). Thus, Our Lord apologizes for those who spend their leisure with Him, whether Carthusians, Dominicans, Carmelites, or even particularly devout laymen. And, we ought not forget that this active leisure of adoration is the one thing needful; otherwise, we shall have no peace no matter where we go. Especially, keep your Sunday open for God and for simply being human!