Spiritual summer - Catholic Courier
Visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tenn., prepare to enter St. Mary's Catholic Church near the city's main drag Aug. 14, 2016. If we don't want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. (CNS photo by Chaz Muth) Visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tenn., prepare to enter St. Mary's Catholic Church near the city's main drag Aug. 14, 2016. If we don't want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. (CNS photo by Chaz Muth)

Spiritual summer

In this issue:
Summer spiritual fitness
Five books for your spiritual summer reading list
Is Vacation Bible School worthwhile?
Food for Thought

In a nutshell

As the weather warms up, we begin to spend more time outside, relaxing with family and friends, and taking vacation. All of those are good things, but they shouldn’t lead to us taking a vacation from our vocation.

Summer seems to be the best time to get lost in a spiritual book.

One of the problems faced by parents and parishes is how best to continue to catechize and educate children over the summer. What is Vacation Bible School and is it worthwhile?

Summer spiritual fitness

By Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr./Catholic News Service

“Don’t take a vacation from your vocation!”

These words are often repeated this time of year in seminaries across the country. The warning is to remind seminarians of the need to continue to attend to their formation throughout the summer break.

Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) reminds us that the call to holiness is not only for consecrated religious and priests, but for all of the faithful.

Therefore this admonition, “Don’t take a vocation from your vocation!” applies not only to seminarians, but to everyone. It’s a good reminder that all of us can use this time of year.

As the weather warms up, we begin to spend more time outside, relaxing with family and friends, and taking vacation. All of those are good things, but they shouldn’t lead to us taking a vacation from our vocation.

One classic example of this phenomenon is not going to Mass when we are traveling. One of the most common excuses we hear is: “I didn’t know where there was a Catholic church, or what time Mass started.” Stop.

Think about that statement for a minute.

Before stepping out of the house to leave on vacation, we fill up the car with gas, look up flight times and book tickets, hotels, rental cars, trains, tours, restaurants, museums and attractions. Yet, at the same time we can’t figure out when and where to go to Mass?

If we don’t want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. A bonus: Going to Mass in a different place, culture or even language can be a great opportunity to experience the catholicity, the universal nature, of the church in a concrete way.

Going to Mass in a new place can revitalize our faith and appreciation for Eucharist. Depending on where we are traveling, it can also be a chance to see some of the beautiful artistic heritage of the church. If we include Mass in our plans, when we come home from Paris, we’ll be able to say, “I went to Mass at Notre Dame” — much better than just, “I saw Notre Dame.”

Others prefer to spend their vacation not running around, but rather relaxing on the beach or outdoors. We spend time dieting and working out to make sure we are in shape for the summer, but what about our spiritual fitness?

When it comes to dieting and exercise, we can follow the strictest of disciplines, but what about our spiritual life? Is our prayer life as disciplined as our diet? It is important to take care of our bodies; it’s even more important to make sure we are taking care of our souls. If we neglect the latter, then we end up taking a vacation from our vocation.

If we want to be physically fit, we don’t wake up and run a marathon on the first day or show up at the gym and start lifting several hundred pounds. We should build up slowly. One of the most common errors of those trying to get in shape is doing too much too soon. The results? Quitting. No progress. Back on the couch.

The same risk is present in the spiritual life. If we haven’t been praying for years, it’s unrealistic to suddenly start going to daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, practicing “lectio divina,” praying a daily rosary and participating in a Holy Hour. All at once, that’s too much. Such a jump will lead to burnout and arriving back at the beginning, no prayer life.

If we want to develop our spiritual fitness — to grow in holiness and our relationship with God — then we need to build up our prayer life at an appropriate pace.

Some people already have one or more spiritual practices solidly into their spiritual routine. If that’s the case, then try adding one more element this summer.

Many others rarely take time to pray outside of Mass. For those who find themselves in that reality, there is a way to ease back into spiritual fitness. It’s what I like to call the “BC” method, and it only takes four minutes a day.

In the morning take a couple of minutes and ask God two things, first, “God help me to ‘be’ your presence today.” Secondly, “God help me to ‘see’ you in others today.”

Then at night, ask God the following questions, “God where did I ‘see’ you today?” and, “God how was I able to ‘be’ your presence to others today?” Even more difficult, “God, when did I fail to ‘be’ your presence today?”

I’d say it’s as easy as remembering one’s ABCs but, granting the play on words, it’s even easier to say only “BC.” It takes a few minutes a day, and it’s a simple practice of beginning a prayer and dialogue with God.

The summer is meant to be a time of relaxation, whether it’s traveling far and wide, or spending time outdoors. That rest is a good thing, but let’s not turn it into an excuse to take a vacation from our vocation.

(Father Brooke is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. His website is http://padregeoffrey.com and his social media handle is @PadreGeoffrey.)

Five books for your spiritual summer reading list 

By Shemaiah Gonzalez/Catholic News Service

With vacations, better weather and simply slowing down, summer seems to be the best time to get lost in a book. Whether your book club read the latest “chic lit” or a mystery is your default for summer reading, there are few things more lovely than reading about God in your favorite summer location.

Here are few to add to your “to-read” stack.

— “Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith” by Bishop Robert E. Barron

Bishop Barron brings us back to the essentials of our faith in this book. What makes Catholicism distinctive from other traditions? It is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God. Drawing from the arts, architecture and storytelling, he opens our eyes to see God is with us in every tenet of our faith and throughout the ages. 

