Deacon Terrance Marcell, tour leader Bret Thoman and Father Vincent Gilmore walk toward St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican as they follow the historic pilgrimage route of St. Francis from Assisi to Rome Oct. 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Foster Personal Growth this Summer

Summertime offers opportunities for renewal, recharging

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The great feast of Pentecost has come and gone. The liturgical calendar has turned from Easter, which was late this year, back to Ordinary Time. Summer is here, and the expectation is that life around the parish, to some degree, will slow down.

Maybe the pastor can look to use the next few months as a time of personal renewal and spiritual growth. Summer can be a season of learning and of new experiences that draw us closer to our Creator. But how can we best use these months for not only renewal, but needed recharging?

Although each long summer day beckons us to slow down, the responsibilities to the Church, to those who rely on the pastor for the sacraments and their spiritual direction don’t go away just because the calendar has turned over. Thus establishing a plan to best use these summer hours and days is important. During much of the year, the pastor has less control of how time is used, but now, during this period of Ordinary Time, a time when preparation for Easter and Christmas have ended, when intense activities associated with the parish school, religious education or RCIA are on hiatus, there is likely more opportunity for controlling and organizing daily events.

Use of Time

St. Augustine said about time: “What is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”

However we define time, there seems to be a little more of it during the summer. The priest first has to take care of dedicated time — that is, time to say daily Mass, for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, for other prayer, for the Rosary and Eucharistic adoration. Also, part of every day goes to managing the parish, preparing the next homily, celebrating marriages, baptisms, funerals — some things don’t stop. Priestly duties seem endless but perhaps less overwhelming in the summer as in other months, meaning there is some discretionary time allowing the priest to organize or set aside certain days and hours for his own purposes.

What follows are a few suggestions to use these summer months for personal growth. Building a schedule to fit any of these ideas, or similar ones, is up to the individual and a creative mind. None are meant to separate anyone from our Creator, but rather to equip us to serve him better.

Take a Course, Teach a Course

Universities offer courses in the summer, and this may be the only time when a priest can arrange to participate. Some schools offer general courses like leadership, financial management and communications. There are Catholic universities that include those subjects as part of pastoral management or parish administration programs. Of course, sessions on theological subjects often are offered. Additionally, if your parish has a large number of immigrants, learning their language would be helpful, or take a language course for your own edification.

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On its website, the
Institute for Priestly
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Part of being healthy is eating right, and to eat right you have to cook right. There likely is a course somewhere on cooking, one that someone who lives alone, such as a priest, can profit from.

If parishioners are around during these months, perhaps you can conduct a class or course. Many eagerly attend pastor-taught classes no matter the time of year. Reading and reviewing a classic Catholic book, explaining purgatory and/or indulgences, discussing some of the Old Testament books, breaking open the lives of men and women of the Bible, and discussing the impact of the Second Vatican Council are possible topics. Some subjects lend themselves to several sessions, while others are satisfied in one evening or morning. Don’t put limits on the subjects. Choose something that you long have been interested in but didn’t have the time to explore in detail.

Offer a summer retreat for the faithful to spend a day or several hours together in prayer, meditations and devotions. You may include talks on one or a couple of the subjects not often explored in a Sunday homily. Of course, food is always popular. For fun, add in a Catholic trivia contest.

Pilgrimage/Personal Getaways

Another way of renewal is to lead or join a pilgrimage to a shrine or church. It doesn’t have to be to an international location. Try somewhere local — no big bucks involved. Pope Benedict XVI said that “a pilgrimage is to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

There are, of course, extended tours, and there are just day trips. A trip to a nearby holy site is often well-received. While the purpose of a religious pilgrimage is to grow spiritually, there are also the valued byproducts of new relationships, new landscapes and new experiences.

You can make your own personal pilgrimage: Head off to that shrine or church, spend the day meditating, sensing the Lord’s presence at the holy site. Don’t neglect the beauty of nature and the refreshment of hiking in the mountains, a bike ride, walks in the park, and, yes, even the quiet of the golf course. History and art museums, the beauty of architecture, of painting, of sculpture can be not only relaxing, but a way to improve ourselves.

Summer Reading Program

Statistics say that reading is a passion among many people, including priests. How about setting a goal for yourself of reading a certain number of books over the summer? There are, of course, hundreds of books that inspire and stimulate. Make up a summer-reading bucket list of books you have always wanted to read or reread. Here are three Catholic books, with a short description, you might consider:

“The Spirit of the Liturgy” by Pope Benedict XVI (Ignatius, $19.95): Written by Benedict when still a cardinal, this work is done in his unique literary style, informing the reader about the beauty of the liturgy. Benedict said about the book, “I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and the right way to give the faith its central form of expression in the liturgy.” The book is in four parts: The Essence of the Liturgy; Time and Space in the Liturgy; Art and Music; Liturgical Form. Benedict discusses the liturgy from the perspective of history, the church building, the direction of liturgical prayer, music, active participation, kneeling, standing, sitting during the liturgy and more. This is a view of the liturgy as seen through the eyes and mind of this great academic, Pope Benedict.

“Edmund Campion, A Life” by Evelyn Waugh (Ignatius, $15.75): This is the story of a priest and martyr who sacrificed himself for God and Church. The story takes place in Elizabethan England in the 17th century, when the English government was attempting to deny the practice of Catholicism. Any Catholic priest in the country or attempting to enter the country, such as the Jesuit missionaries, faced imprisonment and possible execution. Hundreds of priests were persecuted. Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured, hung, drawn and quartered. In 1970, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI. His story of courage and commitment to his Catholic faith is an inspiration to every reader.

“The Way of a Pilgrim” by R.M. French (Hope Publications, $24.95): Here is the narrative of a pilgrim, a serf, walking across 19th-century Russia, talking with everyone he meets about prayer. It begins with his seeking to understand the words of St. Paul, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes 5:17). The pilgrim asks many people for an explanation and gets no satisfactory answer. He sets off across the country, asking the question to others. He eventually finds a monk who provides an explanation of how to give every day to prayer and devotion to God, to pray without ceasing. The reader may give little attention to the monk’s prayer technique, but the journey of one person dedicating himself to prayer and to Christ is compelling.

Get Healthy

Summer is an opportunity to get that health checkup you have been postponing. A thumbs up from the doc can be an incentive to begin an exercise regime while simultaneously making sure you start eating healthfully. So this summer, join a gym, walk every day, jog or run, pay more attention to food labels when you shop, and be mindful of how and what you are cooking and eating.

It is great to receive meals from parishioners, but those tasty meals most often do not support calorie-counting. Staying healthy adds to your years in God’s service; no priest wants that time cut short because he didn’t take care of himself.

D.D. EMMONS writes from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and is a longtime contributor to OSV publications.

Cultivating Tasks to Encounter the Lord

“The summer season is a providential time to cultivate our task of seeking and encountering the Lord. In this period, students are free of scholastic commitments and many families take their holidays; it is important that in the period of rest and disengagement from daily activities, we can reinforce our strengths of body and soul, by deepening our spiritual journey.”

Pope Francis, during his Angelus message on Aug. 6, 2017

 
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