Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Keeping Vocation in Vacation

Father John J. Lombardi

The surfing--spirituality quote of the week, regarding aquatic asceticism, bible studies and following Jesus: "The world is getting gnarlier and gnarlier", said a spectator, Neil Tsutsui, 38, who is part of a surfer's Bible study group on the North Shore of Oahu (Hawaii). "You get drawn into God with surfing. Surfing is a selfish sport: my wave, my ride. But this teaches selflessness. "

Point: When surfing, surf and think of Jesus (walking on the water!). And so, when on vacation, don't forget your vocation-to follow Jesus Christ. The above quote was from a New York Time's story (June 1) about the "new wave" of how Christians are evangelizing the "surf crowd" -and saving souls. Just as surfing and Jesus go together, so too should our vacations go with our vocation-we should follow and bring Jesus everywhere.

Sometimes, when people go on vacations they neglect or reject their vocation-to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. In other words, our "inner-rebel-dissing-disciple-voice" might chant, upon leaving the office or treadmill-world behind: Live it up. Or: Now I can really enjoy life. And: After all, I deserve this…Then, on vacation-"Finally", we may exasperatedly say: "I can forget being a follower of Jesus.

I've learned, over time that we need to bring Jesus and Mary with us on our vacations, and that, the best vacations, are with them. They're not against our happiness or vacation; no, they want what's best for us in them-and that means embracing vocation within vacation.

Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning "to call". We all have a calling by God to either be married, single or live a religious life. But, as Dr Germain Grisez, moral theologian here at Mt St Mary's recently said to me, our first vocation is to follow Jesus-and our "job" is to discern what and how that will unfold in a specific way. We may call this "personal vocation"-meaning, God has a plan for each person and we must seek this plan out, embrace it and then live it out. It may manifest thru a married, single or religious state, but the essence of vocation is to follow, love and extend Jesus-24/7--even on vacation! Some vacations help us realize this more than others. Recently a mini-vacation took me out to western Maryland with a family of eight -and it was spectacular-both the land and the fellowship. In this time of summer, here are some reflections on vocation within vacations…

The Journey is Part of the Goal: after "breathing a sigh of relief" after a day's work was frantically done in trying to "escape" for vacation, I drove thru the Catoctin Mountains and took a swim in Owens Creek-cool crystalline water surging down the shadowed mountainside. That plunge, after heating up in black clerical clothes all day on black asphalt (!), was simply and hugely healing. The way I looked at it, even though I was-as usual-running late-I was already on vacation and so each "step" along the way was vacation-and this meant not passing by a cool opportunity to swim in fresh mountain water-and be refreshed for a long ride. Later, going over the Mountain I could see the Hereford black and white cows in the field, while the tin-roofed barns nearby shined and radiated a penetrating sunshine. The fields, with nascent, growing wheat, were, well, very green! Spring was pervading Maryland…I reflected: even though I was journeying - I was also arriving. Each instant, every present moment is a manifestation of God's glory-if we really look, see and deeply take it within. This is called "holy leisure"-and Fr Francis Kelly, Franciscan, just recently said that we moderns are in need of healing as much as we need leisure and recreational-spiritual time to be, to exist, to adore the Lord thru His creation. So: bring back Holy leisure!

Arrival is Equanimity: after the two-and-a-half hour ride-which was beautiful in itself, yes, it was gigantically peaceful to finally arrive-to a fresh and glimmering Deep Creek lake, to an awaiting family and to a picnic-cookout! One couldn't ask for anything more. Upon arrival it seemed as if my "spirit" immediately breathed more peacefully and was healed by God's nearby creation, surrounded with friends and family. Yes, I realized, my vacation is vocation-a soul seeking the Savior with others in God's beautiful world. When "all the elements" are right-one's own soul, your relationship with others, surroundings, etc.-our vocation is to embrace Him there and thank Him for all His benefits.

