Schools have broken up, the students have gone down, and Somerville is filled with noisy teenagers on a summer school programme — which means it is almost August and the summer vacation has begun. Some of you may be negotiating the complexities of international travel, or planning a “stay-cation”, but all of us are looking forward to things slowing down a bit. Summer is a time to breathe freer, to relax, to rest, to spend time with friends and loved ones, and to enjoy the good weather. This is all the more important this year, after lockdowns and social-distancing.
The word “vacation” means to be unoccupied. That can have the literal meaning such as when we vacate a building, but there is the deeper meaning that allows vacation to be a time of renewal. Vacation is when we hope our thoughts will be less occupied with the stress and busy-ness of work or school, and more focused on what we treasure most.
It is crucial for renewal to take stock of what is most important, to slow down and look around and to appreciate the love of family and friends. Of course, the Lord understands this basic human need. When God commands a day of rest each week he has our good in mind, knowing that we are so easily swept away by the worries and challenges of life: “sabbath” is a word that means “rest”.
During his vacation at Castel Gandolfo in Italy in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned this need for rest: “In the world in which we live, the need to be physically and mentally replenished has become as it were essential, especially to those who dwell in cities where the often frenzied pace of life leaves little room for silence, reflection and relaxing, and contact with nature. Moreover, holidays are days on which we can give even more time to prayer, reading and meditation on the profound meaning of life in the peaceful context of our own family and loved ones.”
The best vacations allow some time for reflection and should be an exercise in gratitude: finding joy in the beauty of nature, or in discovering new places and experiences, but especially in those we love the most. St Augustine, however, reminds us that our hearts are restless until we rest in God. Every vacation will be lacking unless God is part of our rest. This does not mean we have to go off to a monastery instead of the beach, or go on pilgrimage rather than for a walk in the Cotswolds and lunch in a pub. The grandeur of the ocean or mountains, and the laughter of a family around a table, are easy paths to God for those who pay attention. To go to Mass with other tourists in an unfamiliar church on Sunday can be a reminder that we are part of the universal Church, the large family of God.
Our faith is not meant to be bracketed off to a certain time and place. To view summer as time off church is to place faith in the category of burdens from which to get away. In fact, God is always present, even during the summer holidays, and is always inviting us to a deeper rest. Our routines may change, but our need for God will never change, and the summer gives us new opportunities to appreciate the Lord at work in our lives.
Pope Benedict reminded us of this need to include God in our vacation time. “While at work, with its frenetic rhythms, and during vacation, we have to reserve moments for God. [We have to] open our lives up to him, directing a thought to him, a reflection, a brief prayer.” After all, as Our Holy Father St Philip said, “He who seeks recreation out of the Creator, and consolation out of Christ, will never find them.”
Along with our various Oratory groups, the 9:30am Sunday Mass choir, and Sunday Vespers, these reflections will take a break for the summer, but will return in September. May God bless you all.