When this column appears online in early August, I shall be far away on vacation in the Wolverine state of Michigan, where I spent many wonderful summer days in my youth.  I know that not everyone is able to enjoy an opportunity to get away and be at rest for a while.  I am grateful to God and to all of you who have made this possible for me once again this year.  Last summer I traveled with our young adults to Madrid for World Youth Day and considered that my vacation.  It was a great experience, but I must confess it was not so restful.  But it certainly was energizing, that’s for sure!

On the Sunday before I left for my vacation, we listened to the passage in the gospel of St. Mark where Jesus was attempting to take a little time apart for relaxation and prayer with his friends.  Like most wise people, the Lord understood that in order to live healthy and holy lives, we all need to achieve some measure of balance in the many activities of our lives.  Humanly speaking, it is not possible to be there all the time for others.  Sometime there are days when we do also need time for ourselves.  Days on vacation help us achieve the balance in our lives that we all need.

But the gospel also taught another lesson.  Sometimes our best intentions don’t work out the way we desire.  We learn that when Jesus arrived in a place he thought would be away from the crowd, people were awaiting him.  They were so impressed with his teachings and healing powers that they simply could not let him out of their sight.  A compassionate Son of God didn’t grumble but immediately resumed his ministry to them and taught us a marvelous lesson about true compassion.  Fortunately my teachings and healing powers are not so impressive so I did not expect too many of you to follow me to my “get-away” place!

Last summer Pope Benedict XVI, who also makes sure to take some vacation time and similarly is often interrupted, just like the Lord, offered a few brief but important suggestions about how we should spend our vacation days. He said it was important to use this time to renew and strengthen our relationships with other people and with God.  Bringing a copy of the Bible along in our suitcase will help.  He also suggested that we spend some time contemplating the greatness and the beauty of creation all around us, thereby recognizing the marvelous presence of our Creator.  Jesus certainly knew how to interpret the language and signs of creation, which is a gift that we must respect, protect and care for.  Finally, the Pope urged us to use vacation time to apply our intelligence and curiosity to discover the monuments of the past.  Visiting churches, sanctuaries and other holy places in the neighborhood of our favorite vacation headquarters reminds us how they are witnesses of culture and faith, examples of our spiritual roots and heritage.  Folks on vacation in Oregon often visit our cathedral, the Grotto, abbeys and monasteries in this beautiful world.  When that happens, we are naturally inspired to pray for all of God’s people on our pilgrim way to glory.  

To sum it all up, the Pope said that reading, nature and culture help us to nourish and restore our spirit.  Then, when vacation days are over, we are strengthened to continue our journey refreshed and renewed.  That certainly is my goal during my two weeks away from the cathedral and Pastoral Center in Portland.  But I know that I always look forward to coming back, because this is where God has planted me and this is where my personal life of faith flourishes.

So you may ask, “How are you spending your vacation, Archbishop?”  Well, I left Portland on the red-eye and arrived in Chicago just in time to take a nap at the home of my sister in a nearby suburb of Chicago.  I’m not good for much the first day away.  It’s usually time just to catch up on a little lost sleep.  Then the first Sunday I celebrated Mass with family, commemorating the 25th anniversary of my installation as a diocesan bishop back in Winona, Minnesota.  A nice breakfast “on the town” topped off the morning.  Then I scheduled three days of visits to friends in the Diocese of Winona, where I served for 10 ½ years before coming to Portland.  I never have time to see everyone I would like to visit, but the homemade pies and the corn on the cob, together with the smiles and memories of happy days gone by, make such return visits a special delight.

Before heading off to Michigan, a luncheon with cousins on my Dad’s side of the family at a nice Czech restaurant was in order.  Cousin Rita Stancik had died in June and, even though I did celebrate her funeral Mass, I did not have much chance to visit with her children or husband.  Then came the week in southwest Michigan, near the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan, where I had spent so many delightful days as a youngster with my parents, sisters, cousins and family friends.  Those seven days were intended to be filled with “nothing to do,” which sounded perfect when I made the plans.  Of course there was something to do, but never too much and typically very pleasant.  A visit with relatives still living in southwestern Michigan also was part of that “escape”.

My return is scheduled for Saturday, August 11th.  Even though I typically enjoy my vacation days very much, I am always glad to come back home.  While I am trying to follow the Pope’s advice about how to spend my vacation time, I certainly don’t plan to follow his example.  Why?  Because it doesn’t seem that he follows his own advice.  A vacation for a Pope is inevitably a “working vacation.”  Thanks be to God, such is scarcely ever my experience.  

Pope John Paul II also made sure there were some vacation days as part of his summer schedule.  He too was grateful that such an opportunity was possible for him.  In fact, a speech he made on one occasion during his pontificate speaks to the heart of the matter about any good vacation: “Man always travel along precipices.  His truest obligation is to keep his balance.”  That he did and I am doing the same during my time away this summer.  God bless us all.