A Culture of Exhaustion
I know very few people these days who work from 9.00am to 5.00pm. The eight-hour day seems to be a thing of the past. Where priests regularly encounter these new work patterns is when we see young people who are preparing for marriage in the Church. Sometimes to arrange a meeting we have to resort to a 6.30am or 10.00pm meeting. Some young people are working 60
hours a week; they take work home and work on the weekends. We know from surveys that they eat out most of the time; they party hard when they get the chance, and that Sunday is spent on the home front, going to the gym or sleeping. Then on Monday they start the process again.
Two things drive this obsessive work practice: competition in the job market, and the financial bonuses offered to the employees. The problem is that this practice cannot be a long-term strategy. At the other end of the scale we all know people, only in their 30s and 40s, who are burnt-out and feel used by a ruthless commercial market-place.
This culture of exhaustion is not confined to the young corporate raiders. Most people in our country have never worked as hard, with so many claims on our time and energies.
Excessive demands on one's time, no matter how great the needs and rewards, were issues for Jesus and the Apostles as well. The best translation of the Greek text for today's gospel says that after the apostles returned from their missionary journeys "there were many coming and going and they had no leisure, even to eat."
Jesus' call to "come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while" is not just about good work practices and ethical employment policy. It is about humanising our work, making sense of what we do and seeing our work as means to an end, not an end in itself.
The social teaching of the Church, especially in Pope John Paul's statements about labor and the rights of workers, repeatedly stresses three aspects to work: it gives us dignity - so governments and employers must not allow a work culture to develop where we loose our sense of personal importance, where we are treated like just another cog in the wheel; work enables us to improve the standard of living for us and our families; through working we develop our talents and gifts which builds up society as a whole.
Rest from work is a key factor in the success of all three aspects being achieved in any community. A culture of exhaustion militates against them. The bottom line in all this is appropriate boundaries.
Even Mark tells us today that though Jesus was moved to compassion by the needs of the crowd, he also knew that their needs were not the only ones that had to be met. Jesus teaches his disciples and us, that the balance between work and rest is an obligation of faith. This applies equally to work inside and outside the family home.
So this Sunday's Gospel carries a critical message for the modern world. Rest, recreation and leisure are not indulgences about which we should feel guilty. They are rights defended by Christ which protect our human dignity.
I hope today you have a well-earned break.
Richard Leonard, S.J.