Monday, 13 July 2015

A Homily for Summertime


Roll them out, the song says, those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer. It is not just a practical necessity, to have some time for relaxation and change as if we were machines that would overheat if we do not rest them now and then. It is a virtuous thing, something morally good and respectful of the kind of creature we are, to recognize our need for rest and fresh stimulation. The opposite is not good: not to rest and take a break, not to switch off and cool down for a bit.

Of course there may be people reading this who cannot afford to take a holiday. This may be because of economic or family situations. It may be that the money is not to hand or there are commitments at home that need constant attention or for some other good reason. But where it is possible we ought to try to have a good break and a real change from the ordinary routine. As physical beings we need to rest because we get tired. As animals we cannot survive without enjoyment. People talk about being bored to death and it is true that to be without joy, delight and pleasure is a kind of living death.

It is important for our health that we have a hazy, lazy and even crazy time now and again. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that, from time to time, human beings must do things that are ‘ludicrous’. This term comes from the Latin ludus, which means a game. We must do things just for the fun of it, tell corny jokes to amuse our friends (or at least ourselves), hang around doing nothing in particular, and spend time playing, enjoying things that have no point beyond the enjoyment itself.

We offend against this ‘holy madness’ if we refuse to play: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl. We offend against it also when we find our enjoyment in things that are harmful, violent, or obscene. Such activities exploit others or damage us (over-indulgence, for example). We need to maintain a balance between silliness and seriousness. We must be prepared to be foolish without making complete fools of ourselves. We must continue to respect people, places and times so that our enjoyment is not at the expense of human dignity, either in ourselves or in others.

But that still leaves lots of space for ‘holy madness’. In a very wise little book the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper argued that ‘leisure is the basis of culture’. If we work so as to fill all the time and space, and exhaust all the energy that is available to us, and we leave no gap around our work, then we cannot live happily he says. We cannot then live in the way we ought to if we are to be content human beings. There must be space around us, for prayer, for relaxation, for thinking, for doing nothing, for kicking stones along the footpath, for sitting in lazy silence with our friends and family, for simply looking on and admiring the world. This is what Pieper means by ‘leisure’, a contemplative and receptive appreciation of life.

A passage in the Bible that describes how to have a good party includes the simple command: ‘amuse yourself’. In doing it though we must also ‘bless him who made us and plies us with his good things’ (Sirach 32.13,17). We are simply following the example of God who takes delight in the world he has created (Proverbs 8.30-31). Without rest and re-creation we fail not only to enjoy life but also to recognize that the whole thing is a wonderful gift. We are greatly blessed in so many ways and it is important to find the time and space in which to appreciate this and give thanks for it.

Another word for all this is ‘grace’. We have received ‘grace upon grace’ (John 1.16) and we must ‘always be thankful’ (Colossians 3.15). The first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians is one of the most powerful of the New Testament texts on grace. God has blessed us, it says, with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. He has made us His adopted children through Christ, to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved. The Beloved is Christ in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom. Such is the richness of the grace that he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.

And so it goes on. We sing and dance in response to this. We rejoice and are glad. Hopefully everybody will find enjoyment and delight when holiday time comes round. A holiday is a holy day and a foretaste of the final place of rest, the eternal feast that we hope to share forever in the kingdom of light, happiness and peace.

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