Welcome back summer! It is not hard to understand why this is a favoured time of year for so many. With school out, holidaying, time at the lake, BBQs, family and friends, summer naturally provides us with time and – usually – gorgeous weather for doing the things that we all love. Being that there is so much extra time on our hands, there can also be a tendency to do less than usual simply because we are so busy the rest of the year. Understandably, we grow tired and, for at least some of the summer, we would prefer to be like our vegetable gardens and just sit there and be alive. As this comic so delightfully points out, summer often gives us more time to do LOTS of NOTHING! While that can be acceptable in moderation, and indeed, even necessary – to an extent – what will become of our spiritual lives over the summer if we treat them the same way as everything else?
There is a great campaign put on by the Knights of the Columbus every year in December called “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Knights throughout the Order are invited to identify ways in their respective councils to publicly promote the message that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus instead of a mere commercialized holiday. You may have seen car magnets like these on people’s bumpers serving as a visible reminder that if the birth of Christ is not what the 25th of December is about, then it isn’t really about anything. In our modern secular culture, keeping Christ in Christmas is a timely message.
Perhaps we could ask ourselves, then, “How can I keep Christ in summer?” In some respects, this is harder than keeping Christ in Christmas, at least for Christians, because we do not want to expel Him from Christmas in the first place! Likewise, I suspect that Christians would never want to expel Christ from summer either, but there is a deadly combination of factors during these majestic months which often result, not in the expulsion of our Lord, but in the evaporation of His presence from our minds. Before we treat this problem, however, we must accurately diagnose what causes the issue.
First of all, as Hobbes so aptly put it, part of what seems great about summer is doing nothing. It has been said that idleness is the devil’s playground. Despite what we might assume about being busy, often times, it is our busyness that keeps us on track and disciplined with the use of our time as it is such a precious commodity. Losing or temporarily suspending our accustomed routines often comes at the cost of losing altogether, or at least suspending, the time we would normally dedicate to prayer.
Secondly, with time to kill, and from a more relaxed frame of mind, our wills are drawn towards things we enjoy but are rarely free to do. This results in becoming distracted, if even by good things. Whether we mean to or not, if we get in the habit during the summer months of putting the usual on hold in favour of taking up more new and exciting things, fervent prayer and spiritual reading are not likely to rank high on the list of “new and exciting”.
Finally, the most likely source of disruption to our spiritual lives over the summer is the practical matter of travel. Getting away on holidays is truly an important element in recharging the proverbial ol’ battery. By no means should we imagine that preserving our spiritual lives over the summer will demand sacrificing time for travel. That being said, in the same way that we plan destinations, make reservations and pack our luggage – all in advance – so, too, must we have a plan in mind before we take off as to how prayer will remain turned on.
What shall we do about this predicament? Certainly NOT resign ourselves to the fact that the summer months are basically a write-off for prayer and spirituality. At the same time, we do need adequate rest and leisure. Therefore, as with everything in our faith, we must nestle ourselves somewhere in between. For each of the three above-mentioned obstacles to perseverance over the summer there are three general dispositions which will help us in the battle.
In response to the temptation towards busying ourselves with plenty of nothing, we quite simply must reject such an attitude. An authentic definition of leisure does not equate to “doing nothing”; rather, since ancient times, leisure suggested doing something which was distinct from purely material ends. In other words, it was enjoyable in itself – something uniquely human. “In leisure we focus not on utility but on being. We nourish our sense of wonder, enter into relationships, and so become whole.”1 By keeping ourselves busy, though in creative and refreshing ways, we will not succumb to laziness, which is the last step before abandoning prayer altogether.
This is closely related to the second issue of becoming distracted. It may sound like a contradiction to have just recommended finding creative ways to spend leisure time to now caution against becoming distracted by things we do not normally have time to do. However, it is possible to enjoy the new things which summer has to offer us while not allowing these things to entirely replace what we normally need to do. The key in this regard is DISCIPLINE. We will never get to heaven if we take a holiday from discipline- yes, even in the summer! When it comes to prayer and acts of piety, the way to remain disciplined in them is by specifying of what they will consist and determining when each day or week they will happen. In a sense, they should be scheduled, before the vast array of summer opportunities fill our plates.
Last but not least, we must address taking holidays without them turning into a vacation from our relationship with God. Traveling invariably puts us in new circumstances and schedules, sometimes even different time zones or cultures. As a result, making sure that our regularly scheduled prayer still happens can be a problem. The only solution is to know, in advance, how we plan on doing this successfully. We may need to tweak what we are accustomed to doing with something different, which is far better than doing nothing at all. Most importantly, if we will travel over a weekend, we need to take the initiative of seeing how we will attend the Holy Mass on Sunday. It is conceivable that in some instances this will be impossible, but it should never prove as such due to lack of effort or forethought.
Anita Bryant famously used to say in her Minute Maid commercials, “A day without orange juice is a day without sunshine.” If a day without a citrus beverage- an incredibly delicious beverage at that!- is like a day shrouded in darkness, what more for an entire summer lacking conversation with God? This summer, we must resolve to see God not as a competitor with our rest and leisure. Instead, we must make the words of St. Augustine our own, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”2 If we take our rest this summer in the Sacred Heart of Christ, we will have never been so rested in our lives!
– Fr. Cristino Bouvette
1 Dr. Jeff Mirus, “The Value of Leisure” <http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=102>
2 St. Augustine of Hippo, “Confessions” Lib 1, 1-2, 2.5, 5