Pope Francis and the radical theological importance of leisure

Pope Francis converses with two Argentinian journalists on “his life in his own words” in a new book released last month by Putnam (Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words. 2013).

New York Times reviewer Mark Oppenheimer says the conversations reveal “cute facts” about the new Pope but “not much interesting theology.”

Oppenheimer is sharp enough, however, to see a slight “radical note” in the pontiff’s words. That note, which has to do with faith at ease, lies in Pope Francis’ admonition for us to “relax.” And contrary to Oppenheimer’s assertion that these conversations contain “not much interesting theology,” they may point to the single most important theological consideration addressing the overwhelming consumer culture in which we toil.

Asked by his interviewers, “Do we need to rediscover the meaning of leisure?” the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics responds: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.”

The Pope lays the blame for modern culture’s inability to truly relax largely to the destruction wrought by the culture’s creeping elimination of a day of rest—a Sabbath.

Oppenheimer’s review provides a capsule history of Sabbatarianism in America, noting that it has been “a Protestant thing,” but his survey indicates that in America keeping the Sabbath has largely been a social and legal debate, not a theological one.

I began this blog, “Faith at Ease,” six years ago by calling attention to the exposition of German philosopher Josef Pieper’s 1948 book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, in which the author suggests that the oft-quoted admonition of Psalm 45, “Be still, and know that I am God,” is more appropriately translated as: “Be at leisure, and know that I am God.”

Leisure, from Pieper’s perspective, is not just a time-out or a break from the usual action; it is a celebration of creation and its commands; it is, as Pieper’s title says, “the Basis of Culture.” Contrary to Oppenheimer’s “slight” aside, leisure is theology at its most basic, what John Dominic Crossan reminds us is the culmination of the Biblical Creation narrative in the book of Genesis.

[Readers may want to view my earlier posts on this topic.
Regarding Pieper: http://wp.me/p86oI1-3
regarding Crossan: http://wp.me/p86oI1-1b

Incidentally, the new book reveals that a favorite movie of Pope Francis is “Babette’s Feast,” a Danish film that won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Motion Picture.

I heartily urge you to see this film if you have not yet watched it. The story is a tale of grace and giving, and it will undoubtedly encourage you the next time you partake of a leisurely and sumptuous meal.

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