Of Amusements and Recreations: what are allowable.
WE must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation also. Cassian relates how S. John the Evangelist was found by a certain hunter amusing himself by caressing a partridge, which sat upon his wrist. The hunter asked how a man of his mental powers could find time for so trifling an occupation. In reply, S. John asked why he did not always carry his bow strung? The man answered, Because, if always bent, the bow would lose its spring when really wanted. "Do not marvel then," the Apostle replied, "if I slacken my mental efforts from time to time, and recreate myself, in order to return more vigorously to contemplation." It is a great mistake to be so strict as to grudge any recreation either to others or one's self.
Walking, harmless games, music, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc., are such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of ordinary discretion, which keep every thing within due limits of time, place, and degree. So again games of skill, which exercise and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets, running at the ring, chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good. Only one must avoid excess, either in the time given to them, or the amount of interest they absorb; for if too much time be given up to such things, they cease to be a recreation and become an occupation; and so far from resting and restoring mind or body, they have precisely the contrary effect. After five or six hours spent over chess, one's mind is spent and weary, and too long a time given to tennis results in physical exhaustion; or if people play for a high stake, they get anxious and discomposed. and such unimportant objects are unworthy of so much care and thought. But, above all, beware of setting your heart upon any of these things, for however lawful an amusement may be, it is wrong to give one's heart up to it. Not that I would not have you take pleasure in what you are doing,--it were no recreation else,--but I would not have you engrossed by it, or become eager or over fond of any of these things.
Of Forbidden Amusements.
DICE, cards, and the like games of hazard, are not merely dangerous amusements, like dancing, but they are plainly bad and harmful, and therefore they are forbidden by the civil as by the ecclesiastical law. What harm is there in them? you ask. Such games are unreasonable:--the winner often has neither skill nor industry to boast of, which is contrary to reason. You reply that this is understood by those who play. But though that may prove that you are not wronging anybody, it does not prove that the game is in accordance with reason, as victory ought to be the reward of skill or labour, which it cannot be in mere games of chance. Moreover, though such games may be called a recreation, and are intended as such, they are practically an intense occupation. Is it not an occupation, when a man's mind is kept on the stretch of close attention, and disturbed by endless anxieties, fears and agitations? Who exercises a more dismal, painful attention than the gambler? No one must speak or laugh,--if you do but cough you will annoy him and his companions. The only pleasure in gambling is to win, and this cannot be a satisfactory pleasure, since it can only be enjoyed at the expense of your antagonist. Once, when he was very ill, S. Louis heard that his brother the Comte d'Anjou and Messire Gautier de Nemours were gambling, and in spite of his weakness the King tottered into the room where they were, and threw dice and money and everything out of the window, in great indignation. And the pure and pious Sara, in her appeal to God, declared that she had never had dealings with gamblers. 1
Of Balls, and other Lawful but Dangerous Amusements. .
DANCES and balls are things in themselves indifferent, but the circumstances ordinarily surrounding them have so generally an evil tendency, that they become full of temptation and danger. The time of night at which they take place is in itself conducive to harm, both as the season when people's nerves are most
1It is not very clear what S. Francis means by this. In the English version, Sara only says, "Thou knowest, Lord ... that I never polluted my name, nor the name of my father" (Tobit iii. 15). In the Vulgate the words are "Numquam cum ludentibus miscui me; neque cum his, qui in levitate ambulant, participem me praebui" (iii. 17).
excited and open to evil impressions; and because, after being up the greater part of the night, they spend the mornings afterwards in sleep, and lose the best part of the day for God's Service. It is a senseless thing to turn day into night, light into darkness, and to exchange good works for mere trifling follies. Moreover, those who frequent balls almost inevitably foster their Vanity, and vanity is very conducive to unholy desires and dangerous attachments.
I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles of food, such as mushrooms and the like--the best are not good for much; but if eat them you must, at least mind that they are properly cooked. So, if circumstances over which you have no control take you into such places, be watchful how you prepare to enter them. Let the dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity and good intentions. The doctors say (still referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of them, and that but seldom, for, however well dressed, an excess is harmful. So dance but little, and that rarely, my daughter, lest you run the risk of growing over fond of the amusement.
Pliny says that mushrooms, from their porous, spongy nature, easily imbibe meretricious matter, so that if they are near a serpent, they are infected by its poison. So balls and similar
gatherings are wont to attract all that is bad and vicious; all the quarrels, envyings, slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected in the ballroom. While People's bodily pores are opened by the exercise of dancing, the heart's pores will be also opened by excitement, and if any serpent be at hand to whisper foolish words of levity or impurity, to insinuate unworthy thoughts and desires, the ears which listen are more than prepared to receive the contagion.
Believe me, my daughter, these frivolous amusements are for the most part dangerous; they dissipate the spirit of devotion, enervate the mind, check true charity, and arouse a multitude of evil inclinations in the soul, and therefore I would have you very reticent in their use.
To return to the medical simile;--it is said that after eating mushrooms you should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls you should frame pious thoughts which may counteract the dangerous impressions made by such empty pleasures on your heart. Bethink you, then--1. That while you were dancing, souls were groaning in hell by reason of sins committed when similarly occupied, or in consequence thereof.
2. Remember how, at the selfsame time, many religious and other devout persons were kneeling before God, praying or praising Him. Was not their time better spent than yours?
3. Again, while you were dancing, many a soul has passed away am-id sharp sufferings; thousands and tens of thousands were lying all the while on beds of anguish, some perhaps untended, unconsoled, in fevers, and all manner of painful diseases. Will you not rouse yourself to a sense of pity for them? At all events, remember that a day will come when you in your turn will lie on your bed of sickness, while others dance and make merry.
