My brothers and sisters in Christ,
As this month of July comes to an end, we find ourselves faced with one last month before our children go back to school or return to college. Our young people surely know better than the rest of us the importance of taking a break. As a priest living in a rectory community, I feel fortunate to have many of our household chores taken care of by a diligent staff. Yet, even with that blessing, rest and relaxation still seems a luxury as my days are filled with the call to ministry and the constant demand of administrative responsibilities. I am sure the parents in our parish know this very well from their own daily experience: taking care of the kids; doing the laundry; cooking; cleaning; driving here and there; making money and keeping up with relationships, etc. Life can be exhausting.
Nevertheless, it is important to find time for rest. Rest and relaxation is not a luxury but a necessity. It is good for our body and soul. In our very busy lives, I still appreciate the need to escape the mindless humdrum of daily responsibilities. I know firsthand that our lack of appreciation for rest and our default habit to keeping ourselves busy with fidgety works have grave consequences in the quality of our life, health, relationships, and even our faith. The banal routines that become entrenched in our habits often take the life out of our days, and the inability to rest only makes it worse as it affects our sense of fulfilment and self-regard. Yet the remedy for this compulsion to overwork can be quite simple. I invite you, for example, to savor the remainder of this summertime when there is not much to do. Let’s enjoy our friends; spend time enjoying this wonderful city we call home; taste the rich food and discover the fascinating cultures around us! Let’s take advantage of living at a slower, more rested pace. And most importantly, let’s take time to just stop and be still.
From the opening pages of the Bible, we might say that aside from breathing life into the cosmos, the first act of love God shared with humanity was that after making us, He took time to rest. Scripture tells us that on the sixth day, God created man and gifted him the earth, thus giving us our first vocation to fill it and to care for it. Then “He rested on the seventh day from all his work that He had done” (Gen 2:1-3). I see this first act of rest as an act of love between God and His creation. It conveys to me the significance of God’s command for the Israelites, and for us, to observe rest, not only as a people once a week, but also as individuals when we can. God surely does not need to rest, yet finds rest refreshing nonetheless. God rests so His people can partake in His refreshment. His rest from work fosters His relationship with His people. People take delight in the “very good” creation of God, upon which humanity’s work is meant to build. Thus taking time off from the busy and monotonous routines is a good way for us to honor God. How wonderful it is to be able to take trips to the beach and feel the sand between our toes. How marvelous it is to watch the sunset glow across the ocean horizon or the gleaming city skyline. How fulfilling it is to be with our loved ones and friends and really hear the melody of their voices. God has entrusted all these gifts to us as an act of love. They must be returned as an act of gratitude. We must do with them what God had intended for us: to enjoy. It is in the enjoyment of God’s creation that we are taken out of ourselves and oriented towards Him who wants us to spend quality time with Him, and who has left us traces of Himself in His creation.
This Sunday we are reminded in the Gospel that God wants us to orient our lives towards heavenly things and to detach ourselves from worldly treasures. This is not to say that these things are bad. Rather, the Lord invites us to not see things as ends in themselves, but as important tools in orienting us towards Him. We human beings need a rhythm of work and rest in order to live up to our God-given potential. Work gives us the opportunity to partner with God in His goals for creation; rest allows us to enter into communion with Him in enjoyment of creation. So, I urge you, brothers and sisters, though I personally know too well that it can be difficult to heed, to slow down and enjoy life as God intended. Prayerful rest is also a right and just way to give Him thanks.
Always, you are in my prayers,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham