I am writing this reflection while on vacation on Long Island. I can see the bay from my window and all is beautiful and calm. During this time, I am doing one of the things I love to do but don’t have time to do when I am working in the parish: spend some long quality time reading. When I am not reading or praying or speaking to friends, I am remembering as I look upon the water my early experience of vacations when I was little and growing up with my parents.
My Dad made shoes for a living and only had two weeks’ vacation (even after more than 40 years working). We lived a rather modest life on his limited salary. We did not own a car and we rented our small three-room apartment. We did not go away on vacation, but there were day trips we took every year. One was to the shrine of Mother Cabrini, one was to a Yankee game, one was to Coney Island (beach and amusement park), and one to the Canarsie Pier to take a boat trip on the water. The other days we did work on the apartment, often painting a room or repairing what was broken. It was a simple life.
The simplicity of it as well as the similarity with what my friends were doing made it a time of peace and contentment. When I went to college, it was a different thing. I met guys at school that had summer houses (besides their own in which the family lived). They had a couple of cars at least. Some even had sail boats! Their vacations were in exotic places like Maine and Atlantic City. It was the first time I got the impression that my family was comparatively poor. But it not feel that way when I lived it because it was home and my parents provided a secure environment for me; I really didn’t need anything more. The food was great and the family was close. Later on, I realized how lucky I was since some of the better-endowed families did not have it that easy as they were plagued by addictions and break-ups.
Looking back on my vacation times, I am thankful for their simplicity and security. Even though we used the subway to get around, it got us there quickly and cheaply.
Everything is relative, though. I learned that lesson rather quickly as I got older.
Another thing that I discovered as I took my yearly summer vacations is that the spiritual part of me must be part of my time off. So many of the places I would visit with my priest friends were places of spiritual importance: Avila, monasteries of all orders, Lisieux, Mont St. Michel, the various Cathedrals in the great cities. And very often I tend to search out places of prayer especially where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.
Even when we rented a house for a period of rest somewhere, chief among my daily activities was prayer: the Divine Office, Mass, etc. I cannot rest completely without the peace that comes from prayer.
This is why I prefer the English use of the word ‘Holidays’ rather than a vacation. Vacation gives the impression of vacating myself from the usual things that I do, whereas the word holiday comes from the English words ‘holy day’ because they were originally times of religious festival when people got away from the usual grind of daily duties. Think of the Christmas Break.
Much of what I do on holiday is what I always do, prayer-wise. I see getting away from things as an opportunity for more time for prayer. And that includes prayer for the people of the parish, particularly those who have asked for prayers for their families or for themselves. In this sense, there is no break from the ordinary things that I do spiritually. I am still praying and united with everyone at Immac. But the difference is that I have more time for prayer and reflection. I am not so distracted and rushed. And because I am usually in a place of great beauty (as I write these words, I am looking at the beauty of the bay) my heart lifts effortlessly in prayer. Where there is the beauty of nature, it is easy to lift my heart for prayer. In fact, I could not fully enjoy myself without prayer!
So, I thank God deeply for these times of rest and renewal so I can continue to show my love for the people of our wonderful parish in an unhurried and deeply satisfying way!
“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” – Isaiah 32:16-18