Vacations Can Be Occasions of Grace

It was my first chance ever to see a Pope…

I was 22, and it was August 1972. Along with 50 other homesick guys, there I was, brand new as a seminarian at the North American College, jammed into the courtyard at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo with thousands of others awaiting the noon appearance of Pope Paul VI for the Sunday Angelus.

And there he was … the Successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth…and he spoke about…vacations!

Yes, vacations! We were there at the height of Italian vacation season, and the courtyard was filled with people on holiday. And the Pope himself was at his summer villa for a bit of relaxation.

So, the Holy Father spoke warmly about vacations, time off from work, school, routine. I can still recall him saying that a vacation was a wonderful gift from God, a time to savor family, friends, nature, beauty, art, song, food, good laughs and company—and, Pope Paul went on—a time to grow closer to Jesus through prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, discovery of God’s presence in nature, friends and quiet.

What an occasion of grace and holiness a vacation can be! concluded the Holy Father. And, almost as an afterthought, he added, "Be careful, because a vacation can be at times an occasion of sin, too."

(I remember the next morning, in our Italian class, studying the headlines in the Roman newspapers. There it was: "Pope Condemns vacations as Occasion of Sin." The media was getting it wrong even back then!)

Anyway, I recall those uplifting words as summer is upon us and we, if lucky, relish some vacation. Our wonderful schools are "letting out" for some welcome weeks of respite, our parish programs wind down a bit, and all of us, please God, can take a little time for vacation.

I’ve already got my stack of books to read as I savor a few weeks away in July and August, and look forward to good company with family and friends. Soon I’ll go on pilgrimage with Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre to Bavaria, where we will attend the renowned Oberammergau Passion Play, and then go to Ireland with my two sisters and nieces.

I can remember how my Dad loved his vacations. He only got two weeks, and we couldn’t afford to go anywhere. So, we all stayed home as a family. We’d have picnics, go to the zoo, a ballgame, swimming. Mom would cook our favorite meals or Dad would barbecue. We’d sit up late to catch a cool breeze. Mom and Dad would stay up later talking and laughing. And we all dreaded to see those simple, happy days end. It added to the sadness of my Dad’s sudden death that he died the day before he was to begin his vacation. I can still remember our pastor consoling us, "But now, we trust, with God’s mercy, he is enjoying his eternal vacation."

Our best friend, of course, is Jesus—who is also our Lord and Savior, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

So, I recommend that He be part of our vacation, too. Thinking of Him, listening to Him, speaking to Him—all in prayer—would be a great vacation resolution.

Usually, I try to get away with a priest-friend from back in St. Louis. We’ll rent a simple place on the lake, sleep in, enjoy some good barbecue, read a lot, catch up on news, and share memories and dreams. But, there’s a third person with us —Jesus—and the heart of each day is our simple Mass on the kitchen table, and our morning and evening prayer together from our Divine Office.

When I was rector of the seminary, before the men would leave for summer break, they knew I was going to give them the same "pep talk": "Fellas, there’s no vacation from our vocation."

I think that’s what Pope Paul meant. Our vocation is to be a child of God, a follower of Jesus, a faithful member of His Church, united to Him by grace, prayer, the sacraments. Our vacation is a time to deepen, enjoy and strengthen that vocation.

When we do that, those "lazy, hazy days of summer" are the best of all.

A blessed vacation!