The summertime, for me, is really the most wonderful time of the year. I begin waiting for its return from the first cold morning in the autumn, and then in earnest just after the Christmas rush. Taken together, the summer months, with their long days, slower pace, smell of hamburgers on the grill, and feel of bare feet in the sand, are a taste of what heaven must be like.
It would not be terribly original for me to say, “You can take a vacation, but you can’t take a vacation from your faith in God.” Many of us feel like taking a break from work or school might include taking a break from the practice of our faith.
But I would suggest that this season is a huge opportunity to develop and deepen our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. One way to do that is through the “conversation with God” that we normally refer to as “prayer.”
When so many voices in our social media-frenzied world are shouting at us and past us, when so many consumerist impulses are pulling and pushing us, when our careers and so many extra activities are making demands on our precious time, the “downtime” we usually get in summer is a welcomed relief. It gives us a wonderful opportunity to find the peace and quiet that is so necessary for prayer.
Prayer doesn’t require us to say a word. It merely requires us to quiet our interior self, which is sometimes so noisy that it’s impossible to hear what God wants to say to us.
Pope Francis recognized the value of summer’s gift of extra leisure time. In the Angelus he gave last year for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Aug. 6), he said the season can be a “providential time to cultivate our task of seeking and encountering the Lord.”
Like the disciples who climbed Mount Tabor with Jesus, Pope Francis said, we can disengage from worldly matters “to rediscover the peaceful and regenerative silence of meditating on the Gospel, on the reading of the Bible, which leads to a destination rich in beauty, splendor, and joy. When we meditate in this way, with the Bible in hand, in silence, we begin to feel this interior beauty, this joy that the Word of God engenders in us.”
Though some vacationers will be fortunate enough to get away to actual mountains or some other place that is secluded, quiet, and full of the majesty of God’s creation, we can train ourselves to mentally withdraw from the world for a while to be “alone” with God wherever we are.
Think of what Christ said about prayer. When you pray, he told his disciples, “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). We can learn how to “create” a “room” for private prayer, even if we are in the midst of a crowd.
In my opinion, if there’s one lesson we can take from all the craziness we see in our world today, where so many people chase after the often-empty promises of politics and the easy “answers” of drugs and violence, it’s that our souls are aching for God; our hearts are simply restless without him. The summer offers us time and space to draw closer to him, not to take a vacation from his peace.
So, plan some quiet time each morning to sit in God’s presence, read at least one classic spiritual book, and spend time in an empty church, knowing that the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle fills that space with unspeakable holiness. Take a walk “with God” on a beautiful beach and know you are never abandoned. A summer with such spiritual practices will certainly spill over into the more harried months of the year.
Above and beyond all else, when it comes to (your) Catholic faith, Mass on the weekend is where it begins and ends, because this living bread who comes down from heaven for us is Jesus (see John 6:51). His life is the life for which we long. Let me tell you, if you don’t plan your summer around the greatest prayer of the Mass, you will miss the deepest heavenly bliss these coming months have to offer. The real, substantial, and therefore tangible and consumable taste of heaven is the Holy Eucharist we are privileged to receive each weekend.
Don’t waste the opportunity that this coming summer offers you and your family, for it can — and will — be the most wonderful time of the year.