Meditations on Vacation

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A couple of summers ago we presented a series of reflections on summer vacations and leisure by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, Today we reprise one of those reflections for the benefit of new parishioners who didn’t have a chance to read it, and also for the rest of us to be reminded of some deeper sides to vacation.

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Meditations on Vacation – Pope Benedict XVI

[A passage from the Gospel of Mark (6:30-34)] shows us how even the disciples of Jesus had to face the problem of stress and recuperation. The apostles return from their first mission, full of what they have experienced and achieved. They are totally preoccupied with recounting their successes; in fact, it has become a whole business operation, and things have gone so far that, with all the coming and going, they no longer have time to eat. Perhaps they are expecting to be congratulated on their zeal; but instead, Jesus summons them to go with him to a solitary place where they can be alone and rest

It is good to discern the humanity of Jesus in this; he is not always uttering sublime words, nor wearing himself out in order to deal with everything that forces itself upon him. I can imagine his face as he says these words; whereas the apostles are beside themselves, full of zeal and self-importance, neglecting their meals, Jesus brings them down from the clouds: Have a rest for a while! One can sense his quiet humor, his friendly irony as he brings them down to earth. It is precisely in this humanity of Jesus that his divinity becomes visible; here we see visibly what God is like. Any kind of hectic activity, even in religious affairs is alien to a New Testament picture of man.

We…overestimate ourselves when we imagine we are…indispensable and that the world or the Church depends on our frantic activity. [It] will be an act of humility and creaturely honesty to stop what we are doing, to acknowledge our limits, to take time to draw breath and rest–as the creature, man, is designed to do. I am not suggesting that sloth is a good thing, but I do want to suggest that we revise our catalogue of virtues in the Western world, where activity alone is regarded as valid and where the attitudes of beholding, wonder, recollection and quiet are of no account….This causes the atrophying of certain essential human faculties.

All this is illustrated by our use of leisure time….That is why it is necessary for us, who live constantly in an artificial world of man-made things, to leave it behind and seek to encounter creation in its natural state. I would like to mention a small but significant thing of which [St. John Paul II, then Karol Wojtyla] spoke in his retreat Paul VI. There he tells of his conversations with a scientist, “a first-class research scientist and a fine man”, who told him: “Scientifically, I am an atheist…” yet…”Whenever I am confronted with the majesty of nature…, I feel that he exists.”

God does not come to light in the artificial world of man-made things. So it is all the more necessary for us to leave our workaday world behind and go in search of the breath of creation, in order that we may meet him and thus find ourselves.

(Excerpted from Meditations on Vacation Time, in “Seek That Which Above”, Ignatius Press, 2007, pp. 148-152).

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Pope Benedict vacation

To enhance our vacations, here are a few more ideas for summer reading and viewing. I recommend two excellent novels by Michael D. O’Brien, Father Elijah and A Father’s Tale (they’re very long, but well worth the effort); If you’re interested in history, a recent book using new scholarship on the Crusades, God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark is a fine read. For those who like a mix of faith and fantasy, two novels by Charles Williams (a close friend of C.S. Lewis), Descent into Hell and All Hallows’ Eve, fit the bill nicely. Some essential spiritual classics: Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales is a profitable read, while autobiographical works such as Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day’s, The Long Loneliness have inspired generations of Catholics. A fine film, Of Gods and Men, loosely based on the martyred monks of Atlas, Algeria in 1996, can easily be found on video. It was one of the nominees for best foreign language film in 2010.


Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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