Despite the stifling Roman heat, Pope Francis is remaining in Vatican City this summer instead of escaping to the usual papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, a favorite place of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis also recently said that he resides in his present apartment in the Domus Santa Marta for “psychiatric reasons,” prompting many to laugh at the thought that the climate of the Vatican bureaucracy may drive the pope insane.
But the heart of the matter here is what a vacation or time away provides for us. How do we refresh and renew ourselves? Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he needs to be around people and can find himself growing lonely in the grandness of a huge job like the papacy. So, staying nearby with his housemates and friends is in fact how he relaxes best.
And perhaps on our own career-driven paths, we too should think about how we renew ourselves. Is it really necessary to take a lavish vacation to the South of France or a tropical island resort? What do those comforts really provide? Perhaps in the drive to overwork, we also tend to “overplay” in order to trick ourselves into thinking that we really have rested, when in fact we may have avoided resting altogether.
We might spend our vacation running around large cities/small towns/ancient ruins from one site to another and never really get any downtime for true relaxation. It might be fun, and a great experience, but do we ever slow down and take a mental break?
Do some of us need a vacation from vacation?
Even Jesus knew the value of getting away from it all. He would head off alone and spend some time in solitude, and even then people would find out where he was and seek him out. I imagine that would be exhausting for the human side of Jesus, as it would exhaust any one of us. We forget that even God rested on the seventh day.
What is it that we really need when we take a break from work? Is it just time spent alone or with close friends and family? Do we need to shut off our cell phones and sleep? Do we need to take part in an avocation — an alternate way to spend meaningful time that might not be a career but still is something we enjoy which brings life to our personhood?
Whatever your answers to these questions, this summer might be a good opportunity to take a break from a huge travel vacation (and huge travel expense) to instead think about what it means to retreat. What might we need to truly refresh ourselves?
The pope seems to be leading the way in that regard. Lavish quarters (a castle!) in a serene atmosphere is just smoke and mirrors. What the pope wants is simply an opportunity to relax — with friends, colleagues and, yes, God.
Recently at a conference I had some free time to recharge my own batteries and I realized how little that happens in my life. Spending just a few moments in a nearby abbey called me to notice how much I really need these moments where I can simply be and not have to do much of anything but enjoy being with God. They renew my spirit, as well as my energy.
Young people have caught onto this with yoga classes, Eucharistic Adoration, praying the rosary and meditation. The Taizé community in France simply asks people to come and sit and chant with them. Perhaps vacation can be a time to simply pay attention to what really brings us life and renews our spirits, so that we might integrate these renewing practices into our daily lives. We call that a sabbath and, technically speaking, it is a commandment that many of us all too easily avoid at the mandated time once each week — even if we attend Mass regularly.
So Las Vegas need not beckon. Hilton Head’s golfing and Rio’s beaches need not be our reward for a job well done. Instead, let’s follow Pope Francis’ example and find a comfortable, familiar place to simply renew our being. And in that time, we might just find that God provides us with more than enough.
And we didn’t even need to spend a dime.