The meaning of leisure and the meaning of worship

I haven’t counted the number of books I’ve read or re-read during the pandemic, but there have been many. I don’t remember why I recently chose from my library a small volume, “Leisure The Basis of Culture” by the philosopher Josef Pieper (translated by Alexander Dru with an introduction by TS Eliot. New York: Pantheon Books, 1952, pp . 127).

Reflecting on the insights Pieper offers on the meaning of leisure, the meaning of worship, and the meaning of the human person, I must suspect that the choice to read the book again was providential. Pieper’s ideas seemed to be just what I needed at this point in my life.

Pieper writes the following about the meaning of leisure:

“Leisure, it must be understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude it’s not just the result of factors, it is not the inevitable result of a free time, holiday, weekend or vacation. It is first of all an attitude of mind, a state of mind…

“Leisure is a form of silence, of this silence which is the prerequisite for the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who are not silent do not hear. Silence, as used in this context, does not mean ‘silence’ or ‘absence of noise’; rather, it means that the power of the soul to “respond” to the reality of the world is undisturbed. Because leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the opportunity but also the ability to soak up all of creation” (pp.40-41).

As I reread Pieper’s words, I could imagine that he had written them with me in mind. Without thinking of the word hobby to describe my endeavors, I have tried to achieve what Pieper describes as a hobby throughout my adult life. I am very aware of the many times I failed to do this, the many times I gave in to unhealthy anxiety instead of trusting in the God who is present in all of creation, including the special presence of God in me that Catholics call sanctifying grace.

I think every effort we make to grow and develop as human beings is an attempt to reach some kind of wholeness. Some describe it as “trying to pull ourselves together”. We want to achieve a kind of integrity in our lives, an integrity that places all of our activities and interests in their proper place. For many of us, it can take a lifetime.

Pieper writes the following:

“Because wholeness is what man longs for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the basic powers of the human soul. Like the gift of contemplative absorption in the things that really are, and like the ability of the spirit to soar in festive celebration, the power of experiencing leisure is the power to transcend the boundaries of the world of work and attain superhuman life, giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before returning to our daily work. It is only in genuine leisure that a ‘door of freedom’ opens” (p.44).

What freedom does leisure give us? Freedom to know ourselves more deeply, freedom to know other people more deeply, freedom to know more deeply the rest of the created order, freedom to know God more deeply. But leisure does not only affect us at the level of knowledge.

Hobbies help to love more deeply. It helps us to love ourselves more deeply, to love other people more deeply, to love the created order more deeply, to love God more deeply.

Pieper writes the following:

“Now, the highest form of affirmation is the festival…Having a celebration means affirming the fundamental meaning of the universe and a sense of oneness with it, of inclusion within it. on occasion, man experiences the world in a different aspect than the everyday.

“The party is at the origin of leisure, and the interior and always present meaning of leisure” (p. 43).

Pieper’s statements about the feast immediately make me think of the celebration of the Eucharist. Everything Pieper writes about leisure can be linked to the Eucharist. The deepest meaning of the Eucharist reveals the deepest meaning of God, of God’s love for us and of our love of God. The Eucharist is not primarily a book or a series of texts. It is an action, an action that not only reveals who we are, but an action that can help us become the best of ourselves, an action that can deepen the relationship of love between God and us and between us and other people.

It seems to me that nothing reveals more powerfully or more clearly what Pieper means by leisure than the Eucharist.


Father Lauder is a professor of philosophy at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute lectures from his series of lectures on the Catholic novel, at 10:30 a.m. Monday to Friday on NET-TV.

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