Michael Naughton, the author of Labor and Leisure: The Integration of Faith and Work in a Divided World, explains the Judeo-Christian view of rest, most especially the need to rest on the Lord’s Day.
Cy Kellett: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett your host. And there is lots of talk everywhere these days about finding balance, which suggests a lot of people are having trouble finding balance. Very few people seem to be able to do it. It may be that the problem is much deeper than simply a matter of scheduling, however. And here to help us examine the problem of working appropriately and finding appropriate leisure is the author of an upcoming book Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World, Dr. Michael Naughton. Doctor Naughton directs the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. It is the oldest and largest Catholic studies program in the world. He’s also a professor of Catholic studies there and holds … you’re gonna have to help me. Is it “coke” or “cotch”? I’ve seen it-
Dr. Naughton: “Coach”.
Cy Kellett: “Coach”. Oh, I didn’t … I gave you two options and they were both bad. Koch Chair in Catholic Studies there at the university. He’s the author and editor of 9, maybe now 10 books and 40 articles or more. He helped coordinate and write the Vocation of the Business Leader issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2012. Dr. Michael Naughton, thank you for being with us.
Dr. Naughton: It’s a real pleasure. Thanks.
Cy Kellett: So are we overworked?
Dr. Naughton: Yeah, I think there is a sense that for a lot of folks we are overworked, but I think we have multiple problems with it. In one hand, in one sense we undervalue work. We sometimes look at work, it lacks any intrinsic value, and all we can get out of it is kind of an extrinsic value. We simply look at it as money. I grew up in the south side of Chicago and this guy in Chicago, a columnist, his name is Mike Royko.
Cy Kellett: I remember Mike.
Dr. Naughton: Remember Mike Royko? [crosstalk 00:01:52] Yes, exactly. And he had always a great line. He says, “Listen, if work is so great, how come they have to pay us to do it?” And so there’s this idea that work is simply extrinsic. That’s one problem. And yet that’s kind of maybe one ditch. On the other ditch, you know, two ditches on the road. The other ditch is that we overvalue work. We try to get more out of it than what it is, and we try to get our identity out of it. And so the idea, particularly a Catholic idea of work is that we have to be careful of undervaluing it because we’re called to work. And yet we also have to be mindful of the fact that we overvalue it. We make it, it’s almost idolatrous. This is always the problem of idolatry. You make second things primary. And so I think there’s multiple problems with work, but that would be two ways to describe it.
Cy Kellett: Do you think that there was a time maybe in the period of Christendom where … and the guilds and all of that, which we’re taught now to be very dismissive of, do you think there was a better balance in those days or-
Dr. Naughton: Yeah, I think it was certainly more organic. You know, it’s interesting, the word “economics” comes from a Greek word, it is defined as management of the household. And prior to the industrial revolution, right, work was placed where? It was placed in the home. That’s why it’s management of the households.
Cy Kellett: Oh yes, right.
Dr. Naughton: So our economic production occurred within the household. And it’s precisely in that environment, that more organic, more integral kind of way of looking at things. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have problems. They had lots of dysfunctions. There’s no kind of golden age here [crosstalk 00:03:29].
Dr. Naughton: But what happens at after the industrial revolution, we took work out of the household and we placed it in corporations. And thus we looked at work purely on these kind of often extrinsic dimensions, only in terms of efficiency, productivity, profitability. And thus we say that’s what works about, right. But that is a kind of distortion of work. Now this doesn’t mean we have to go back to the pre-industrial ages. But it’s an idea that we have come into an era that has caused some problems. And the more we can think about it, the more we can kind of recognize some of the trappings that we find ourselves in.
Cy Kellett: Would you say that part of the difficulty is maybe of this misunderstanding or this kind of misvaluing of work is … I want to say that on one side, we have a general misvaluing of the human person in the modern period, but also there’s just the very practical idea that work has become highly specialized in the modern era in a way that it never was before. I mean very highly specialized. So you work on one part of one part of a computer program if you’re a programmer, that kind of thing.
Dr. Naughton: Exactly. And I do think that’s been part of the problem of industrialization, kind of the cog in the wheel. Even someone like a Karl Marx kind of recognized that we become alienated from our labor from those things. Now Marx had a highly materialistic view of the world, and he kind of distorted that aspect. That’s why John Paul actually in Centesimus Annus, when he wrote that encyclical in 1991, talked about alienation. But he talked about it in terms of a reversal of means and ends, right? And so what happens as you mentioned in this highly specialized world that we find ourselves, we’re focused on means and we’ve lost sight of the end. And that causes a kind of a reversal of things that causes a disorder of things.
