Lake Albano is a placid volcanic lake in the hills southeast of Rome, at the base of beautiful Monte Cavo. Overlooking Lake Albano is the ancient hilltop village of Castel Gandolfo, a sleepy, picturesque town just 15 miles south of Rome, known for its white wine. There is a classic villa in town, the Palazzo Apostolico di Castel Gandolfo, where for hundreds of years, the popes of Rome have traditionally spent a few weeks of quiet time during the summer months.
Obviously, very few of us can spend time in a lakeside Italian villa during the hot months of the summertime. But for most people, summer does represent a kind of slowing down; a time when many formal activities are on hiatus, and the long dog days of summer seem to leave more room for leisure. Leisure is important for all of us. But real leisure is not just the isolated consumption of pre-packaged entertainment. True leisure, for which we seem to have more opportunity in the summer, is something much more profound.
In 1958, the philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler wrote, “Leisure consists in activities which are neither toil nor play, but are rather the expressions of moral and intellectual virtue — the things a good man does because they are intrinsically good for him and for his society, making him better as a man and advancing the civilization in which he lives.”
The German philosopher Joseph Pieper said that real leisure — the capacity to perceive, contemplate and celebrate the world we’ve been given — is a gift from God. To be fully human is to accept the gift of leisure from God and to cultivate serenity, joy and peace.
Leisure, said Pieper, is not about the absence of work — about idleness. Instead, leisure is about the cultivation of goodness in souls; about curiosity, and conversation, and friendship, and wonder.
Pope St. John Paul II, who spent portions of more than 25 summers at Castel Gandolfo, said that leisure is “not just any kind of interruption of work, but the celebration of the marvels which God has wrought.”
Leisure is the basis of culture and the basis by which we can grow in wisdom. And the summer months afford us opportunities to grow in friendship, devotion, wisdom, and wonder—through leisure. Real leisure is as simple as gardening, or talking with friends over a cool drink on the front porch, or watching the stars spread across the clear summer sky. Real leisure is praying the rosary on a quiet walk, or reading a good book, or making music—even poorly!—with family and friends. Leisure is the basis from which we form the bonds, habits, connections, and rituals that build real Christian culture.
Leisure is also a very strong basis for evangelization. We have a tendency to think of evangelization as being rooted in activity; in large programs or initiatives that draw dozens or hundreds of people at a time. But Pope St. John Paul II reminded us that, “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”
The Kingdom is a person, and the faith is often best transmitted between persons: from one heart, alive in Christ, speaking to another. It is important for us to remember that some of the most effective opportunities we have for evangelization come in the context of friendship, in leisure, in mutual activities and lingering conversations with neighbors and friends.
Summer is the right time to invite neighbors to a meal or an outdoor barbecue, to have long conversations about faith on the porch, to evangelize, and form disciples of Jesus Christ, while stargazing or sitting around a campfire. The Lord formed just 12 apostles—his friends—intimately. If we too formed just a small group to know Christ—through the leisure of true friendship—we might set the world aflame.
I pray that each of you will be refreshed and renewed in the leisure of this beautiful Nebraska summer. And I pray that in leisure and friendship, you might form dynamic Catholics—faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.