Holy Leisure & Delighting in People

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton reflected on a moment of leisure:

I set off into the woods and soon found an outlet in a meadow; and a chestnut tree with rich moss underneath and a warm sun overhead. Here, then, was a sweet bed. The air still, a clear blue vault above – the numberless sounds of spring melody and joy filled the air – and my heart was made to be as innocent as a human heart could be, filled with an enthusiastic love to God and admiration of His works . . . God was my father, my all. I prayed, sang hymns, cried, laughed, and talked to myself about how far He could place me above my sorrow. Then I laid still to enjoy the heavenly peace that came over my soul; and I am sure, in the two hours so enjoyed, grew ten years in the spiritual life. . .”

Credit for this post goes to Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei, S.V., a Sister of Life, who shared this beautiful message recently at the USCCB Diocesan Prolife Leadership Conference in NY.  Here are the highlights:

  • Leisure is an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters the capacity to perceive the reality of the world.”  Joseph Pieper
  • The reality of our world is that life is good.  It’s also complicated, full of joy, sorrow, stress, love, challenges, and beauty.  This is the world in which we live and with which we are called to share the joy of the Gospel.
  • Sister Agnus Dei challenged the diocesan respect life leaders to live the fullness of life while at the service of life, sharing the joy of the Gospel.  Instead of falling into the traps of constantly doing and moving, she challenged us to “regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity . . . substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements” (Joseph Pieper).

Summer is winding down, ministry and family calendars are being populated, and we are ready for an active and fruitful fall.  In the midst of all this, let us take up Sister’s challenge and be sure to take on the attitude of leisure – “not the attitude of one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself, not of someone who seizes, but of one who lets go...” (Joseph Pieper).  Only in doing this can we (and our families, colleagues, ministry partners, parish staffs, parishioners, etc) bask in the presence of God and gaze upon creation, acknowledging, as God did on the seventh day, that it is good.

The charism of the Sisters of Life, laying down their lives that others might life, requires this holy leisure.   They “desire to pour out all [their] gifts of nature and grace in the apostolate, that nothing of the gift of life, and no one to whom it has been given, should be lost.”   Enriched and strengthened by leisure, Sister Agnus Dei shared with us how the sisters “delight” in the women and families they serve.  Like so many ministries, this can be trying and tiring.  It demands time resting in God’s gaze so that we might be moved by the goodness of others.  Rev. William D. Virtue  describes “delighting in people” like this:

“The power of love to affirm the other person is this; love is first an act of being moved by the other’s goodness.  As we manifest our delight, this reveals to the other his or her goodness.  This experience of being confirmed in one’s worth is the emotional “food” that nourishes the growth of the human heart . . .   The acts that we do for the other person should be proceeded by first being moved – otherwise the other person gets the impression that we love them only because we are good, and not because of any goodness sin them moving us.  But the other is affirmed precisely in the realization that it is the goodness of his or her being which is the cause or our delight.”

Our ministry is to the parish, the poor, pregnant moms, the elderly, the young church, families, and the unchurched (the “nones”).  To “delight in them” we must open ourselves to God through holy leisure.  For some this may be two hours in the woods like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  For others it may be a quiet moment outside in prayer between meetings or a short walk removed from the distractions of life.

How do you (or will you) rest in holy leisure?


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