Dr. Naughton: And thus, for example, in corporate America, if you look at publicly traded companies, you still find in the financial ways of looking at things that the purpose of this company is to maximize shareholder wealth, right? It’s to maximize profit. But as Benedict says, profit is a means, not an end. It’s a great servant, but it’s a lousy master. And thus we run into these challenges that we disordered it, we’ve disordered the means and ends relationship. We make things that are secondary primary, and we turn them into slogans. And we don’t even know that that’s becoming a kind of, it’s becomes a trapping. And then we wonder how did we get here, right? How did we find ourselves in this predicament? Why is work sucking the life out of me? Why is work, you know, and yet I feel somewhat connected to it, but not connected to it.
Cy Kellett: So this specialization then is not the root problem. You could have a highly specialized economy if you had a proper understanding of ends and means.
Dr. Naughton: Exactly. I think that’s right. And this is where … so the book, we’ve been running around. The book is coming out next month, and we’ve been running around in terms of the title, and one of the people in the marketing department from [Mayes Rhode 00:00:06:50], which is coming out of that publication, said she liked that phrase I use in the book called getting work right.
Dr. Naughton: So here’s the thesis of the book. And it’s a thesis … I think it actually comes not … all the things that I write is coming out of the Catholic tradition. This comes from a man named Josef Pieper who wrote a book called Leisure, the Basis of Culture. And the thesis of the book is that we will never get work right unless we get leisure right. Or rest right. And this is where the fundamental sense of the ends come about. Not from work, but from leisure.
Cy Kellett: So you’re saying that there’s supposed to be rest in this life? We’re supposed to actually get rest while we’re here. We’re not just supposed to work ourselves to death and then rest.
Dr. Naughton: Right. Exactly. Right. The book of John-
Cy Kellett: That’s un-American.
Dr. Naughton: There you go.
Cy Kellett: That’s what I’m saying.
Dr. Naughton: If you look at the book of Genesis, right, we’re not only made to work, we’re made to rest. And here, you started off this interview with the idea of balance. And the problem with balance, we think balance is going to solve our problems. And there’s a role for balance. There’s no doubt about it, but it’s an overused word, particularly in this country. What balance will do in this realm, you know, I got work over here, I got leisure over here, I just got to balance it and I’ll be okay. No, that creates what we call a divided life. It actually … it doesn’t confront it, it avoids it.
Dr. Naughton: And so the balanced life often leads to a division. It doesn’t lead to a kind of proper relationship about ends and means because we divided them, we balance them, but we don’t connect them. And the whole idea of the rest dimension … And here’s the … in the Catholic tradition, we talk about the active life and the contemplative life. And leisure is about the contemplative life. It’s about the ability to receive things. Pope Benedict has this great line. He says, “The most profound moment of our lives is often not what we’ve achieved, but it’s what we’ve accepted.”
Cy Kellett: Wonderful. Yeah.
Dr. Naughton: And so it’s the idea of accepting, accepting God’s gift, accepting one’s criticism, accepting the sickness that might come, accepting that I can’t do it all. And then there you start to see who you are in this order of creation. I often don’t see that through my work. I can, but it’s only through the leisure dimension that that makes possible.
Cy Kellett: I imagine someone might say, well this is going to lead to a much less productive society in home, if I follow what Michael Naughton has to say about this.
Dr. Naughton: Right. So one of the things, when I talk to my students at St. Thomas and when I talk about leisure and the importance of leisure, there is this idea that, yeah, you know, that means we get to take time and smell the roses and take it easy and things of that sort. And that’s not the point, right. That’s not the point. It does mean that sometimes … actually one of the … what it does actually confront with my students, particularly it confronts them with how they spend their leisure.
Cy Kellett: Oh yes. Okay. Right.
Dr. Naughton: Listen, we are a leisure culture. I mean, we love to be entertained. We spend a lot of time playing video games. We spend a lot of time watching screens. We spent a lot of times, you know, college sports, pro Sports, whatever it might be. And the question is that that form of leisure, when it becomes overly done, right, it doesn’t mean that in and of itself it’s a problem, but it does mean that it doesn’t provide life. And so yes, it may mean that we may be working too much, but I actually think what it really means is how we look at our leisure. Because here’s the challenge, right. Ask people when you have free time, what do you default to? And most of the times they default to a screen. And they spend way too much time on it. So I think the leisure question is actually the question that will need kind of re-vision.