Bishop Barron reminds us why we fell in love with the church to begin with, that it is not a system, but a relationship, and we recall the deep love we felt when God first captured our hearts. This is an amazing book for converts and cradle Catholics alike.

— “Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings” by Josh Larsen

Words often fail in prayer as we bring forth our deepest desires to God. Larsen opens up a new dimension to our favorite films, revealing that our love for these films is often a reflection of how they express the deepest groanings of our own heart.

Looking at different forms of prayer in the Psalms — such as lament, praise, joy and confession — alongside scenes from favorite films, Larsen shows us a new way of approaching prayer and film.

As we head into the summer movie season, this book trains our eye to find “God in all things,” even the new summer blockbuster. Reading Larsen’s reflection on the Wes Anderson film, “Rushmore,” I found my own connection with the film and God. He covers classics and recent releases alike, so I am certain you will find a favorite among them.

— “Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God” by Lauren F. Winner

When author Lauren F. Winner’s faith became stagnant, she began to look at lesser-known biblical metaphors for God. In this well-researched book, Winner examines metaphors such as bread, clothing and a woman in labor. 

By grounding these metaphors in stories of her interactions with friends and family, she invites the reader into a deeper understanding and friendship with our God. Her chapter on bread and wine made me cling even more tightly to the Eucharist.

— “Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints” by Christiana N. Peterson

Faced with the challenges of intentional communal living and working a family farm, Peterson looks for strength in Christian mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi, Simone Weil and Dorothy Day — all people who literally were misfits.

Through both personal narrative and biography, Peterson tells the inspiring story of spiritual transformation. Through her personal stories, I found a model for how to incorporate favorite saints into my own spiritual practices.

— “A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen” by Jim Manney

Prayer is difficult for most. This book is a beautiful introduction to the examen, the 500-year-old form of prayer developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The prayer is more approachable than we might think. Manney explains how and why we should practice this very accessible prayer.

Praying the examen reveals God’s presence in our day-to-day life, drawing us closer to him; you’ll find yourself ending your summer days with the prayer and feel rich as you see the beauty of your life. I learned to pray the examen earlier this year with this book’s guidance, and I will no doubt return to it again and again.

(Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.)

More than poetry

By Paul Senz/Catholic News Service

Summer usually brings with it a certain slowdown. This is no different for school and parish life. School is out, religious education classes and Bible studies and the like go on hiatus. One of the perennial problems faced by parents and parishes is how best to continue to catechize and educate children over the summer.

Many parishes offer a weeklong Vacation Bible School, typically using one of a handful of curriculums, which means many or most nearby churches may be using the same one. Largely volunteer-based, both volunteers and parents may ask themselves the same question: Is it worthwhile?

When Amanda Cords was in high school, she volunteered for a Vacation Bible School program. “I thought it was a very fun, positive and uplifting experience for the kids,” she said. A few years later, that experience led down the road to a position at Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where she is the elementary and middle school formation coordinator. Among her many other responsibilities, Cords coordinates the parish’s Vacation Bible School program.

She brings a unique perspective to the experience, having been a volunteer as a teenager and now is the coordinator. The summer of 2017 was her first year organizing a Vacation Bible School program for Holy Family.

“I believe that my work with Vacation Bible School has been worthwhile,” said Cords. She has gotten great feedback from parents, she said. Some parents tell her that they collect the CDs they receive from Vacation Bible School and that’s all their kids want to listen to in the car on road trips or on the way to school.

“I would definitely recommend enrolling children in a VBS program,” she said. “I think it is a nice way for young children to socialize with students outside of the people they normally see at daycare or school.” More important, through her experience with Vacation Bible School — and the formation it provides using songs, art, projects and stories — she has “learned that there’s no reason that faith formation can’t be fun.”

Not everyone has a gift for working with children, but for those looking for ways to volunteer at the parish, Cords encourages Vacation Bible School.

There are those who see certain issues with a typical Vacation Bible School program, as well.

In many places, enrollment in Vacation Bible School programs and volunteer numbers are not high enough to allow for a program in each parish. This means that several parishes unite to put on one program, which results in logistical problems like long drives and unfamiliar places for some families.

It is important to continue to catechize children, even throughout the summer. Vacation Bible School is one way that this can be done in a fun, but still educational, atmosphere.

Vacation Bible School might not be for everyone. Programs are offered quite widely, and each parent will have to discern whether it is best to send their children for this week of summer spirituality.

(Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.)

Food for Thought

Vacation time should include time for extra prayer, Pope Francis told a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Aug. 6, 2017.

Acknowledging that there were many students in the square who were on summer break, Pope Francis said, “It’s important that in the period of rest and breaking away from daily concerns, you restore the energies of your body and soul, deepening your spiritual journey.”

He spoke of the Transfiguration story in the Gospel, where the disciples travel up Mount Tabor with Jesus. The disciples detached themselves “from mundane things,” and contemplated Christ transfigured, he said.

Just like those disciples, we too need to “rediscover the pacifying and regenerating silence” of prayer and meditation, the pope said. 

Pope Francis asked for Mary’s intercession for those on vacation and for “those who cannot take a vacation because they are impeded by age, health or work, by economic difficulties or other problems.”

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