St. Francis De Sales on Recreation

This is the eighth article in my series based on my reading of the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. Written 400 years ago, it is available in various translations. I am reading the 2015 version published by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) and the Augustine Institute (Greenwood Village, CO) The first article was “What Does It Mean to be Devout?” followed by “Purification in the Devout Life.” The third article was “The Devout Life – Prayer.”. The fourth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Virtues.” The fifth article was “More on the Virtues From St. Francis De Sales.” The sixth article was “St. Francis De Sales on Friendship, Fasting, and Modesty. The seventh article was “St. Francis De Sales on How Words Matter.”

Last October (2022), I wrote a blog article called “Spending Time Away” talking about the purpose of a retreat compared to a vacation. It was on that retreat that I began reading St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life on which this series of articles is based.

We now come to chapter 31 of part III, which is entitled “Amusements and Recreation: What Are Allowable.” We are all called to live a devout life. The exact way we live that out can vary but a devout life is one centered on God. However, we are human. There, St. Francis De Sales writes, “We need to occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation also” (137). This is reality. It is not an excuse to sin at times. It is a call to realize our bodily needs as well as our spiritual needs. St. Francis De Sales continues, “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” (137, my emphasis). Yes, we need recreation but not for the sake of recreation or fun. We need recreation to better live the devout life.

St. Francis De Sales continues, “Walking, harmless games, instrumental or vocal, field sports, etc. are such entirely lawful recreations that they need no rules beyond those of ordinary discretion, which keep everything within due limits of time, place, and degree…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” (137). Before continuing, I offer a caution against interpreting this as a critique of professional sports and the like. I don’t know if there was any such things as professional sports in his day. I believe St. Francis De Sales’ concern centers on how what we begin as recreation takes over our lives. I think the perfect example of this is school and community sports for kids. They have their origins in fun. When I was a kid I didn’t play on any sports teams for the simple reason that I am not good at sports. However, I knew other kids who did. The sports were extracurricular activities. They did not occur on Sunday mornings. They were scheduled to not interfere with the educational activities school is meant for. Sports are important for recreation but also for team building. They can also help build good character if they foster a proper sense of winning and losing. Today it seems sports have become what dictates the entire life schedule of some students. They are the #1 priority for some. They keep students away from church. Sports have become the idol that many people worship. By worship it is not than anyone means to treat sports like a god. It means they have made sports more important than God, breaking the commandment against idolatry.

Ask yourself what are your priorities in life outside your faith. Do they keep you from living your faith? In chapter 32 of part 3, St. Francis De Sales writes on “Forbidden Amusements”, “Dice, cards, and the like games of chance, are not merely dangerous amusements, like dancing, but they are plainly bad and harmful, and therefore they are forbidden by the civil as by 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, of which is contrary to reason…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” (138, my emphasis). Is all gaming bad? I don’t know but I know it is very bad when it becomes an addiction and takes over one’s life. I find it a sad day when one can find a game show on tv where the strategy of many is based on making their opponents “bust” and lose. Does this make all game shows bad? Not necessarily. There is nothing wrong in a fun game of trivia and knowledge done in a spirit of fun and knowledge. It is an entirely other thing when it leads us to think and/or act negatively towards our components.

St. Francis De Sales goes on to discuss how “Dances are balls are things in themselves indifferent” but can lead us to “temptation and danger” (139). Concerning such activities, ask yourself if you are doing it for fun as something enjoyable and it does not take over your life? Or does it lead down a path away from God and into sin? Moderation is always a key. Can you stop yourself when you have reached a reasonable limit?

You should also always be aware of how much time you give to such activities. St. Francis De Sales writes, “Remember how, at the same time, many religious and other devout persons were kneeling before God, praying or praising him. Was not their time better spent than yours?” (140). Do your recreational activities take too much of your time, leaving little or no time for God?

Sometimes the best thing we can do for God is not a huge thing but rather in the little daily activities of life, always putting God first. When we succeed in the little things God ask of us, He will lead us to something more (St. Francis De Sales, 142-143. cf. Luke 16:1-13).

In chapter 37 of part 3, St. Francis De Sales turns to our hopes and dreams. How much time do we think about our hopes and dreams that we have no reason to expect to fulfill in the here and now? This does not mean we should discard our hopes and dreams. God wants to lead us to a better future but we must live in the here and now. We should not spend more time thinking about hopes and dreams than we spend in the present serving God and our neighbor. We are to work for the building up of the kingdom of God but it starts in the here and now.

This is it for today. I hope these articles are helping you discern how God is calling you to live. I am almost done with this series. I encourage you to think about reading St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life if it appeals to you. Will every page be understood by you and have immediate application for you? Probably not (it didn’t for me) but allow the Lord to guide you. If not in reading this particular book, perhaps in reading the Bible or other material on living a good Catholic and devout life. Hopefully you are reading this very article because you want to follow Jesus.


Fr. Jeff

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