Spirituality for Today – August 2008 – Volume 13, Issue 1

A Vacation Suggestion

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

With the high price of travel and almost everything else these days, it's likely that many will curtail their vacation activities this summer. Whatever situation you find yourself in – whether your plans take you to some far-flung place or keep you close to home – I'd like to offer a suggestion, and probably just the sort of suggestion you'd expect a member of the clergy to make!

A photo of a weathered wooden fence in the sand on the beachIt's this: reserve at least one day of your vacation for prayer.

That might seem like a strange idea to some. After all, isn't vacation meant to be a time of rest and relaxation? Isn't vacation meant to be a time for extended recreation?

And the answer to all those questions is "yes." Vacation is all about the 3 R's: rest, relaxation, and recreation.

But how does prayer fit in with these 3 R's? Doesn't prayer take a lot of effort and concentration – more like the three original R's – "reading, writing, and 'rithmatic"? And is it any more fun than learning necessary lessons in a classroom? Clearly this question calls for a few thoughts on what prayer really is.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer as " ...the elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of His glory; a petition made to God for some desired good; or in thanksgiving for a good received; or in intercession for others before God. Through prayer a person experiences communion with Christ in the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, page 894). Let's deal with the first and last part of this description first and then with what's in between. After that I'll offer a practical suggestion or two on how to make a day of prayer during your vacation.

In the Gospels, we find that Jesus prayed a good deal. The Gospel of Luke alone records eight occasions when Jesus went off to pray, usually in a secluded place, often on a mountain during the night. There Jesus raised His mind and heart to God the Father. Not only in His divinity but indeed in our human nature, God's Son experienced the closest communion with the heavenly Father.

The Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus at prayer during His Baptism, Transfiguration, and as He entered upon His Passion and Death. Jesus also prayed for the mission of the Apostles, for example, when He called them, when Peter confessed Jesus as Son of God and Messiah, and again, when He prayed that Peter's faith as the chief of the Apostles would not fail. At the heart of Jesus' prayer was a trustful petition that His human will be fully in accord with the loving will of the Father (Cf., CCC, 2600). By prayer, Jesus received the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to do the work His Heavenly Father had entrusted to Him.

Jesus taught His disciples the value of prayer. In the Gospel of Mark (6:31), Jesus invited His followers, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for a while." Ah, the first of the R's – "rest." The rest Jesus has in mind is not slumber, though His disciples had a penchant for falling asleep during prayer! Still less would Jesus consider the mindless stupor induced by TV on a couch potato as rest. No, Jesus envisions the rest we take after hard and satisfying labor on behalf of His Kingdom. He also envisions the rest we can take among true loved ones and friends when we can open our hearts in trust, serenity, and joy. After all, God's Son became man so that, through Baptism, you and I would become the adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. Jesus called us to participate in His relationship of love with the Father through the Holy Spirit. It was for this love that we were made and for this love that we truly long. Jesus invites us to linger, to tarry, to "remain in His love" (John 15:9) – not to rush off to our daily preoccupations. This is a form of relaxation, the second "R" – not the sort of relaxation that involves dissipation or over-indulgence þ but rather an opportunity to listen to the voice of the God of love and to respond in such love that we confide to Him even the secrets of our inmost heart. In the economy of prayer, rest and relaxation go hand in hand.

Prayer leads us to the third "R" – recreation. We usually think of recreation as good clean fun, such as playing tennis, taking a walk in the park, attending a musical performance, visiting an historical site, or reading a good novel. All those are worthy forms of recreation not just because they are diversions but because they "re-create" the human spirit – they give us a new lease on life. Prayer "re-creates" the human spirit because it is an opening for the Holy Spirit, the One who communicates to us the new life that Christ won for us by the Holy Spirit. In listening to the voice of the Lord and in raising our minds and hearts to Him, we begin to seek and find the Spirit's wisdom and insight so often lacking in our busy, work-a-day lives. In learning to listen to the Lord and in confiding to Him what is in our hearts, we discover amid life's burdens, 'the yoke that is easy' (Matthew 11:30). We start remembering God's blessings and are prompted to give Him thanks. We also begin to remember those who really need our prayers and to discover those things for which we should pray.

How often, in and through prayer, do we gain new insight and strength for life's problems? How often do we gain a new perspective, even when we have problems and sufferings that seem insoluble? How often in prayer do we discover that God's love is more powerful than our sins and that He loves us "more than we could ask or imagine?" (Ephesians 3:20) These are among the ways prayer renews our flagging spirit.

If you're still with me, I hope you can agree that the R's of prayer – rest, relaxation, and re-creation should be a part of every vacation. But how can it be done? There is no one-size-fits-all method, but I would offer a few pointers. The first is silence, a most precious commodity in today's world. Jesus often withdrew to a mountain or a desert to pray. If you're caring for a family with young children, this is easier said than done. Spouses might have to take turns watching the children. Computers, TVs, radios, iPods, and iPhones need to be off, if only for a few hours. If you can go away to a retreat house or to some other quiet place, that's even better.

As with every good vacation, preparation is important. A good start is reception of the Sacrament of Penance prior to your day of prayer. You might ask a priest, deacon, religious, or other trusted spiritual guide to help you pre-select some passages of Scripture upon which your prayer can be based and/or the guidance of a reliable spiritual writer. If your life is utterly noisy, crowded, and pressured from morning to night, seven days a week, don't imagine you'll likely turn it all over in a second. You should practice with some quiet times of prayer – even if only five or ten minutes a day – leading up to your day of prayer.

If there's something bothering you, especially some sinful situation in your life, don't shrink from a day of prayer by yourself. That's when you really need it. The cleverest temptation of the Evil One is to convince us that God doesn't want to see us when we are stuck in sin. That's precisely when God does want to see us most.

There is one more thing. If you fall asleep during prayer-time, it probably means you needed the rest. But don't give up. After all, the same thing happened to the Apostles, and on the night before their Lord unleashed the greatest deed of love upon the world. The Lord is inviting us to come away and rest, to remain in His love, and to tarry in His presence. The Lord is seeking to recreate our hearts in the image of His goodness and love.

May you have a happy vacation!