Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Think of Heaven

I wanted to share a thought or two with you about one of my favorite topics.


What occasions this thought is my recent visit to the website of Communion and Liberation, which I have been (slowly) getting involved with. It's an international movement within the Catholic Church that combines a particular method for catechesis with community-based discipleship. Going to the website, and following the link below to reach the site for the US national headquarters of Communion and Liberation (CL), I saw they had a cool 3 min video on. The video is shot like a home movie, and transitions to more modern clips, and even very recent ones, with a nice song. Singing - especially folksy or charismaticky little ditties, sometimes one overladen with meaning - is part of CL gatherings.

Part of CL's charism, it's gift from God to the Church and the world, is "vacation." Anyone who knows how much I like to travel (you all do), and especially anyone who knows the ridiculous amount of traveling I've gotten to do in the last year (I've been a bit more discreet on this point) can see why I might feel I share this charism with CL. But how is VACATION a charism, you might ask? It is connected with leisure, and the difference between leisure and amusement is key.

Leisure is a relaxation of the heart, mind. and body, and of relations, too. It is a release from constraint and pressure and obligation. It frees us to sit where we are and freely to flow between focusing and drifting. Moreover, the things to which we attend while at leisure are things that are voluntary and important to us: family, friends, hobbies, and the great questions of life. The Sabbath is meant to be a day of leisure, of rest, of freedom from the hustle-and-bustle of the obligatory and mundane. Heaven is to be our eternal rest. We will get to simply relax, play cards and drink wine, walk on the beach, laugh with friends, and otherwise do the sort of things that neither cost money nor can be bought - which is why commerce is excluded by levitical law from the Sabbath. The Sabbath is to be a reminder and a foretaste of heaven, heaven penetrating into our day-to-day. In leisure, there is a sort of quiet, gentle, receptive activity.

Amusement is almost the exact contrary of leisure. It replaces quietness with distraction, gentleness with exhileration, receptivity with absorption overload, and activity with passivity. Think of the immense difference between a walk on the beach with a brother or sister or lover, and going on a rollercoaster with one. On the rollercoaster, the shared experience is primarily in thinking back about the experience after it has happened, but during the experience itself, during the ride, the loud noise, the rush of adreniline, the gravity - they all conspire to absorb one's attention completely. Also, a rollercoaster is not something you do, but something you experience, something that is done to you, in a sense.

Amusement absorbs us and so distracts us from the reality of our lives, whereas leisure lifts us out of our life into a place where we can observe the reality of our lives (among other things) but without the pressure. Amusement spends our energy and scatters our focus, whereas leisure regroups our energy and recollects our focus. Amusement amplifies our experience of the day-to-day world, but only the entertaining parts. Amusement is a good thing though limited. Leisure lifts us up out of our day-to-day world in such a way that it can allow us to reflect and regroup and reenter it refreshed. Leisure does not amplify our day-to-day world, but introduces into it a little bit of heaven. Leisure is a good thing, and much less limited because it more closely reflects the unlimited joy of heaven.

When we speak here of vacation, we mean a vacation in which leisure, rather than amusement, predominates. People without any interior piece cannot really appreciate leisure, genuine relaxation, a vacation in this sense, the sense intended by Communion and Liberation. When they sit and become still, everything churning inside them rushes up. So they have to get up and DO something. DOING protects them from stopping and attending to things they would rather not address: the inner activity of their heart, the incoherence of their mind, the fragmentation of their relationships. When such people go 'on vacation' they fill up their time with incessant rush and activities, lest they actually begin to see their lives clearly.

That's not what a vacation is meant to be like, though. CL Vacations are taken as a group. Ten, twenty, even a hundred or more CL families, singles, priests, old people, young people will all go to a resort in the mountains or some other quiet place together. A priest will offer Mass and preach each day, someone will lead a rosary, maybe someone will give a talk on a spiritual topic each day. The rest of the day is filled with a gentle pace of horseback riding, rock climbing, hiking, walking, nature watching, camp fires, idle time, swimming, and laughing. It is meant to be a little piece of heaven.

When we think of heaven, really imagine and daydream about it, a little piece of heaven slips from our mind into our heart. When we experience little bits and pieces of heaven, something of it slips into our heart. When we experience and taste little bits of heaven, like when a kid licks the cake batter off an eggbeater, we begin to yearn for it. I am confident that the more we yearn for heaven, the more eagerly, happily, we will change our lives so as to be suitable for life there. We will reprioritize: God over the world, family over work, maturation over possessions. We will become more like God wants us to be - not because he is mean and pushy, but because he loves us and knows what we were made for: heaven.

A pilgrimage is something like a vacation in the sense meant by Communion and Liberation. In a pilgrimage the journey is not to relaxation but to a particular place, usually a holy site like a shrine or a tomb for the purpose of growing in faith, hope, and charity. The journey - especially to the extent that its provisions are left to Divine Providence - is an chance to grow in faith, and to the extent that one travels in faith one does not worry about details and can relax and let go. Spiritual in nature, the pilgrimage is marked by prayer, the action that most exercises hope. One may or may not chose one's travelling companions, but they are as important as the destination because they provide the most frequent occasions for charity. Pilgrimages are icons of the Church as She makes Her way from earth to heaven, to Her final rest, Her eternal vacation with Her Lord and Savior.

A conspiracy of unlikely collaborators have made it possible for me to go on a ridiculous number of overseas trips this year. A couple pals from the seminary, the IRS, my boss, my family, and the Church have all made it possible for me to go to Europe twice, and to Canada and Mexico - all in the span of the last 8 months. Each trip has been both vacation and pilgrimage. Each vacation-pilgrimage has enabled me to step out of the hustle-and-bustle of the mundane in order to relax and reflect. Each has had as its climactic destination a place of great holiness. Each has been in the company of loved ones - sometimes very close company! Not only have they been in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ, they have been in the company of the saints - especially the Blessed Virgin Mother, her chaste spouse, and her own mother, whose shrines we visited. All of the trips were exercises in self-abandonment to Divine Providence. For the most part, the itineraries were not planned out more than 12 or 24 hours in advance, nor was there any (or at least much) rushing, and we did all that we received more blessings than could have been imagined. Each journey been marked with prayer and joy and has helped me to refocus on the task assigned to me by God.

Christians probably intuit these ideas - I am only trying to help articulate what Christians making their way toward heaven already sense. Let's put away worldly (and expensive!) ideas about vacation: being waited on in nice restaurants and treated like a king, being constantly entertained, having everything exactly the way we want it, and having to make no effort. It is amazing how much less expensive Tulum is than Cancun, and how much more pleasant. We can allow Christ into even our vacation and allow Him to transform even our time away from timeliness. Isn't that what heaven is, after all - eternity with Christ, living outside of the constraints of time with the one who sets us free to be at perfect peace? It is amazing to think that our vacation can be a practice for heaven, and even help us get there.

We can put this basic principle into action more frequently and more regularly in a very simple way. Honor the Sabbath. Once a week, take a day off from hustle-and-bustle. Don't catch up on errands, go shopping, or eat at a restaurant - then others have to work. Play frisbee with your kids, or with your friends. Read a book. Notice that the world doesn't depend on your doing something. Barbaque. Go to church. Lay in a hammock and note the clear blue color of heaven. Stare long enough so that the image impresses itself on the inside of your eyelids, so that you see the shadow of heaven even when you have to go back to the things of earth.

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