From the June issue of North Coast Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
My Dear People of God:
Summer is a time in which many seek to indulge themselves in a variety of recreational pursuits. These pursuits are not, in any way, separated from our daily living of our Catholic faith. A paragraph from The Spiritual Life is very instructive: “Pleasure in itself is not evil. God allows it when directed toward a higher end, that is, toward moral good. If He has attached pleasure to certain good acts, it is in order to facilitate their accomplishment and to draw us on to the fulfillment of duty. The moderate enjoyment of pleasure, if referred to its end – moral and supernatural good – is not an evil. In fact, it is a good act, for it tends toward a good end, which is ultimately God Himself. But to will pleasure without any reference to the end that makes it lawful, that is, to will pleasure as an end in itself and as an ultimate end, is a moral disorder, for it is going counter to the wisdom of a God-established order. Such disorder leads to further evil, because when one’s sole motive is pleasure, one is exposed to love pleasure to excess; one is no longer guided by an end that raises its barriers against that immoderate thirst for enjoyment which exists in all of us.”
This paragraph requires further reflection. Recreation is a good thing because it is directed toward the health of the body, which, hopefully, enables us to serve God more actively, consistently and effectively. There is a certain pleasure attached to recreation which helps offset at least some of the pain of physical exercise. This pleasure is attached to recreation, by God Himself, because He wants us to be healthy and so He makes recreation pleasurable. The purpose of recreation and exercise is, however, good physical and moral health. The purpose of recreation is not the pleasure it provides.
Some time ago, I talked to an X-treme kayak addict. I use the term addict decidedly. He is a thrill seeker and a risk taker and his search for yet another adrenalin rush is simply excessive. His willingness to risk his very life for the sake of a thrill is simply disordered. That may sound a little harsh, but I believe it to be true. For such a thrill seeker, the sole motive becomes a quest for an adrenaline rush, pleasure, thrill or excitement. Such a quest lacks a proper relationship to a God-established order. Without the God-established order, there is literally no barrier to that “immoderate thirst for enjoyment which exists in all of us.” This immoderate thirst is unquenchable. Hence, the risks get greater and greater, while the thrill, which was great last week, is “boring” this week. Greater risk is required to achieve a similar rush.
So it is with risks, with alcohol, with drugs, with sex, with racing, with recreation, with eating, with body piercing, with shocking dress, even with work. If it is not somehow directed toward God and the things of God, toward heaven and the things that lead to heaven, then it runs a serious risk of being disordered, that is, not ordered to God or to godliness.
The words “I’m bored” are indeed very dangerous because they are literally a declaration that I intend to be ordered to my own enjoyment, my own pleasure, and that it is my goal to seek these things as ends in themselves. They are false gods, which promise much, but have no power to fill us with what God knows we need. When young people and even us older folks seek God and the things of God and seek to order all things in our lives according to God’s plan, then all things are exciting, nothing is boring and “that immoderate thirst for enjoyment which exists in all of us” is kept properly in check.
Bishop Vasa is right. Young people especially are vulnerable to living like excitement junkies and pleasure addicts, but any of us can become drama queens and kings, “addicted to people, places and things,” as they say in twelve-step programs. Too often today’s young people have not been taught by older, wiser people who have learned, sometimes the hard way, that the joy of knowing, loving and serving God on this earth surpasses any earthly fixations we can indulge in. The media constantly promote the supposed overwhelming thrill of owning mansions, big diamonds, sports cars and glamorous clothes, dining out in the finest restaurants, and living the high life, traveling around the world. Been there, done that, and, like so many others before me, discovered that knowing, loving and serving God is the most exalting experience known to mankind.
The only thing missing that the Bishop should have added is the time of the week to seek pleasure, which should NOT be on Sunday mornings when we SHOULD (as both Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict have said many times) be in Church, seeking to please God by our worshipping Him and not our selves as He wants us too and not be out fishing, golfing or mowing the grass or whatever else that we can come up with. +JMJ+
The pleasure principle, which the Church has always defended against its detractors, is, we can be sure, not something that is suspended on Sunday mornings; nor, for that matter, any day of the week. Isn’t the Morning Offering clear on this? (“Oh Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all my works, prayers, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.”) What is clear from the Prayer of Vals, aka the Morning Offering, is not only that the pleasure principle informs all of pleasure’s proper intensifications, including the intensification that is sexual juissance, it includes the joyful pleasure to be found in both work and prayer, indeed it includes the sorrowful joy to which Albert Raboteau has drawn our attention. Cf. Albert Rabateau, _A Sorrowful Joy_ (New York: Paulist Press, 2002).
