Laudato Si’: Rest

Laudato Si’: Rest

Do you have enough hours in your day? If not, you must be a busy person. So do you have time to pray? Mother Teresa said, ‘If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.’

The point is that God is not an optional extra in our lives. God is the centre. He is the Rock, the source of all our strength, and we can do nothing without him (whether or not we acknowledge the fact). This means that prayer is important for all people, regardless of our specific vocation and the situation of our lives. To paraphrase St Francis de Sales, it is an error, nay rather a heresy to exclude prayer from our daily lives, be it in the office, or at school, or spending time on the internet. Wherever we are, whoever we are, we need to pray.

And that means we have to rest. Of course we can pray in the midst of our busy activity; St Paul expects as much when he said to ‘pray constantly’! But we all need a kind of prayer which is restful: simply stopping what we are doing, and putting ourselves consciously in the presence of God. To repeat the famous line from Pascal: ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ What Pascal implied, as a Christian, was that sitting quietly alone means we become open, even vulnerable, to the presence of God. For God is known in stillness and quietness and he comes in the ’still small voice’ which Elijah heard, not in the wind, the earthquake and the fire. ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ says the psalm (hence the Keep Calm poster above).

This importance of prayer struck me when reading what Laudato Si’ says about the Biblical Sabbath. Pope Francis points out that, for the Israelites, the seventh day of rest, the ‘sabbatical year’ every seventh year, and the Jubilee every 49 years, are ‘an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked’ (§71). This agricultural and social harmony of rest finds expression in prayer and praise of our Creator God (§72), who is also our Liberator God (§§73-5). So, whenever we feel overburdened, enslaved to our work or to other people, we have to turn back to God, ‘who creates and who alone owns the world’. We have to resist what Josef Pieper called the culture of ‘total work’, or the tendency which Pope Francis labels ‘empty activism’, by asserting our need for rest. And this rest is not just for the sake of ‘recharging our batteries’ before doing more work, but it is a good thing in its own right. Ultimately, God made us for rest, in the ‘sabbath of eternity’ in heaven (§243, cf. CCC 2175).

Rest connects us both with nature and with other people. When we ‘discover God in all things’, we see how created realities such as water, oil and fire take on a new significance in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist (§233-7). The Sunday Eucharist marks out a protected time in the week when we proclaim the resurrection of Christ, and this rest ‘sheds its light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor’ (§237). Far from detracting from our work, rest is precisely what gives it shape, meaning, and purpose. Maybe don’t try giving this excuse to your boss too often! But we can make it a habit, part of our life. In the midst of activity, let’s keep calm and trust in God, and we’ll find we have enough time to pray after all.

Fr Matthew Jarvis is currently studying Patristics at the Catholic University of Lyon.