Cy Kellett: So in a weird way, you could be enslaved to your work, but you can also be enslaved to your leisure.
Dr. Naughton: Absolutely.
Cy Kellett: Okay. So what frees us from those things then? Is it prayer, is that what you’re-
Dr. Naughton: Right.
Cy Kellett: … leading us towards?
Dr. Naughton: So if you look at the question of leisure, we have a couple of different things that go along with it. One is we tend to see it as an amusement, right? There’s a great song by Billy Joel, The Piano Man. So “they know it’s been me they’ve been coming to see to forget about life for a while.” And so leisure is a form of escape. And so we escaped to Las Vegas, and we think that whatever happens in Vegas, will stay in Vegas. But we know whoever said that should be sued because it’s libel. The only thing that stays in Vegas is your money. Everything else comes right back with you, right? And that’s often … but that form of leisure, particularly how we often will look of living for the weekend also distorts our celebrations, right? So the commercialization of Christmas, the trivialization of Easter, the gluttony of St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras. All those things start to distort leisure. And here’s the thing, people don’t get satisfied by it.
Cy Kellett: No. Right. It’s a kind of treadmill or something where you got to get more and more for less and less return.
Dr. Naughton: I’ll often ask my students, I say, “How do you feel when you watch those? How do you feel when you play the video games? And how do you feel when you watch the Netflix movie [inaudible 00:12:16] did you have there? And you know what they often say, they’ll say guilt. There’s a sense that did not provide the rest. And I actually probably know that that’s probably what I shouldn’t have been doing. So people are actually dissatisfied with the leisure. And one of the things you have to do is … but they just kind of keep going with it because it’s a default system. They just default into it. Their friends are doing it, they start to do it. It’s just the way you’re doing it. And if you can just get them to kind of raise up a little bit and say, well wait, maybe I ought not to do that. And then the question is, it does become more … instead of the amusement question, it’s about the contemplative dimension. That there’s a question of contemplation that’s occurring. That there’s an ability to receive.
Dr. Naughton: And then the question is, well, what does contemplation look like? And I would say there is a couple of habits. One is the habit of silence, right? That they can have … by the way, on our campus, and I think this is true everywhere you go on all these campuses, and I often jokingly, although maybe not jokingly, I say, “Listen, I’ll bring back smoking on campus if I can get rid of earbuds on campus.”
Cy Kellett: More poisonous.
Dr. Naughton: Exactly.
Cy Kellett: Because the social life certainly.
Dr. Naughton: Exactly. First of all, they’re all isolated. They all got this music going into their heads, right? And it’s all this noise, and they know that it’s not satisfactory. So the question is how do they get the silence, the ability to stop all the tapes that they have going on in their heads to hear the things that they’re supposed to hear.
Dr. Naughton: And this is why Lectio Divina is so important. And it’s an attempt to stop what one’s doing, create that form of silence, and then to receive God’s word and to see that’s what I need to hear now. Because I don’t know about you, but I got all these tapes going on in my head, right. I’m the unappreciated genius at Saint Thomas. You know, if they would just listen to me, I would get it, right. I have debates-
Cy Kellett: I’m sure that that’s true.
Dr. Naughton: I’m sure it’s true, right? I often think that, too. I have all these debates with my colleagues. I win every debate by the way, right? But all of those things, as good as they may sound, create a false image of who I actually am.
Cy Kellett: Okay. Yes. Right. Right. And if I just stay in there, in that world, I’m not going to get the … whatever, the feedback or whatever the word is, that I need to know my true self.
Dr. Naughton: Right. And you know what Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest.” Because I can’t give myself rest. I just exhaust myself through all the tapes. And that’s why the reality of prayer becomes that particular form of leisure that is kind of a bedrock. And now that’s on a personal level. On a collective level, I would say the second form of habit of leisure is the habit of celebration or the habit of Sabbath or the habit of the Lord’s Day. That we have a one full day, right? It’s one of the big 10 Commandments. We’re called to this. And when we violate that commandment, serious problems begin to occur.
Dr. Naughton: And all you have to do is look at the other commandments. What if I said, “You know, honey, I tried adultery this week and it didn’t quite work, you know, and I kind of fell into it. I’m sorry about that, but I’ll try next week.” I mean, what would happen to one’s marriage? But we tend to do that with the Sabbath.
Cy Kellett: And that is destructive of which relationship then? With ourselves, with God, with each other?