In her new book _Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle_, Jessica Rosenfeld points out that in his reintroduction of Aristotle to the domain we know today as the psychology of love, Jacques Lacan, for his part, did not reintroduce “Aristotelian philosophy here in its purely classical version, but in the version given to us by the thirteenth-century theologians, especially Saint Thomas Aquinas.” In so doing,
“Lacan gives us an Aristotle who is a Freudian philosopher of love. Aquinas and others created an Aristotle who repaired the ignorance Lacan diagnoses in the antique tradition, which covered JOUISSANCE over with knowledge, and did not recognize that speech concerns enjoyment. Lacan’s Aristotle is after the ‘joy of being’ itself, recognizing that the way that the enjoyment of God is modeled on our own enjoyment, that philosophical ‘wondering’ is not only pleasurable but a form of loving God.” For further discussion of the Thomist account of the pleasure principle and its relation to the psychology of sexual love, see Jessica Rosenfeld, _Ethics and Emjoymnet in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Freud is a fraud, Maguire. Get over it.
Apropos of Sigmund Freud: Sorry, JLS, but your severely dismissive comportment in relation to the founder of psychoanalytic depth-psychology (I am quoting you:– “Freud is a fraud”) suggests to me an ineffective engagement on your part with Freud’s signal contributions to depth-psychology, serious flaws in that contribution notwithstanding. Nor, moreover, does your conclusory dismissal of Freud justly serve those who have studied, closely and carefully, Freud’s writings from within the horizon of first philosophy. See generally MIchael Stock, _Freud: A Thomistic Appraisal_ (Thomist Press, 1963); Albert Ple, _Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Psychology of Freud_ (Hull, A. Brown, nd.); Albert Ple, _Duty or Pleasure? A New Appraisal of Christian Ethics_, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1986; originally published in 1980 by Editions du Cerf under the title-question _Par devoir ou par plaisir_?); A. Ple, _Chastity and the Affective Life_ (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965); also Paul C. Vitz, _Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious_ (New York: The Guilford Press, 1988); from a phenomenological perspective, see Paul Ricouer, _Freud and Philosophy_, translated by Denis Savage (Yale University Press, 1970); finally, also from a Thomist perspective, see Nicholas E. Lombardo, _The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion_ (Washington, DC.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011).
What you wrote points out why Saturday evening Masses should never have been introduced. How many persons go to Saturday evening Mass so that they engage in such pleasures on the Lord’s day!
God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
Kenneth M. Fisher
and how many faithful catholics attending the vigil mass on saturday night because they have to work on sundays to support their familiels?
i take great pleasure from reading this article!
max, that pleasure will cost you 25,000 years in Purgatory.
i knew it! darn!
“God-established order”–God Bless Bishop Vasa for speaking on the most important moral compass for man. Think about it–when we are not “ordered” to His way, our lives become unmanagable with dire consequences that can be life changing. I pray that this subject would be shared from every pulpit. Only a life with “God-established order” will bring His magnificent Joy!
Thank you for this really good article. I experienced guilt when taking walks for my health because it served no one but myself. A priest told me that it is fine to exercise, but be careful because once you start to do one thing for yourself you start to do everything for yourself. Pope Benedict identifies one of the “three fundamental temptations of every human being” as the “temptation of self-affirmation and the desire to put oneself at the center.” The wellness/fitness industry is steeped in that temptation and uses it as a motivation to achieve health/fitness goals. The weight loss mantra today is “You have to do it for yourself or you will not succeed.” It is often accompanied by recommendations for “meditation” which are seen as necessary for handling everyday stress and yoga, which is promoted for flexibilty and calmness. Another poster here wrote that health has become an idol in our society and I think that she was very perceptive. I think that a lot of today’s immodesty is rooted in how hard a person must work (and the money that is spent on) achieving a nice figure. Why do it if no one is going to see it?
