Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high. As a youngster growing up in Montana, I relished the sweet and easy days of summer. Sunday picnics, backyard barbecues, neighborhood baseball, fishing on the Big Hole, Kids Day at the Columbia Gardens, sleepovers under the stars were all standard childhood fare in Butte, Montana.
Our family came from modest means, yet our parents taught us an invaluable lesson – make summer a time for family, friendship and re-creation. Somehow dad and mom managed to set aside enough money each year for a special vacation on Flathead Lake, or Lake Coeur d’Alene, or a visit to dad’s family in Kansas, or a trip West to see our cousins in Seattle.
The message our parents conveyed to us was clear and compelling. Vacation is good for the soul. Laughter, love, play and recreation are medicinal. In the words of Martin Farquhar Tupper, “It is well to lie fallow for awhile.” Our parents also included in every vacation a not so subtle message. The Sunday celebration of Mass remained the top priority in vacation planning. This value was non-negotiable. We never sallied out from our home without securing a location of a Sunday Mass schedule, regardless of our vacation venue. This message was not lost on me or my siblings, and has been passed down to the new generation in the Thomas clan.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote a touching passage entitled “Meditations at Vacation Time.” He wisely cites the Gospel of Mark (6: 30-34) showing that even the disciples of Jesus had to face the problem of stress and recuperation following an exhausting ministry of preaching, healing and teaching.
Pope Benedict proposes, “Perhaps (the disciples) are expecting to be congratulated on their zeal; but instead, Jesus summons them to go with Him to a solitary place where they can be alone and rest.” Pope Benedict continues, “Given the pace of modern technologically oriented life, these pauses of breath are simply a necessity.” The Holy Father wisely recommends an annual vacation filled with friendship and laughter, swimming, playing, sleeping, plenty of sunshine and peace. Echoing St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict also advises us to include in our holiday plans special time to encounter God through prayer, spiritual reading, visits before the Blessed Sacrament, the celebration of Mass and opportunities to contemplate the beauty and grandeur of creation.
Since I was a young priest, my family and I have spent the first week of August together at a lakefront cabin. These cherished days have deepened our bonds as a family, allowed us to share love and laughter, and catch up on the previous year’s events. My nieces and nephews continue to make this family time a high priority in their lives and seldom, if ever, miss coming to these days together. Our celebration of Mass is always the highlight of these days of re-creation.
Indeed, the era in which we are living is beset with business and complexity. The cost of living is high and the demands on already overstretched budgets are legion. Gerald Brenan once wrote, “We are closer to the ants than to the butterflies. Very few people can endure much leisure.”
I propose that the benefits and blessings of recreation and rest, built around the important values of family, faith and friendship, not only provide perspective and increase work productivity. They also pay physical and spiritual dividends that last a lifetime.
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 21, No. 7, July 22, 2005.