Dr. Naughton: I think everything. I think it has created a … you know, Bishop Barron has this great line. He says, “When we create false worship, we create false social relationships.” And what the Sabbath and what the Lord’s Day was always attempting to do is try to get at this idea of right worship, right relationships on a weekly basis. And I think what we need to do is retrieve, reclaim the Lord’s Day and reconceive it in terms of the habits that we have on that day.
Dr. Naughton: I don’t know about you, but for years, my wife and I … I was a young professor. We had no money. I had a lot of debt. We had an old dilapidated house, and Sunday was the mop-up day. We had five young kids who are trying to deal with things and Sunday was a different kind of day, but it wasn’t a special kind of day. And it was actually in 1999, we said, we’ve got to think of this in a different way because things are not going well. Things weren’t going well in our relationship. Things weren’t going well with the kids. Things were just kind of over … just too frenetic and too chaotic. And we decided to take the day more seriously.
Dr. Naughton: And every year we’ve had to renew it, but we’ve developed a way of saying when I wake up, I don’t do work. It’s a day of receptivity. And we have a whole series of practices that we try to implement in that day to make it a special kind of day.
Cy Kellett: When you talk about prayer and contemplation as leisure, many people I think will hear that and think, “Is he doing the same thing I’m doing because it’s work,” and I wonder if that’s because any kind of interiority is a bit painful for us when we have not done it or when we have not been … It’s almost like becoming acclimatized to it. If it’s not part of anything you’ve done, and I think there’s lots of young people who have had … they can get to their adulthood with virtually no interior experience because it was never necessary. There was always something outside of them that they could treat as an input and they didn’t ever have to meet themselves.
Cy Kellett: So it strikes me that a lot of people will say that is not leisure, Dr. Naughton, that’s work.
Dr. Naughton: Right. It’s kind of like, if you think about it, the piano play. If I’m going to learn how to play the piano, it is kind of awkward. It is a lot of work at the beginning. And it is uncomfortable. And so, you’re right, there’s particularly … you mentioned, and I think you’re absolutely right about this, that in this country we are heavily focused on the idea of achieving things. And probably one of the most difficult habits we have to kind of realize is that I have to learn how to not just simply achieve, but to receive. And so that habit of receptivity is a habit that for some of us is going to be harder than others. But we have to realize that we’d just gotten into a very bad habit.
Cy Kellett: But we’ve kind of been moralled into it, like that you’re morally better. The more achieving you’re doing, the more moral life you’re living.
Dr. Naughton: Exactly. You know, Josef Pieper in this book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, chapter three, he talks about the sin of leisure and it’s called acedia. And this is … you were talking about the Middle Ages. Aquinas calls acedia the sin against the Sabbath. And what’s interesting is the sin is not … acedia, by the way, is translated from the Latin into the English sloth, laziness. But what Aquinas recognized is that the laziness is not a physical laziness, it’s a spiritual laziness. And the symptom of acedia is workaholism. Because the workaholism gets … it distracts you and it enables you not to confront the spiritual reality that you have … the interiority that you mentioned.
Dr. Naughton: And so you’re exactly right. These are the kind of distractions. Again, but we now see acedia as physical laziness. You know, what do they say? The idle hands are the workshop of the devil. Get busy, right? Because if you have idleness, you’re going to fall into sin. And this is what Pieper says, this is the modern kind of corruption that’s occurred. We’ve actually reversed the sin. Because it’s not physical laziness, it’s spiritual laziness.
Cy Kellett: I wonder what the relationship in your mind then is to leisure properly spent and maturity. Because the other consequence, it seems to me, of this lack of interiority, this constant input, is an immaturity. We don’t seem to be growing up as … like adulthood is delayed later and later. Marriage and family delayed, if embraced at all. Is there something stunting about this inability to be at ease and receive and be receptive?
Dr. Naughton: No, I think you’re right. Again, it’s kind of an amusement culture that we’re dealing with. There is a sense that people, like any have … I mean, I smoked for 20 years and, and I knew that smoking was not a good thing. I didn’t want to give it up, right? Like all our fixations, and there is, within the culture, these types of habits of amusements that people think that they just can’t quite give up. And thus they’re not ready to take full responsibilities of particular things. And thus the guys still want to hang out with the guys, you know, and they may live with the girl, but they don’t want to get married because they don’t want children, they don’t want to … because somehow, you know, but what happens is they’re living in a culture that’s fostering it.