Scrupulosity is a danger to the soul.There is nothing wrong about maintaining caring for our appearance.Dressing with style and taste is fine too.
WE ARE NOT MENNONITES,NOR AMISH.
Gordon good point! Enjoyment is good when done in honoring God. I get concerned with those who feel guilt often guilt that is unnecessary and not geared in the right direction, that is more worrisome to me.
Constant worrying over sin is Satan’s way of separating us from God.Believe me I KNOW when I’ve sinned.
When we put the focus on our sins and failings we can’t concentrate on the goodness of Christ working within us.
The Enemy uses this focus and our guilt to blind us to Christ’s presence and the LOVE that God always has for us.
If you sin(and who doesn’t)-GO TO CONFESSION-The most disgracefully under utilized Sacrament where we meet Christ Face to face.
God knows we aren’t HIM.We sin.Repeatedly.Confess with true contrition and endeavour to DO OUR BEST not to sin.He knows we will.We can’t make promises that we may not be able to keep.
Seventy times seven.
Gordon, you are amazing as you are one of the very few in this world that knows when they have sinned; not talking about usual sins that we try to hide as a disease or what-ever; but the types that we don’t even realize, such as a frown, or a snide remark or looking the other way when someone comes near us, especially if they don’t look or sound the way that we “want” them to. Our Blessed Lady gave Mary of Agreda lessons on what God wants from us and it is in the volumes of “The Mystical City of God” which is not only approved by many Popes of the Church, but the Holy See has given special blessings to those that read a few pages a day. So many of us a very blind when it comes to the Will of God in our everyday life. +JMJ+
k, that priest was probably addressing only you personally. Your presentation of what he told you makes no sense to me otherwise.
He was an priest of the Marianists. The way you serve God is by serving others. There is no room for self. Had I walked more then, I would be better able to serve God and others now, but I did not realize that then.
Bishop Vasa’s address is careful to imply that there is a balance between risk and intention. Extreme kayaking, for example, he did not condemn, but rather the intention of thrill seeking is what he has condemned. It is not clear in the comments that this distinction has been perceived. Btw, max, sitting on a bar stool is a risk taking venture, too, especially in San Francisco … and more importantly, mockery can be a terrible sin depending on your intentions.
Always think of ETERNITY. Our individual time on earth is so short in comparison. Instead of being mindless or counting rotations, while exercising or working around the home or yard – try saying part of all of the Rosary at the same time. Meditate on Jesus. Instead of reading fiction, read the Bible, the CCC, or an inspirational book. Always ask God that you will know His will.
What OSCAR says. I used to religiously say the Rosary while I walked, hiked, jogged or ran in the hills, mountains, canyons … always striving to hit coordinate with the meter of the prayers, so that each foot hit the ground on a beat of the heart of the prayers. I can also do this to some extent while hunting quail, but it is more difficult then because of all the requirement to be alert to the environment in a very direct way. I don’t know how you’d do this while sky diving or white water rafting, or surfing among the great white sharks. There is a series of books written by a Catholic priest who teaches religion in the context of the wilderness.
Bishop Vasa your comments came at great timing. I was discussing with my children about their “boredom” levels and such, so this article is a great one to include tonight during our prayer time. Kids want to be entertained more often now a days. Especially some children have the need to be active more than others. That is why I encourage church youth groups to do more for our youth, more positive activities for them to burn off all that natural energy they have, in some children depression is something that can develop if they do not maintain a healthy amount of activities. I have read that in small towns, kids get bored because there isn’t much recreation activities for them, so many in small towns get into drugs and other substance abuse.
My experience in life with boredom is that it only occurs when I’m not focused on God.
Some good points in the article by His Excellency. He overlooks being happy in life, which is the sum total of our experiences, duties, successes, failures, and hopes, and after adding it all up making some kind of sense of it all.
There is still some sense of this essay that speaks to the Church’s longstanding mantra “if you enjoy something, that’s wrong.” There is still a lot of angst in the Church about people enjoying life, taking simple pleasures, and being happy and content. Some of that thinking emerged in this fine essay.
goodcause, the Bishop is not addressing your point, so why don’t you apply for a job as his ghost writer (and I hope you enjoy the pun).
