Let’s talk about something pleasant, shall we? Too often in my column I have to write you on tough issues, bad news, worrisome developments.
Not today: Let’s think about vacation!
As a boy, my family had the happiest vacations. But, get this; the first time the family ever left home for a vacation somewhere else was when I was sixteen years old!
Yet, summer vacations are part of my most cherished memories. Dad would get his two weeks off work, and we’d have a blast. Almost every day we’d take a ride somewhere—the zoo, a Cardinal ballgame, a picnic, to visit friends or relatives, a swimming pool. We’d all be in on the planning. Each night Dad would barbecue, and we’d have treats like root beer, ice cream, strawberry shortcake, or watermelon. I watched as other families on the block left home for a trip or a cabin on a lake, but I was hardly envious, because we were having a great time at home.
I guess, in retrospect, it was the simplicity that made it so special. We kids figured Mom and Dad chose to stay home. Now I realize they could not afford an out-of-town holiday. But, I wouldn’t trade it. We felt as rich as could be...in fact, when we finally did take that vacation away—two nights at a cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks, a three-hour drive away—we wished we had stayed home.
My point is that these lazier days of summer give us a chance to relish the simple goodness of life: extra time with family, a chance to ignore the alarm clock, sit a bit longer at the table, books to read, friendships renewed, memories rekindled, walks, swims, and evenings in conversations. No sooner does it end than we’re planning the next.
Let me put in a plug for the soul. Sure, our bodies and minds need a rest, but our souls need refreshment, too. Priests in parishes on the shore tell me how delighted they are to see vacationers at morning Mass, sharing their “down time” with the One who never rests or wearies. Folks tell me how days off can be a time of prayer, reflection, more spiritual reading.
August 1972 was the first time I ever saw the Pope. I was twenty-two, and had just left home with fifty-three other men to enter the North American College in Rome to begin our last four years of preparation for the priesthood. We all went out to see Pope—now Blessed—Paul VI at his summer escape in Castel Gandolfo, and gathered in the courtyard with thousands of others.
It was still high vacation time in Italy, and Pope Paul spoke of the importance of summer holidays. He cautioned that a break could distract us from God, even tempt us to forget about God for a couple weeks, or even lead us in sin. But the Holy Father did not dwell on that: vacations, he smiled, are gifts from God, a reward for hard work and attention to the daily grind. They can pump life into exhausted souls and revive weary bodies, prompting us to appreciate afresh the glow of nature, the green of the fields, the bounty of the harvest, the laughter of family and friends.
Vacations, he concluded, are a sabbath. God rested, so do we; God looked out of His work and saw that it was good, so do we.
We can’t forget those folks who can’t get any time off for a summer break. Perhaps their jobs allow no time off; maybe they have no money to enjoy a few extra little frills. Not fair...
We’ll be grateful for what we have. The simpler, the better. I don’t need the French Riviera. Just get me some corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, strawberries, time for a nap, a stack of good books, the ballgame on the radio in the background, a long daily walk, some added prayer time—and family and friends!
God is good! All the time! But especially on vacation!