The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on July 23, the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, at St. Michael Church in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.
Summer still remains a popular time for vacations. Probably, some of us here this morning are on vacation. In fact, I am blessed to be back home for a couple of weeks of vacation. Vacations are a needed part of the yearly schedule. In today's Gospel account, it seems that Jesus Himself is inviting the Apostles to take a brief vacation. "The Apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.' People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in a boat by themselves to a deserted place."
The word "vacation" is rooted in a Latin word meaning "to make space for something" or "to make time for something." The English word "vacant" — "open" is linked to this same root word for "vacation." What we ideally do when we go on vacation is to make space in our hectic schedules, to make time in our busy lives, for ourselves and family members or friends in order to be refreshed and renewed. Vacation is a time away from the usual frantic pace of life, in order to become re-created.
Now, there is no vacation from God, because we belong to Him and are always in need of His love which sustains us. However, although there is no vacation from God, there is always a vacation with God. What do I mean when I say we should always be on vacation with God? Being on vacation with God means making space for Him in our hectic schedules, making time for Him in our busy lives. In a word, vacation with God means prayer.
Yes, when we really pray, we are making space for God in our hectic schedules, we are making time for God in our busy lives. So, praying every day is taking a mini-vacation. The prayer periods may be short, but they are regular each day. For example, when we wake up, we offer the entire day to the Lord — all our thoughts, words and deeds — so that living this day will become a prayer. We do this using the words we once learned, like the Apostleship of Prayer's Morning Offering, or framing our own words. Similarly, at night, before going to bed, we thank the Lord for the blessings He gave us that day and ask His forgiveness for any sins we have committed. Again, we can use prayers we once learned or make up our own prayers. We ask the Lord to bless our food at meal times. We take five minutes or even 10 to reflect on a passage from the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. In all these ways or in similar ways, we are making a space, a time, for God. We are on vacation with God.
Once a year, we can go on vacation with God for a longer time by taking part in a retreat — usually on a weekend — when we go away to a retreat center where there is time for spiritual conferences and quiet so that we actually discern the Lord's message to us. Here in this part of Connecticut, there are several retreat houses including the Immaculata Retreat House in Willimantic and the Holy Family Retreat House in West Hartford.
In today's Responsorial Psalm, we prayed: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul."
Being on vacation with God, praying to Him daily and on retreat: that experience is like being near verdant pastures or beside restful waters. In prayer, we experience the Lord, the Good Shepherd, being at our side with His rod and His staff that give us courage.
Finally, being on vacation with God, praying daily, if this experience is genuine, this leads us to loving others and caring for them in a deep and truly meaningful way. After being on vacation where Jesus was renewed in mind and heart in His human nature, He saw the vast crowd, who were like sheep without a shepherd. Being moved with pity for them, He immediately went from prayer to caring for them by teaching them many things. Our love for God expressed in prayer necessarily leads to love for others experienced in realistic ways of self-emptying service, beginning with the family.
Yes, the Lord calls us every day to be on vacation with Him, that is, to be with Him in prayer daily so that daily we may bring His love to others. How true it is: there is no vacation from God but there is daily vacation with God — the vacation called prayer.