No Vacation from Vocation

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

“Well, it’s the Fourth of July; summer’s almost over,” my mom proclaimed each year as the nation’s birthday approached.

Her annual declaration became a neighborhood ritual; it accompanied the Fourth of July as surely as fireworks and parades. It was also a depressing thought – the end of summer, when, in fact it had only just begun. As I get older though, I see the truth of my mom’s perspective. After all, the days are already growing shorter, and how long will it be till you see the first “back to school sale?”

My mom’s conviction not withstanding though, summer really is just getting underway, especially here in New England, and anticipating the pleasures of vacation takes me back to another memory of my youth – the instructions about summer vacation we received from the minor seminary.

When I was in high school seminary at St. Mark’s in Erie, PA, each year when we were preparing to go home for the summer, the Rector of the seminary would call us together and say something like, “Gentlemen, remember; there’s no vacation from vocation.” It was a warning that even during the summer we had to behave ourselves; that we had to comport ourselves as young men preparing for the priesthood.

The Seminary Rule, which we were taught was second in importance only to the Bible, went on to explain that vacations were intended to be periods of “rest and relaxation in which the mind and body of the seminarian are renewed in their keenness and strength. Thus refreshed he is able to return to the seminary after vacation with new reserves of health, good will and energy.”

Such was the idyllic depiction of the summer vacation in the early 1960s. You can almost see Wally and the Beaver skipping along the lane on the way home from school! Pleasantville revisited.

But the Rule also set forth some very specific restrictions for the summer: “Resolutely and carefully, seminarians should strive to avoid all companionships, parties and amusements alien to the spirit of a vocation to the priestly life.” It continued: “During vacation the seminarian soon discovers by his own experience what are the obstacles to study, piety and virtue in the world.” (I’m not sure, but I think “obstacles” meant girls!)

Accordingly, among the summer jobs we couldn’t accept were: positions in hotels, cafes, theatres, dance halls, bathing beaches, pool halls; or positions in shops, offices, playgrounds, “where girls or young women are employed in the same capacity or nearby.”

Ah . . . there it is – girls were not only “obstacles” they were dangerous vixens, just by being in the vicinity! Indeed there was “no vacation from vocation.”

Well, although our circumstances might be different today, as we enter into the depth of summer, perhaps we all need to remember that “there’s no vacation from vocation” – our vocation to be Catholics, to be followers of Christ, that is. Though we tend to slack-off a little during the summer, and properly so, we should still make time for God and be attentive to the obligations of our Faith – especially by our attendance at Sunday Mass.

Remember that the obligation to keep holy the Lord’s Day isn’t dispensed during the summer. Even if we travel, it’s usually not too difficult to find a Catholic Church nearby and if we have to make a special effort to attend Mass while we’re away, so be it. It’s just a small sacrifice we offer to the Lord in return for all the good things He’s given us. Parents – you have a special opportunity to provide a good and lasting example for your children by attending Mass every Sunday during the summer, even while on vacation.

The relaxed schedule of summer might also provide some other opportunities to refresh our faith. Perhaps you could take some time to do some spiritual reading – there are many, many spiritual and religious books to choose from that you would find both enjoyable and inspiring. If you have some free days during the summer, why not attend an extra daily Mass? (By the way, when was the last time you attended Holy Mass when you didn’t have to, or didn’t have a social reason to do so?) The summer might afford the opportunity to visit one of the beautiful retreat houses or shrines in the region. There are plenty of sacred sites you could visit without having to travel too far, without having to mortgage the house to fill-up the gas tank. Perhaps you could do a little volunteer charitable work during the summer, or visit that relative or friend who doesn’t get out too often, you know, the one you haven’t seen for a long time. Visiting the homebound and brightening their day is a wonderful act of charity and faith.

In short, summer provides a valuable opportunity to step back, relax and enjoy the many blessings the Lord has given us. Among the blessings of the season are the fine weather, the great outdoors, the opportunity for recreation, and especially the chance to spend some quality time with family and friends.

So, despite my mom’s perspective, summer’s just beginning. Enjoy the season. But remember, that for all of us, “there’s no vacation from vocation.”

This article previously appeared in the Rhode Island Catholic, July 3, 2008.