St. Francis de Sales devoted four chapters of his Introduction to the Devout Life to the topic of amusements and recreations. The saint wrote, “We must needs occasionally relax the mind, and the body requires some recreation also.
“Cassian relates that St. John the Evangelist was found by a certain hunter amusing himself by caressing a partridge, which sat upon his wrist. The hunter asked how a man of his mental powers could find time for so trifling an occupation.
“In reply, St. John asked why he did not always carry his bow strung. The man answered, ‘for fear lest if it were always bent, the bow would lose its power when really wanted.’ ‘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.’
“It is a great mistake to be so strict as to grudge any recreation either to others or oneself.”
“Walking, harmless games, instrumental or vocal music, 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.
“So again games of skill, which exercise and strengthen body or mind, such as tennis, rackets, running at the ring, chess, and the like, are in themselves both lawful and good.
“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.”
Games of chance
St. Francis de Sales discouraged games of chance such as dice and cards. He wrote, “The winner in such games does not win on his deserts but according to chance, and the luck which often falls to those who have exercised neither skill nor industry.”
“Gain, which should be the reward of industry, becomes the reward of luck, which can deserve no reward since it is no way dependent upon us.”
“Although these games are called recreations, they are in truth most absorbing occupations…. Furthermore, the only gratification in play is to win, and is not that unrighteous gratification, which can only be obtained by the losses and harm of another? Surely such pleasure is an unrighteous one.”
Balls and dances
St. Francis de Sales pointed out that balls and dances are in themselves matters of indifference. However, he cautioned that “those who go to a ball carry vanity with them; and vanity has a great tendency to excite bad passions and blamable affections.”
The saint wrote, “I am inclined to say about balls what doctors say of certain articles of food, such as mushrooms and the like: the best are not good for much; but if eat them you must, at least mind that they are properly cooked.
“So if circumstances over which you have no control take you into such places, be watchful how you prepare to enter them. Let the dish be seasoned with moderation, dignity, and good intentions.
“The doctors say (still referring to the mushrooms), eat sparingly of them, and that but seldom, for, however well dressed, an excess is harmful. So dance but little, and that rarely, my child, lest you run the risk of growing over-fond of the amusement.”
“It is said that after eating mushrooms you should drink some good wine. So after frequenting balls you should frame pious thoughts which may counteract the dangerous impressions made by such empty pleasures on your heart.”