Early Morning Resilience: boys being boys the first thing they did upon waking (after saying morning prayers, of course!) was to go fishing. Thankfully, we had a dock at our cabin, right on the lake. This is a boys' dream: Lake, dock, fishing rods, open, continual access. No need of iPods and video games here where "fresh fun" was provided. So Timmy, Danny and Michael would go down and fish-at 8 in the morning! I was barely awakening from slumber and prayer, and in need of (type-A mentality, I guess) getting my ducks and life in order before anything else, and fishing was way too early for me. Just shows you/me: can't keep a good boy down, from fishing-it's in the blood--after prayers, of course! May "fresh fun" -uncomplicated and natural recreation---on your vacation help you to discover your vocation-following Jesus wherever you are.

DockSitting: A favorite thing to do of mine while on vacation was, in the early morning, sitting on the dock and gazing out at the Lake, the surrounding mountains and countryside: to just get swallowed up in it all. The Lake waters were still this early with no winds or boats creating disturbance, the sun was rising and warming the earth and piercing the nearby hills, and blue skies pervading through the early morning mist-it all added up to serenity. I could just sit there and rest and take it all in, until…some kids came yelling and hooting…St Thomas Aquinas said: "God is the artist and the universe is His work of art."…Become thankful for God's creation which is inspiring and restorative. And: Seek and drink in the blessed, quiet moments God gives you: carpe diem-seize the day, or moment: it may not come around again!.. Doing Nothing: for hours the kids would play by the dock and by the waterside. No video games, no bungee cords, no speed boats or hi-tech gear. Only fun throwing rocks or a fishing line, creatively making boats--one of moss with a dead minnow, complete with funeral flowers on it!, running around, on the dock and off, on again and…I was inspired and allured by the simplicity and freshness of it all-lost innocence--gained, re-found!

Hunting: Whenever we go out to Deep Creek the main topic is, well, the usual one--Black Bears! With five boys and one teen age girl-all "wildlife experts"-bears are top on the list of sightseeing, especially in Western Md. While there, whenever we would go out-to the store, swimming or sightseeing, we were always looking for bears. And there usually were a couple false-sightings per trip. One night a few years ago, following a "lead" from a "local," we went up on Marsh Hill Mountain (about 3000 ft high-in a big van, of course!) to look near a dumpster for some bears-a mom and her cub. It was allegedly their hangout--they do like human food. We were fortunate: we saw the bears silently and satisfyingly eating away. They looked at us, we looked at them. The kids were ecstatic upon seeing this wildlife sight. Anyway, that was then, and no luck this trip. We headed home after our penetrating patrol on the mountain. Lesson: you're not always successful at your main mission so persevere and count your other blessings! Bear Essentials-Bears being the common subject of frequent conversation, a sub topic was What if you encounter a Black Bear-what to do? One of the family said that if you were ever chased by a Black Bear, then you should climb a small, thin tree, and that way evade the bear as it could not wrap its big paws around such a skinny limb. Immediately, Danny, wildlife expert and outdoorsman, age 10, shot back: Then the bear could shake the tree and you would fall out! Long story longer: Beware of bears, and, as a disciple, analogously think thru your escape plan from evil and sin. Some are better than others.

Never too young: Mom and dad were discerning whether Michael (about age 7) was ready for his First Holy Communion. Mom prayed that night and the next day she got the message: Young Michael had painted a watercolor print of a Eucharistic Host, with a Cross in it, aloft over a beautiful golden a chalice. Thing is: the Host was eliciting a single, red-colored-drop of precious Blood. Obvious Message: Young Michael was ready! Indeed, he did receive his First Holy Communion later that month. And at the Masses I celebrated while at the lake, Michael would pray with a little book-called, simply, "Pray with Jesus"-following along with the liturgical prayers in young-children's language. He even led a decade of the Rosary. This little boy who used to be "quite active" at Mass was now praying like a young monk!. Teach your children to pray. Teach them about Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist. Teach them that it is a Sacrifice-of Love and Blood. Teach them to love Jesus and Mary!

Double Spring: Maryland Springs are just about one of the best things in the world, but having a second one is a fantastic surprise and delight. Western Maryland is a couple weeks behind Emmitsburg, and so we were "getting another spring" there. The young virginal green leaves shooting from tree buds; forsythia and azalea blooming, plants on fire and birthing forth new flowers amidst blazing-loud sunshine, was yet another treat from God! I didn't know I would get this treat: Thank you God for showing us the reality and beauty of New Birth-a Second Easter-again!...On vacation be reminded of your vocation to be re-created by God's grace-spread and communicated thru all creation.

