A few weeks ago I was speaking with a priest who informed me that he has not taken a weekend off in 11 years because he is unable to get coverage for the Sunday Masses at his parish. Now, I know that some may retort, “Well, how many days during the week has he taken off”, but that is not the point of this post nor do I know or care about the answer to that question. 

The reality is that when I was growing up most parishes had two priests and before that many parishes had three and even four priests in a parish. The rectory where I work has five bedrooms! Now our priests are sometimes forced to choose between their well deserved personal time off and the care of their parishioners.

That leads me to this reflection on rest. We live in an age where time is money. We invest in gadgets to increase our productivity, we are constantly connected to the internet. People take work cellphones and notebook computers on vacation with them. It is common to see people working on the beach and on vacation. The fear of losing productivity is constant on the minds of some individuals. Many employers too, seem to expect their employees to be available at all times. Yet, these same people often fail to attend Mass while on vacation.

For many in ecclesial ministry, both clergy and laity, the idea of time off can seem contrary to the idea of vocation, but it is healthy and necessary. I remember feeling guilty for taking time off from work for vacations or family events. Retreats are ok, but leisure time can feel like a waste of time. After all, Jesus never took a day off…or did he.

Jesus modeled for us the way to go on vacation.  In Mark 14:13, Jesus tried to get away, but the crowds followed him. Jesus could have told the crowds to go away, after all, he was tired, on vacation, overwhelmed and mourning, but instead he preached.

We all need time to refresh ourselves and care for our needs, but that doesn’t mean we can neglect our vocation or fail to care for those we encounter who need our help. Although we can go on vacation from our day to day ministry, we can never go on vacation from vocation or the practice of our faith. Still, it is important to take time for physical and spiritual refreshment.

Jesus also made a point to take time out for prayer: a sort of private retreat. We also need time devoted to prayer, especially when we are busy serving. We can’t give give give and do do do all the time. Active ministry is no substitute for a substantial prayer life. A Christian can’t get far on a superficial prayer life. Ministry which is not rooted in prayer is ministry which is also not rooted in Christ and as a result ends up not really being ministry at all.

Please remember in prayer all those priests who, like Jesus, cannot get time off and all those who see vacations as time away from God.