Q: Dear Father John, Is it right to relax one’s Rule during a holiday period (or a day off)? If so, what should we hang on to and what should we ‘shelve’? What about a priest with a fairly demanding Rule of Life? As you will have guessed, I am a priest and am unsure about my own practice. I also find that this question comes up among other clergy and among committed and faithful lay folk (especially those married to partners who may not practice the faith in quite the same way).
In our first post we talked about the purpose of a rule of life and vacation. Now for some practical suggestions…
Some Practical Suggestions (Just Suggestions)
First, some spiritual ideas:
- If your family or spouse is not in the same place as you are regarding your faith, try not to fret about it. God knows the situation, and he knows the limits that that necessarily puts on your own activities. He sees your heart, and he will provide chances for you to have the faith-experiences and times of silence and prayer that you would really like to plan into your vacation schedule.
- If you normally do your morning meditation in your room or in a chapel, you may want to do it outside, walking through a beautiful natural setting. If you normally pray your Rosary in your car on the way to work, you may want to take the time to pray it more congenially while walking through a park or sitting quietly in a church.
- Change the times of day during which you do your normal prayer commitments.
- If you are a priest, celebrate daily Mass privately, or concelebrate with the priests who are with you on vacation. Insofar as the liturgy permits it, choose your favorite votive Masses.
- Use different source material for your daily meditation, changing up the themes that you reflect and pray about. For example, if you usually meditate on the daily Gospel, during vacation you may want to find a good commentary on a book of the Old Testament or a Letter of St Paul, and meditate on that instead.
- Put on hold whatever books or materials you are using for spiritual reading or faith-study. For vacation, change gears. Take something fresh, something that really attracts you, maybe something you always wanted to read but never had time to (a historical novel, an old-favorite, a classic…). Of course, it should be edifying and inspiring, not scandalous or superficial.
- Live Sundays the way you would always like to live them during the year – totally dedicated to God and family. As Pope Benedict put it:
…[I]n periods of work, with its frenetic pace, and in holiday periods we must reserve moments for God. We must open our lives to him, addressing to him a thought, a reflection, a brief prayer, and above all we must not forget Sunday as the Lord’s Day, the day of the Liturgy, in order to perceive God’s beauty itself in the beauty of our churches, in our sacred music and in the word of God, letting him enter our being. Only in this way does our life become great, become true life. (General Audience, June 3, 2009).
- It can be nice to include during vacation a visit or even a mini-pilgrimage to a shrine or a notable sacred location. But you have to make sure that this is fun for the whole family or group. If no one else is interested, you may want to take a solo trip.
- Most people following a rule of life have a “motto” that sums up and unifies their spiritual work. It can be useful to give yourself a motto for vacation, something that will help remind you of your purpose for this time, e.g. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).
- In general, be flexible with the externals of your spiritual life, but faithful to the substance.
Second, some general ideas
- If at all possible, a change of place is most helpful. I used to know a couple of families that simply traded their houses for two weeks each summer – it was less expensive than going to a vacation resort, but it still provided the change of atmosphere that is so helpful for healthy rest. If you really can’t afford to go somewhere, at least change the places where you do your normal activities. Eat outside, for example, instead of in the dining room.
- Change gears on the type of activity you engage in. Someone who works in an office, for example, should be sure to spend time outside and get involved in some physical activity; someone who works outside should think about ways to engage in culturally enriching vacation activity. Divide up the necessary chores in a different way than you normally do.
- Unplug as much as possible from cell phone, email, and other electronic media that are an integral part of your normal daily activity. This may seem impossible, but it isn’t – really! It just requires determination and planning ahead. I guarantee that if you do this you won’t regret it. Along the same lines, plan ahead regarding the amount and kind of media entertainment you will use during vacation.
- Include simple ways of playing and engaging in friendly competition in your vacation activities: board games like scrabble or Pictionary; cards; sports and outdoor games that everyone can enjoy (bean bag toss, badminton, volleyball)…
- Make a point of having regular and abundant contact with nature.
- Sleep well, and eat fresh food whenever possible.
- Know what type of activity helps you relax, and make time for it. Some people relax more by being alone, reading, reflecting. Others relax more through social interaction or physical activity. We each have to lovingly help those around us relax, but we do that better if we are also finding time to relax ourselves.
I am sure you are not the only one who has been thinking about this question. And so, I would like to invite our readers to share their own experiences regarding decisions that have helped or hindered vacation from being what it is meant to be – something that builds up our friendship with Christ, not something that wears it down.
This summer, let’s all keep in mind Pope Benedict’s comment last July on the passage from Luke about the two sisters, Martha (the more active one) and Mary (the more contemplative one): “…[T]his Gospel passage is more than ever in tune with the vacation period, because it recalls the fact that the human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth” (Angelus, 18 July 2010).