Celibacy and Community: Vacationing with a family of eight…is at times delightful, comedic, spiritually enlivening, and yes, some rare times, challenging-for a celibate priest! There is, I have found, whether on vacation with a large family or in day to day life, a balance between being-with and being-alone. And this particular family knows and respects the balance too-perhaps because they know about, respect and love the priesthood and realize its "essence". Translation: Time for self, prayer, walks and so forth, and also time to be together. I am thankful they understand. The whole Church's life should be like that, too. The priest's celibacy should complement the community, and the community's spiritually and strengths should compliment the priest. It's challenging to understand this in today's individualistic, compartmentalized world--the need for balancing gifts and vocations, between the communal and individual-and we all need to work at this understanding and complementariness more. I recall hearing, once, a youngish priest from Latin America describing his aloneness here in the States, contrasted with his native, communal-accented lifestyle at-home. He eventually left active ministry as a priest--unfortunately. Hey-ho: Let's all work together to form a community, with the individual helping the community, and visa versa. Never take for granted another's need for love-and quietude!

Emergencies occur even on a priests' vacation. Early one morning the Grotto office called regarding a man who was struggling with sickness and depression. He didn't want to live; and, well, there was physical danger. I called the man and tried to help. The conversation seemed to have worked: a few words, a loving extending presence and promise of follow up soothed the situation. I thought, later: while I was relaxing and having a good time, someone was really struggling, almost to the point of tragedy. O, the contrasting experiences of life. As Jesus was never "off duty"-though far away -amidst desert, sea and mountains--He was always pastor of His Sheep-likewise for the priest. I shouldn't forget my message: remember your vocation while on vacation.

Joke: Learned this one while reading with the kids one day-What's a mummy's favorite kind of music? Wrap music… The kids liked it. So did I-innocent and pungent. Also: A Yogie-ism (of Yogie Berra fame)-my dad told me this one: That restaurant is so crowded no one ever goes to it anymore…Simple humor makes you laugh .Nothing profound, simply "fresh fun"! KISS=Keep it simple silly.

Accepting simplicity: that's hard to do, even though we say we want it--simplicity, that is. Usually when most people relax and find a quiet, calm situation-like me near a mountain, without pressing things to do, or appointments to see-it's hard to unwind, to accept. We have to work at it, A type-personalities that some might be. But that's our spirituality, our discipline-to work at peace. Jesus counsels: "Consider the birds of the air, the flowers of the field…" (Mt. 6:28 ). He knows that nature is healing and that it can teach us a lesson or two! So, some days on vacation I would practice just lying on the ground, under some oak or birch tree, newly greening, gazing up at the clouds fluming by, blue sky as backdrop, and, like a sponge, take it all in. Or: by a waterfall-Muddy Creek Falls is torrentially beautiful-all of us just lied down one time to listen to the roar and drips and spurts, the peaceful friction of water upon rocks: like a sponge-receiving it, without paralysis-of-analysis or philosophizing, but simply accepting the Creator's creation as He was presenting it in that present moment. As fidgety and anxious human beings, though, sometimes we need to "parenthesize" the anxieties-put on hold or "into mental parentheses"--pressing concerns and just listen, simply look, deeply consider what is under our "spiritual nose". Anything can get in the way, but as soon as you surrender, God reveals, manifests, unfolds-peace, serenity, creations-pointing-to-the-Creator: "He (Christ) holds all creation together in Himself in Himself"(Col.1:11). Flop flip that Americanist saying, and think and practice: Don't just do something, sit there!

Dinner out with six kids (!@#)-was actually a treat. They were well behaved and had fun. Elise, of course wanted to read; the boys wanted to play or color their papers given by the restaurant. Steve-Dad says: Good marketing! No spilled milk or crying babies here-we didn't get any angry eyes. This was a change, Mom and Dad said, from years ago when this would have been impossible. One of the patrons even came over and complimented mom and dad on the children's behavior. Be a witness wherever you are!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi