When I speak to young people about my life as a priest, inevitably the question is posed: What do you do for fun? In other words, they want to know if I’m “normal.” So, my friends, if you are interested, here are some “normal” things that I enjoy:
• I’m a diehard New England Patriots fan (still not over that February 2008 game). I literally try to plan my schedule around their games.
• If I’m driving on the highway on a warm day, I love to roll my windows down, blast James Taylor or John Mayer, and sing at the top of my lungs.
• I look forward to watching 24 on Mondays with my friend Fr. Dave while we snack on pretzels and sip Dewar’s on the rocks.
• I think 18-holes of golf with friends on a sunny summer day, followed by dinner, is as close to a perfect day as it gets.
• I cherish Sunday afternoon dinners with my family, sitting around the kitchen table for hours, and laughing a lot.
• Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve had over the last several years have been on cruise vacations with my family.
• An unrushed dinner with friends, with lots of laughter, is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.
• I love to travel.
Are these holy moments? Are they compatible with living a holy life? I believe they are. Now, I’m not claiming to be holy; but I’m striving for holiness, and I just don’t see how the above-mentioned list is incompatible with a holy life.
For some, the image that comes to mind when they hear the word “holy” is a monk or a nun in deep contemplation, cut off from the world. And it’s true that many monks and nuns are living very holy lives; but most of us are not in convents or monasteries. We are in the world. So is it possible to live a holy life but to really enjoy our lives? To have fun?
The Lord created the world. Creation is good. So we ought to enjoy the goodness of creation: relationships, food, drink, leisure, travel, music, theater, etc. True, all of these things can be abused. People can drink too much. Music can be bad—even sacrilegious. Leisure can be abused to the point of avoiding work or life commitments—at which point it becomes laziness. However, taken in moderation, everything that I mentioned above is compatible with a holy life and is even the expression of a holy life. Holiness is more than just being in the chapel. (Although if we’re striving for holiness then it goes without saying that we need to spend time in daily prayer).
God wants us to enjoy our lives. Holiness doesn’t mean walking around with a sourpuss. In fact, the holiest people I know possess the most joyful and warm personalities. They are fun to be around. Being holy means being authentically human, being fully alive. The closer a person is to the Lord, the more fully alive will they be. Being holy means embracing what is authentically human. That is precisely what God did: He became man in the Person of Jesus Christ. If anything validates the goodness of creation it is the fact that God took on our human nature and lived among us!
Jesus cherished family and friendship. He dined in peoples’ homes. He went to weddings and drank wine. The Incarnate Word of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—loved life! And His saints did too:
• St. Philip Neri had a tremendous sense of humor.
• St. Josemaria Escriva enjoyed love songs
• Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved to hike with friends and enjoyed smoking a pipe.
• Pope John Paul II loved to ski
In our daily lives, while we are engaged in non-religious activities, it is still possible to live in God’s presence and to feel His presence. In fact, that’s a good way to gauge whether or not what we are doing is holy: With a clear conscience, can I thank the Lord for this moment (this music, this place, this sporting event)? Is this moment leading me closer to Him or farther away?
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if we’re living an authentic Christian life then we ought to be joyful. So don’t be a depressed Christian! Enjoy your life, and let other people see that you enjoy it! Everything that is good comes from the Lord. People will be drawn to Christ through you if you embrace what’s good in the world and the culture.