I am glad that so many people found this to be a worthwhile article. It made me stop and think if I was the only one who thought it was crazy. The idea that a Bishop finds a need to write his weekly letter about the possible sin of enjoying oneself explains why people are leaving the church in droves. He should be writing about how is going to help the poor find a sustainable life, how he will keep the tuitions down so that folks can send their children to parish schools. Someone has written that they feel guilty when they take a walk for their health. Please, see a doctor. Talk about having a disorder. One is supposed to keep themselves healthy. Too few of do that and don’t walk enough. There is just so much more important things to teach about than the near occasion of sin from having a good time.
Douay-Rheims Bible — “And he said to them: Go, eat fat meats, and drink sweet wine, and send portions to them that have not prepared for themselves: because it is the holy day of the Lord, and be not sad: for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
It seems to me that Sundays, and all feast days, should follow the divine advice above: namely, enjoy the blessings you have!
The Puritans of old were so worried about pleasure, they even looked down upon a woman who gave birth to her baby on a Sunday, believing this meant she and her husband had actually made LOVE on a Sunday. Heaven forbid!
St Paul cautioned not to party out or feast before or during Mass, but worship God instead. Enjoy one another’s company later. The novus ordo liturgy typically is focused on enjoying one another’s company instead of worshiping God … it sort of tried to combine the two activities.
uh, JLS, okay, but i’ve never seen anyone eating fatt meats and all that stuff during mass.
i think that comes at sunday night dinner or some such thing.
as for the ordinary form of the mass (versuss the extraordinaray form) telling us focus on each other, i’ve never really experienced that either — your must live in berkeley?
in the pari9shes i’ve attended, we sit in pews, face the altar, and worship GOD.
Here we go, the ignorant Bob One replacing the Catholic religions with his version of … hmn, is it happy face or pacman? Hard to tell.
Bobone, you sound like a Puritan. ;o) You should read “The Last Puritan’ by George Santayana. Well, I’ll qualify that. Read the first part only. I think if you read Bishop Vasa’s thoughtful article again, you might find that what he is teaching us is to stop all this busy-ness and thrill seeking and take the time to savor the gifts that are right at hand. Jesus told us he came to give us life, and life abundantly. We can savor the sunrise with it’s myriad shades of gold reflecting on the windows of skyscrapers if we live in a city. Or as we drive to work we can listen to sacred music and share a joyful moment with God. We can chuckle at all the amazing ‘coincidences’ where God sends us perfect little gifts like a baby peeking out at us in the shopping cart ahead of us at the store , with a delightful grin that pierces the heart. There is joy and pleasure to be had in so many situations that otherwise seem monotonous and ordinary. God gives us these gifts so we can be in on the secret…that He is the source of all beauty and humor and joy! That’s why he gave us Sundays, so we can hang out with Him and savor those special moments with our most loving Father. Also, it’s taking pleasure in whatever gifts he’s given us. It sounds like John just revels in his studies and intellectual understanding. It’s pleasurable just reading what satisfaction he shows in sharing it with us. Abeca is always treating us to her sweet understanding and gives us all words of encouragement. (as long as we’re being orthodox! ha) And Catherine with her tremendous spiritual and theological knowledge. Kenneth brings pleasure here with the joy he takes in everything about Mother Church . And JLS brings the joy of laughter as he says outrageous things just to stir things up. How blessed we are to know and think and feel. God’s given us so many avenues to pleasure that it is sometimes overwhelming. And then we read the news about another homosexual onslaught , scandal in the Church or yet another horror from the abortion industry and our pleasure is diminished.
It is never, never God that would have us unhappy.
It is not that we need to be happy at all times. It is that we need to find happiness with Our Lord. Whatever our state is in life or health all goodness, love and peace comes from God and we should seek him in all things. Always seeking the extreme pleasuring of self leads to pushing out of God from our lives. The thrill becomes dead after awhile and the need to ramp up the thrill consumes the soul. How can we know God if all we want to know is where the next high will take us.