Summer is a good time to reflect upon Our Lord’s words to his busy disciples: “‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31) This reminds me of how the Marine Staff Sergeant in charge of physical training for my Navy Chaplain School class at Newport, Rhode Island, described his approach to life in the military: “If you feed me, I will fight for you.” I am also reminded of that sage old advice: “If you are too busy to eat, you are too busy. Take a break from whatever you are doing and eat something. If necessary, take a nap.”
Jesus wanted his disciples to regain strength by taking time off for eating and relaxing. They were in need of a break from the hectic and demanding pace of accompanying the Lord as he travelled through Judea, Galilee, and beyond, preaching, teaching, and working miracles. We know from the Gospels that people flocked in droves to see Jesus whenever word got out that he was entering their town or village. As members of his entourage, the apostles had a lot of work to do.
Exhaustion was the natural outcome of this pace, and the Lord knew that he had to teach his closest collaborators that stepping away to rest was not a dereliction of duty. Rather they were obligated to take care of themselves so that they would be ready to take care of Christ’s flock with renewed strength, vigor, and a calm spirit. The word “workaholic” surely did not exist back then, but the temptation to neglect oneself while engaging in non-stop, frenetic activity, especially for a good cause, certainly did. That temptation is still with us.
Whether we consider ourselves workaholics or not, we all need to have time to set aside our ordinary occupations. Weekends, holidays, and especially vacations are gifts from God that make it possible for us to contemplate the great blessing of being alive and knowing the One True God. The “lonely place” Christ speaks of has both a physical and spiritual aspect. It is great to get away from our ordinary surroundings once in a while. Travel is refreshing, and spending time experiencing the beauty of God’s good earth—mountains, seashores, forests, prairies, lakes—renews our childlike wonder in discovering how great God is in all his works.
Spiritually, time away from work can be the occasion for rediscovering the beauty of prayer and contemplation, of silent mediation upon God’s Word, of living in God’s presence with a grateful spirit. I recommend to my parishioners that they take advantage of summer vacation time to visit churches, monasteries, and shrines. Reading the Scriptures is a great way to rest in the Lord, filling our minds with God’s teaching.
Rest and relaxation are necessities for physical and spiritual growth and well-being. As a young priest I often celebrated daily Mass at two convents of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in New York City. These sisters work very hard in showing Christlike love to the poor and the sick. They also pray at great length each day in the chapel before the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle.
I was struck when I learned that Mother Teresa made sure that the sisters ate well so that they would be ready to serve the poor, who are hungry for bread, but even hungrier for love. I also learned that the sisters take a siesta after lunch. It is hard to bring the love of Christ to others if you are hungry and exhausted, so Mother Teresa made sure her sisters were neither.
As the summer winds down and school and other fall activities begin again, our lives will become busier and more hectic. Let’s not forget to get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise for love of the Lord, who, even if he may not exactly have wanted his apostles to be “tanned, rested and ready,” surely wanted them, and wants us, to be “rested and ready.”