How Did the Saints React to Boredom?

One of the most important conversions in the history of the Church occurred partially as the result of a problem that most of us have faced: boredom. It’s the story of the founder of the Jesuits: St. Ignatius of Loyola.

How Did the Saints React to Boredom?
How Did the Saints React to Boredom?

It is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

Romans 13:11

One of the most important conversions in the history of the Church occurred partially as the result of a problem that most of us have faced: boredom. It’s the story of the founder of the Jesuits: St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The youngest of eleven children, Ignatius was born in 1491 at the castle of Loyola in Spain of an ancient and noble family. As a young man, he dreamed of winning military glory and of making a name for himself. During a war with France, while Ignatius and other Spanish soldiers were defending the city of Pamplona, a can­nonball injured his leg, and Ignatius was sent home to recuperate. Confined to bed, he understandably experienced boredom, and he requested something to read — preferably a book of romantic sto­ries. Nothing was to be found except a book of the lives of the saints — hardly what Ignatius was interested in.

Yet he began read­ing, at first just to pass the time, and as he read, he found himself more and more interested, and then inspired, by the lives of the saints. His dreams of military glory and courtly honors were soon replaced by an ardent desire to become a soldier for Christ — and eventually, after many trials and much spiritual growth, Ignatius of Loyola became one of the Church’s greatest saints and the founder of one of her most important religious orders.

St. Therese & St. John Bosco

A little bit of boredom changed history. This should not sur­prise us, for God is able to use virtually any experience to help us grow in holiness, no matter how simple or mundane. The saint who understood this truth perhaps better than any other was St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known to us as the Little Flower. The nine years she spent in the convent until her death in 1897 at age twenty-four were uneventful and ordinary, yet also heroic — for she did everything, and suffered everything, with as much love as possible. Thérèse called this her “little way.” She recognized that greatness in God’s eyes comes not from performing heroic deeds, but from opening ourselves to love as fully as possible. Everyone, no matter how “boring” his life, has this potential to become a saint.

The best way to avoid boredom is to use our lives well, not only in our work, but also in our entertainment. The wrong forms of entertainment, and the misuse of leisure time, can easily lead us into sin; the widely known saying “Idleness is the Devil’s work­shop” contains much wisdom. This truth was particularly well understood by St. John Bosco, the nineteenth-century Italian priest who spent his life working with delinquent boys. It wasn’t enough, he knew, to provide them with education and work; it was also necessary to make these things — including religious educa­tion — interesting and attractive. He and his companions went to great lengths to provide wholesome, enjoyable activities for the boys in their care.

A similar approach was used by one of St. John Bosco’s con­temporaries, the Spanish priest Bl. Emmanuel Domingo Y Sol. As part of his work with youths, he built a theater and sports arena for recreation — for he knew that interesting, wholesome activities allow sin and temptation much less influence in our lives.

This insight remains true today; whether we are in charge of others or only of our own souls, we should seek to do only those things which will help — or at least not hinder — our spiritual growth. Our lives in Heaven will certainly not be boring, and — as long as we place the Lord’s will first — God is pleased when we also find life on His earth interesting and enjoyable.

For Further Reflection

“Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.” — St. Ignatius of Loyola

“Those who love God will find pleasure in everything; those who do not love God will never find true pleasure in anything.” — St. Alphonsus Liguori

“Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.” — C. S. Lewis (Thus, the “forbidden fruits” that tempt us and that appear so ap­pealing are not only spiritually dangerous; in the long run, they’re actually less interesting and compelling than the glories and myster­ies of God’s kingdom.)

Something You Might Try

According to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “If you will what­ever God wills, you will always have exactly what you want. When you want anything else, you are not happy before you get it, and when you do get it, you do not want it. That is why you are ‘up’ to­day and ‘down’ tomorrow. You will never be happy if your happi­ness depends on getting solely what you want. Change the focus. Get a new center. Will what God wills, and your joy no man shall take from you.” Thus, you can find fulfillment (and, in fact, healthy excitement) only by shifting the focus from yourself and your de­sires to God.

When you live within yourself, cut off from other people, it’s no surprise that you become bored. Oftentimes a remedy for bore­dom is to think of others instead of yourself — to do a favor, to lend a hand, or to surprise someone in a caring way.

Prayer

Lord, when I’m bored,
help me to think of You
with gratitude and joy,
and to think of others
with appreciation and concern.
Let me not be self-centered,
but open to the beauty of Your creation.
May all my experiences,
no matter how routine,
bring me to a deeper awareness
of Your presence
and to a greater sense of
thankfulness for Your gifts. Amen.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Fr. Esper’s Saintly Solution to Life’s Common ProblemsIt is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.

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