Dr. Naughton: We lived in a culture that was actually encouraging us to be men, to get married, to take responsibilities. But I think we’re now increasingly living in a culture that’s just the opposite. And thus we increasingly find people disconnected from institution, disconnected from the church, disconnected from the family, and even disconnected to work institutions. They disconnect-
Cy Kellett: [crosstalk 00:22:41] economy kind of thing?
Dr. Naughton: Well, some of that, but it’s also, it’s a thin relationship they have. They’re not committed to those organizations. And they’re always looking for something else to go to if something’s better and they’re ready to opt out and ready to go to that area. So I do think you’re right. There’s a sense that leisure is to foster a greater interiority, a greater sense of who I am. And what I am is, of course, that first of all, I’m a first of all, a child of God. I’ve been created for something. I’ve been created for a work. I’ve been created for a purpose. And part of that is found within the purpose of the family, if that’s where I’m called in terms of the lay life. It could be in a religious life or priestly life. And then, but I’m also called to a work, And that is also something that needs to be done as well. But leisure is that which fosters those things and that deep sense of one’s vocation.
Cy Kellett: The book, you said about a month it would be out?
Dr. Naughton: About that, yeah.
Cy Kellett: Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World from Dr. Michael Naughton. That would be the first thing to do to start getting work right. So someone says to you, look, you’re describing me, this is my life. I am addicted to the screens and the ear buds, and I have tons of leisure, but I feel I’m guilty cause I’m wasting my time. What are the first steps you suggest to people in a practical sense?
Dr. Naughton: Right. You know, everyone obviously is a little different in these types of things. It will depend, but I would say I have found the reclaiming of the Lord’s Day very powerful in my life. I think sometimes you have to start with the commandments, and if you want to say-
Cy Kellett: Sometimes?
Dr. Naughton: Yeah, right. You know, if I am cheating on my wife and I want to have a better relationship with my life and my wife, I’ve got to stop the cheating. And I would say reclaim that Lord’s Day. And I think in part that’s where you can find the silence. I mean that’s when, by the way, I love this phrase, right? Become a techno Sabbatarian.
Cy Kellett: Oh, take a break from all that.
Dr. Naughton: Take a break from the technology. And I think for a lot of folks … and here’s the thing, try it for an hour. And if you can’t do it for an hour, it owns you and you don’t own it. And you got a problem. But if you recognize the problem, you’re just one step closer to where you need to go. And that day is a day that I think has a way of having an impact on the rest of the week. So my one thesis in the book is if we don’t get leisure right, we won’t get work, right? If we don’t get Sunday right, we’re not going to get Monday right.
Cy Kellett: All right.
Dr. Naughton: And Sunday is the first … we can think about it in one sense as the first day of the week, but it’s also the eighth day. It’s the kind of internal day, but it’s a way of … instead of seeing Sunday as the last day of the week, the mop-up day, see it as the day that actually helps us to move into the rest of the week. And I think the idea of disconnecting … because the Jews … you know there’s a wonderful conservative Jewish rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote a book called The Sabbath. It’s a beautiful book. And he says the Jews would be detached from consumption and production not because they were bad, but they did not define the core of who I was.
Dr. Naughton: And so you need to disconnect from some of these things. Disconnect from that amusement culture, disconnect from the screen, disconnect from these things, and then allow that kind of internal silence where you start to understand the core of who you are. And then when you go back to those amusements, go back to the production and consumption, you can come to them in a much better way. Because there’s … in one sense, amusement is not a bad thing. Video games, I don’t like them, but some people do. Are they intrinsically bad? No. The problem is for most particularly young men, they spend way too much time on them. And so maybe there’s a moderate waste way of having to deal with it. It’s nice to have your own show. People like to watch a particular show, but you don’t need five of them. No, you don’t need them. You know, it’s filling in your time. And I think the Lord’s Day is a way that can start to orient you in a way of saying, let’s see if I can get that day right.
Cy Kellett: Well, Dr. Michael Naughton, thank you very much.
Dr. Naughton: My pleasure, Cy.
Cy Kellett: Our guest, you can find him at Saint Thomas University in Minnesota. It’s a big university. It’s the biggest private university in Minnesota. I just found that out today. So I’m showing off, by the way. I have to say I’m particularly delighted from everything that happened in this conversation to find a Catholic theologian and professor who says start with the commandments. I think that’s pretty good.
Dr. Naughton: Thanks.
Cy Kellett: We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus. Thank you so much for joining us. If you want to share Catholic Answers Focus with your friends, neighbors, relatives, just go to catholicanswerslive.com and sign up for Radio Club and encourage them to sign up for Radio Club where they will get messages when a new focus is out. See you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.