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‘Come away and rest a while’

July 17, 2015
Father William Nicholas

According to USA Today, (May 25, 2014) the ratio of priests to parishioners in 2010 was 1:1,653. That would mean if each priest spent six minutes with each parishioner, he would have two hours and 42 minutes left per week to eat, sleep, pray and rest. No doubt the ratio has increased since then. When asked by a parishioner, “Why do priests need a day off?” I responded simply, “Because they work on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Rest is an important part of Christian spirituality. God rested on the seventh day, and commanded His People, newly freed from slavery in Egypt, to keep the Sabbath holy. Jesus, after the 72 disciples returned and reported all that they had done, instructed them to take time to rest. We too are called to take a day of rest; not a day in which we do nothing, but one set aside from our busy lives to build up the communities of family and church, and give a little time to the worship of God; a day in which we rest and pray; a day that, as it did for the Hebrews, manifests our freedom, even from the slavery of worldly concerns.

The spirituality of taking a day of rest has unfortunately been lost in today’s fast-paced, nonstop culture. We are living in a time in which the vast majority, even of Catholics, does not observe the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and worship. How many of our children learn from their parents that they do not go to Mass on Sunday because they are “too busy” to take a day of rest? Are we so enslaved by our busy schedules and worldly concerns, that we reject the divine invitation to spend time with family and God?

Our society was not always like this. Time was when people took a day of rest. How different might our society be if we returned to that practice; if shops and stores returned to closing on Sundays, if twenty-four hour news took a weekly day off, if the internet was unavailable? Would the anxiety of “resting” be too much to bear?

In Scriptures the command to take a day of rest is a gift from God, to liberate us from the slavery of the burden of work; a day in which we slow down from all distractions and worldly concerns, to spend time with family and God, to physically and spiritually recharge for the week ahead. In some cultures, to refuse a gift is among the gravest of insults, yet it was necessary for God not only to give us a gift, but to add to his Ten Commandments that we accept it. We have that weekly gift from God, to rest from our busty lives, and for which, in worship, we priests are your servants.

Our Catholic faith also has a grand tradition of the retreat, when a more extended period of time is spent to more intently focus on our relationship with God. St. Ignatius of Loyola composed a 30-day period, the “Spiritual Exercises.” Priests and religious take one annually. Engaged couples, take periods from a weekend to a few days as part of their preparation to marry, and “marriage encounter” is available to married couples. Even those preparing for Christian initiation through RCIA or our youth preparing for confirmation, take a day in which they pray, reflect and prepare.

In our “busy” world, how conscious are we about taking time to rest, not just for ourselves, but for our God? Let us resolve to return to that charism of rest for our well-being and our relationship with God. It is Jesus who invites us, as God commands us, to “come away and rest a while.”

Father Nicholas, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, is on temporary assignment as parochial vicar at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Simi Valley. His website is frwcnicholas.com.

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