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Summer spiritual fitness

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Visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tenn., prepare to enter St. Mary's Catholic Church near the city's main drag Aug. 14, 2016. If we don't want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

“Don’t take a vacation from your vocation!”

These words are often repeated this time of year in seminaries across the country. The warning is to remind seminarians of the need to continue to attend to their formation throughout the summer break.

Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) reminds us that the call to holiness is not only for consecrated religious and priests, but for all of the faithful.

Therefore this admonition, “Don’t take a vocation from your vocation!” applies not only to seminarians, but to everyone. It’s a good reminder that all of us can use this time of year.

Visitors of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tenn., prepare to enter St. Mary’s Catholic Church near the city’s main drag Aug. 14, 2016. If we don’t want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

As the weather warms up, we begin to spend more time outside, relaxing with family and friends, and taking vacation. All of those are good things, but they shouldn’t lead to us taking a vacation from our vocation.

One classic example of this phenomenon is not going to Mass when we are traveling. One of the most common excuses we hear is: “I didn’t know where there was a Catholic church, or what time Mass started.” Stop. Think about that statement for a minute.

Before stepping out of the house to leave on vacation, we fill up the car with gas, look up flight times and book tickets, hotels, rental cars, trains, tours, restaurants, museums and attractions. Yet, at the same time we can’t figure out when and where to go to Mass?

If we don’t want to take a vacation from our vocation, then Mass should be included in our vacation planning. A bonus: Going to Mass in a different place, culture or even language can be a great opportunity to experience the catholicity, the universal nature, of the church in a concrete way.

Going to Mass in a new place can revitalize our faith and appreciation for Eucharist. Depending on where we are traveling, it can also be a chance to see some of the beautiful artistic heritage of the church. If we include Mass in our plans, when we come home from Paris, we’ll be able to say, “I went to Mass at Notre Dame” — much better than just, “I saw Notre Dame.”

Others prefer to spend their vacation not running around, but rather relaxing on the beach or outdoors. We spend time dieting and working out to make sure we are in shape for the summer, but what about our spiritual fitness?

When it comes to dieting and exercise, we can follow the strictest of disciplines, but what about our spiritual life? Is our prayer life as disciplined as our diet? It is important to take care of our bodies; it’s even more important to make sure we are taking care of our souls. If we neglect the latter, then we end up taking a vacation from our vocation.

If we want to be physically fit, we don’t wake up and run a marathon on the first day or show up at the gym and start lifting several hundred pounds. We should build up slowly. One of the most common errors of those trying to get in shape is doing too much too soon. The results? Quitting. No progress. Back on the couch.

The same risk is present in the spiritual life. If we haven’t been praying for years, it’s unrealistic to suddenly start going to daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, practicing “lectio divina,” praying a daily rosary and participating in a Holy Hour. All at once, that’s too much. Such a jump will lead to burnout and arriving back at the beginning, no prayer life.

If we want to develop our spiritual fitness — to grow in holiness and our relationship with God — then we need to build up our prayer life at an appropriate pace.

Some people already have one or more spiritual practices solidly into their spiritual routine. If that’s the case, then try adding one more element this summer.

Many others rarely take time to pray outside of Mass. For those who find themselves in that reality, there is a way to ease back into spiritual fitness. It’s what I like to call the “BC” method, and it only takes four minutes a day.

In the morning take a couple of minutes and ask God two things, first, “God help me to ‘be’ your presence today.” Secondly, “God help me to ‘see’ you in others today.”

Then at night, ask God the following questions, “God where did I ‘see’ you today?” and, “God how was I able to ‘be’ your presence to others today?” Even more difficult, “God, when did I fail to ‘be’ your presence today?”

I’d say it’s as easy as remembering one’s ABCs but, granting the play on words, it’s even easier to say only “BC.” It takes a few minutes a day, and it’s a simple practice of beginning a prayer and dialogue with God.

The summer is meant to be a time of relaxation, whether it’s traveling far and wide, or spending time outdoors. That rest is a good thing, but let’s not turn it into an excuse to take a vacation from our vocation.

— By Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.

(Father Brooke is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. His website is http://padregeoffrey.com and his social media handle is @PadreGeoffrey.)

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