The first months of the Trump era have been “interesting.” Political rumblings emanate almost daily from Washington as the new national leadership attempts to define and implement a very different vision and priorities for the country. Among the things we have learned about the 45th President ― apart from his penchant for “tweetstorms,” governance by decree, and recourse to “alternative facts” ― is that he is apparently a workaholic. Reports have revealed that he sleeps only four or five hours a night. In this, at least, he seems to mirror the nation as a whole.
“Americans are definitely workaholics,” Cullen Murphy, the editor-at-large of Vanity Fair, has said in an interview. “Maybe the overall message of this . . . is that there is a kind of bedrock faith in the idea that working hard pays off” (Business Insider, July 7, 2015).
Statistics show that Americans work more hours per week than their European counterparts, take fewer vacation days, and often let professional responsibilities impinge on their leisure time and relationships. It may in the short term “pay off,” but at what cost to the overall sense of personal health, well-being, and perspective? I am reminded of the adage attributed to the late Senator Paul Tsongas: “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”
Here we stand at the start of May and June and summer. The rhythm of parish life slows; school and religious education classes in most places are dismissed; church organizations take a break from their usual activities; and parishioners and families go away on vacation.
This issue of Emmanuel is an appeal for balance in life, especially in the lives of those who serve in the ordained ministry and in other roles of pastoral and spiritual leadership. We must not neglect ourselves. We mustn’t succumb to the societal pull of “workaholism” and its debilitating effects.
In reading and editing the copy for this issue, I was struck by the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s preoccupation with the “relationship between work and play . . . how festivity involves the whole of existence, and . . . affirmation is at the very heart of all Christian worship.” Redemptorist Dennis Billy says in his article on Pieper: “He saw the Eucharist, first and foremost, as a time for rejoicing in the love of Christ and thus a festive celebration.”
Jesuit Peter Schineller encourages us to see the spirituality inherent in the seasons of summer and fall, summarized in the following sentences from his reflection: “Summer invites us to a more contemplative approach to ordinary things”; “Tis easier to find God in the summer”; and “Even as we delight in autumn’s beauty, we also feel a sense of impending loss. Perhaps there is a sense of beauty even in letting go.”
Some years ago, I heard a psychologist urge an assembly of priests and deacons he was addressing at a diocesan convocation to strive for balance in their lives: ministry, prayer, study, exercise, meals, loving relationships, and rest.
Jesus, who was supremely devoted to the proclamation of the kingdom and to his ministry of availability to others, especially to those in need, nevertheless found time for prayerful communion with the Father in the cool of the day, for table fellowship and rest in the home of his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus in Bethany, for sharing with his disciples as they journeyed along the roadsides, and for pausing to appreciate the beauty of God’s created world. Ought we not to do the same?
Anthony Schueller, SSS