We hear in the Gospel today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) how the Apostles return to our Lord. They are sharing with Him all they have done: the healings they performed in His name, the devils they cast out, the souls they brought to God. Yet they are tired from all this hard apostolic work. Our Lord calls them to go away to a deserted place to rest for a while. We should see two themes in this Gospel: the need to work for souls and the need to sanctify our rest.
Like the apostles, we should work-we do not want to waste any time. Yet this sense of work is not the frenzied “busyness” that we so often experience today. There is this unwritten pressure in our society that unless we are busy, we do not have worth. That’s not the idea here. Our work has a supernatural sense because we do our work for love of God. We spend our time in service to Christ, to family, and to society. Of course we work to pay for our home, our family, etc., but work has a deeper meaning for us who are baptized. In the midst of our daily duties we can offer them up as sacrifices of love, and also be working to bring souls to God. So we should be tired at the end of everyday, and we see how we truly do need a rest. We do the best we can to regain our strength at the end of the day and give our bodies the rest they need.
Saint Augustine notes that “See how much God loves us, my brethren, because when we rest, it is really He who rests!” (Commentary on the Psalms, 131, 12). When we are unable to take a rest, we turn to ur Lord and look at Him on the cross, seeing how in those moments of tiredness He draws us even closer to His heart. He too reached the end of most of his days exhausted.
Rest is an important part of our Catholic lives. We experience rest in a particular way on Sundays and Holy Days. So of course we do the best we can to make sure we take those days and sanctify them. In speaking about Sunday, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.” (CCC 2184).
Times and days of rest, especially holidays and vacation aren’t times for doing nothing! They are not excuses to indulge our passions or to seek ourselves. We should rather seek Christ. There are no holidays away from love. Saint Augustine reminds us that if we turn away from God during these times we will only experience deep pain and restlessness. (cf. Confessions, 4,10,15) When we stop our activity we have a deep desire to consume, and we are like lost sheep because we feel a deep uneasiness. We turn to entertainment, junk food, and sometimes there are falls into addictive behaviors: pornography, alcohol, drugs, other bad addictive behaviors that only enslave and turn the soul away from God (if you struggle with addictions, check out the page for chastity, and seek help through the confessional and professional help if needed). We desire something greater but we feel lost. We need somebody to guide us, and Our Lord is the one who has been sent to tend to the sheep and He does so now through the Apostolic Church, through the Sacraments.
When it comes time for our rest, we should seek to consume those things which bring us life. Times of rest are good times to cultivate the family, cultural, social, religious aspects of our lives. Benedict XVI (here’s another good idea from him) encourages reading one of the Gospels all the way through rather than a cheap novel. There we will find powerful words that will give us strength, that will challenge us, and will lead us deeper in love with God. A vacation doesn’t need to be expensive or far away to be restful. We should never go on vacation where we know God will be offended or we will be in near occasions of sin. “Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.” (St Josemaria, The Furrow, 514). Turning on the television or phone to be mindlessly entertained is not restful: perhaps going for a walk, opening a good book, gathering with friends, listening to classical music, would be more refreshing since screen time is actually extremely stimulating for the brain and tires us out. Perhaps you could even consider taking a few days to take a retreat—extra time of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and away from your daily routine.
Our Lord calls the apostles to a place away to rest, and so for each of us as well. This time of rest is not a time to be idle and sit like a lug, but it is a time to be truly refreshed. It is not a time to turn away from God, but rather a time to turn toward Him, and to share the joy of faith with those around us. Our Lord is the true shepherd who gives true rest to our souls in the Holy Eucharist toward which our whole lives are oriented: “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;” (Psalm 23). No matter what pressure we encounter from the world, we must be faithful sheep to this true shepherd.