Our Lord’s invitation to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while,” is a welcomed exhortation in this time of summer vacation. This invitation should prompt us to consider the manner in which Jesus conducted his public ministry as well as the importance we as Catholics ought to place on learning to rest in a virtuous manner, for our lives can become frenetically busy.
First, the Gospel passage reveals the intensity of our Lord’s public ministry. Jesus and his disciples were so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat. This reminds us that the Christian should at times be ready to sacrifice his time and rest in service of the Gospel — that he ought to be accessible to those who need his help as much as it is possible. On the other hand, he has to temper that zeal with some common sense — to not go to such extremes that he can no longer physically function. Even Our Lord calls His disciples to take a break from their work in order to recharge.
Moreover, we discover that even when Jesus and the disciples try to get away, they are followed, in almost a harassing type of way. Notice our Lord’s response: Rather than become annoyed, He is compassionate toward the spiritual needs of the people. Jesus sees that these people are hungry for the Word of God and so He preaches to them. It is clear that while Jesus is moved by their physical hunger and fatigue, He is more moved to help them because of their spiritual needs.
Second, Catholics are called to rest in a virtuous manner. Virtuous rest is qualitatively different that the modern understanding of rest, which is more popularly known as doing nothing — or “vegging out.” Virtuous rest does not mean not doing any work. After all, the work of the apostolate is never really done. Rather, resting means engaging in productive activities that demand less effort. It is a way of imitating God on the seventh day of creation — the day he set aside to rest. It is not as if God really needed rest, but he gave us a day of rest to help us become more recollected and spiritually renewed.
Virtuous resting should lead to renewal for work. Nevertheless, there are two extremes to avoid: becoming workaholics and becoming apathetic. The first extreme is manifested by those who do not pray or do not pray enough — they are merely content with doing work. Their work, however, is not grounded in prayer — and thus is not a genuine mode of sanctification. They claim that their work is their prayer. Unfortunately, this disposition ignores the need we each have for meditation and contemplation. We must make time for prayer and not allow that time to be replaced by more work.
There is the other extreme as well — those who have very strong devotional lives but have no apostolate, even an apostolate of prayer for those who need prayers. Devotion that does not move outside of oneself into the world and the needs of others is not true devotion. Spending time in prayer so as to avoid interaction with our fellow man is not properly ordered — we should seek time in prayer with God so as to be better equipped to spend time with other people. This applies to those who cannot do the work of the apostolate due to age or illness. These persons have been entrusted with the apostolate of prayer, not as an escape from work, but to pray for those who work in the vineyard of the Lord, seeking souls.
May our virtue-filled rest open us to re-creation, so that we may be well equipped to do God’s work in the world.