Of course, one never stops being a priest. Even death does not stop the priesthood since it is written in the Scriptures: You are a Priest forever! That means the Priesthood of Jesus Christ lasts even after death. In retirement, one has to cease acting as a Pastor, but one is encouraged to continuing to minister as a Priest by hearing Confessions and saying Mass.
So what does it mean when I go on vacation? Time off? Off of what? Even the word “vacation” seems to imply an emptiness, a kind of vacuum. Closer to the reality is the word “Holiday”. Its derivation is from two words: Holy and Day. A holiday is a day that is made holy in some way. Christmas is a holyday (my deliberate spelling). Time away can also be holy. A very wise spiritual writer once wrote that there are two sacred activities: to pray and to play. These were the two divinely appointed activities of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Work came after the fall). So when someone goes on vacation, or better on holiday, they can be entering a sacred space where God can reach them in a delightful way.
Some examples of this could be to visit an historical site that we always dreamed of seeing. It could be actually playing a sport. It could be curling up with a book with no distractions. It could be sitting on a beach and watching the sunrise. All these things are enjoyable and holy. Why do I even have to write this sentence? When did pleasure get exiled from God?
I remember reading of a Jewish sage who said that the first thing God will ask us in our judgement is, “Why did you not enjoy all the legitimate pleasures I provided for you?” So going away on holiday can be a real time of grace.
Unfortunately, we pack it with things that we simply ‘have’ to do. We bring our emails and voicemails to keep working. We often surface family resentments that often go unnoticed and sabotage our time for relaxation. Therefore, it really is an art to enjoying our life.
One thing that we must do is to realize that we are not indispensable and we can leave things undone so we can be present in the moment and not waste our vacations on worry and just bringing our tense world with us.
A thing that I try to avoid is to excessively take pictures of everything so that I can keep what I see as a possession. I have seen people worry about pictures and not experience the place or the moment they are called upon to savor. While keeping photos as a souvenir is a very good thing, I have seen that picture taking can eclipse the experience that one is striving to capture. Take, for example, a Wedding ceremony. Often, the photographer who has been hired to take photos of the great moments of the experience actually tries to manufacture the experience for the couple, pushing them around and making themselves distracting nuisances.
While on vacation, it is essential to savor the moment and not get too possessive over it. It is hard to admit that we don’t realize that a holiday can be as important as work. It is a holy time in which God can reach us in a new and bold way.
As I write these words, I am in Key West. The day was beautiful and warm. I spent time at the gym and then went to Mass together with my priest-friend after I had a relaxing hour with the Blessed Sacrament. A beautiful walk followed and a friendly conversation over a delicious dinner. Tonight I will read a bit before bed. Some people see this as boring. I think it has a little hint of the paradise that awaits us.