4. Bethink you that our Dear Lord, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, saw all that was passing. Did they not look on with sorrowful pity, while your heart, capable of better things, was engrossed with such mere follies?
5. And while you were dancing time passed by, and death drew nearer. Trifle as you may, the awful dance of death 1 must come, the real pastime of men, since therein they must, whether they will or no, pass from time to an eternity of good or evil. If you think of the matter quietly, and as in God's Sight, He will suggest many a like thought, which will steady and strengthen your heart.
1S. Francis de Sales doubtless had in his thoughts the then common pictorial representations of the Dance of Death, with which (although to our own modern ideas there would be almost irreverence if reproduced) we are familiar through Holbein's celebrated Dance, and others. The old covered bridge at Lucerne is one of the most striking illustrations.
When to use such Amusements rightly.
IF you would dance or play rightly, it must be done as a recreation, not as a pursuit, for a brief space of time, not so as make you unfit for other things, and even then but seldom. If it is a constant habit, recreation turns into occupation. You will ask when it is right to dance or play? The occasions on which it is right to play at questionable games are rare; ordinary games and dances may be indulged in more frequently. But let your rule be to do so chiefly when courteous consideration for others among whom you are thrown requires it, subject to prudence and discretion; for consideration towards others often sanctions things indifferent or dangerous, and turns them to good, taking away what is evil. Thus certain games of chance, bad in themselves, cease to be so to you, if you join in them merely out of a due courtesy. I have been much comforted by reading in the Life of S. Carlo Borromeo, how he joined in certain things to please the Swiss, concerning which ordinarily he was very strict; as also how S. Ignatius Loyola, when asked to play, did so. As to S. Elizabeth of Hungary, she both played and danced occasionally, when in society, without thereby hindering her devotion, which was so firmly rooted that, like the rocks of a mountain lake, it stood unmoved amid the waves and storms of pomp and vanity which it encountered.
Great fires are fanned by the wind, but a little one is soon extinguished if left without shelter.
We must be Faithful in Things Great and Small.
THE Bridegroom of the Canticles says that the Bride has ravished His heart with "one of her eyes, one lock of her hair." 1 In all the human body no part is nobler either in mechanism or activity than the eye, none more unimportant than the hair. And so the Divine Bridegroom makes us to know that He accepts not only the great works of devout people, but every poor and lowly offering too; and that they who would serve Him acceptably must give heed not only to lofty and important matters, but to things mean and little, since by both alike we may win His Heart and Love.
Be ready then, my child, to bear great afflictions for your Lord, even to martyrdom itself; resolve to give up to Him all that you hold most precious, if He should require it of you;--father, mother, husband, wife, or child; the light of your eyes; your very life; for all such offering your heart should be ready. But so long as God's Providence does not send you these great and heavy afflictions; so long as He does not ask your eyes, at least give Him your hair. I mean, take patiently the petty annoyances, the trifling discomforts, the unimportant losses which come upon all of us daily; for by means of these little matters, lovingly and freely accepted, you will give Him your whole heart, and win His. I mean the acts of daily forbearance, the headache, or toothache, or heavy cold; the tiresome peculiarities of husband or wife, the broken glass, the loss of a ring, a handkerchief, a glove; the sneer of a neighbour, the effort of going to bed early in order to rise early for prayer or Communion, the little shyness some people feel in openly performing religious duties; and be sure that all of these sufferings, small as they are, if accepted lovingly, are most pleasing to God's Goodness, Which has promised a whole ocean of happiness to His children in return for one cup of cold water. And, moreover, inasmuch as these occasions are for ever arising, they give us a fertile field for gathering in spiritual riches, if only we will use them rightly.
When I read in the Life of S. Catherine of Sienna of her ecstasies and visions, her wise sayings and teaching, I do not doubt but that she "ravished" her Bridegroom's heart with this eye of contemplation; but I must own that I behold her with no less delight in her father's kitchen, kindling the fire, turning the spit, baking the bread, cooking the dinner, and doing all the most menial offices in a loving spirit which looked through all things straight to God. Nor do I prize the lowly meditations she was wont to make while so humbly employed less than the ecstasies with which she was favoured at other times, probably as a reward for this very humility and lowliness. Her meditations would take the shape of imagining that all she prepared for her father was prepared for Our Lord, as by Martha; her mother was a symbol to her of Our Lady, her brothers of the Apostles, and thus she mentally ministered to all the Heavenly Courts, fulfilling her humble ministrations with an exceeding sweetness, because she saw God's Will in each. Let this example, my daughter, teach you how important it is to dedicate all we do, however trifling, to His service. And to this end I earnestly counsel you to imitate that "virtuous woman" whom King Solomon lauds, 1 who "layeth her hands" to all that is good and noble, and yet at the same time to the spindle and distaff. Do you seek the higher things, such as prayer and meditation, the Sacraments leading souls to God and kindling good thoughts in them, in a word, by all manner of good works according to your vocation; but meanwhile do not neglect your spindle and distaff. I mean, cultivate those lowly virtues which spring like flowers round the foot of the Cross, such as ministering to the poor and sick, family cares, and the duties arising therefrom, and practical diligence and activity; and amid all these things cultivate such spiritual thoughts as S. Catherine intermingled with her work.
Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround us daily; and our Lord Himself has told us that "he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." 2 If you do all in God's Name, all you do will be well done, whether you eat, drink or sleep, whether you amuse yourself or turn the spit, so long as you do all wisely, you will gain greatly as in God's Sight, doing all because He would have you do it.
(From Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, available on-line at CCEL, Christian Classics Ethereal Library).