Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Time away, time apart

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The summer months are marked by vacations, which are time spent away from regular work. The priests of the archdiocese took time away two weeks ago to come together in convocation. The days of convocation were spent considering our mission, our hope and our identity. Our mission is to introduce the world to its savior. The Christ proclaimed in mission is the basis of our hope. The identity of ordained priesthood within that mission of the church is to pastor, to govern the people the Lord gives us to love and care for.

To help us reflect on mission, hope and identity, speakers were invited to bring new insights into our priestly work here. The archbishop of Portland, himself a native Chicagoan; a laywoman who teaches Holy Scripture at Mundelein Seminary; a priest-author from the Diocese of Orange, Calif.; and some of our own priests were all featured. Perhaps our bestknown speaker was Matthew Kelly. Before the convocation, I had heard of Matthew Kelly and read a couple of his books, but I had never heard him speak. He impressed me greatly; largely, I believe, because of his deep-seated faith that lent conviction to everything he said and enabled us to find hope from the action of the Holy Spirit in his life. His is a life shaped by the truths and the practices of the Catholic faith, lived with joy. Matthew Kelly can be reached at The Dynamic Catholic Institute; 2330 Kemper Lane; Cincinnati, Ohio 45206. The Institute’s motto is: “Be Bold. Be Catholic.”

The priests’ convocation was not only time away but also time apart. It’s important to “get away” in order to break up the routine of life, since routine can be deadening. But it’s even more important that “time away” be “time apart” from ordinary preoccupations so that vacation time can be genuinely refreshing. People recognize they need time away when they are tired and anxious, when they are overworked and need a fresh start. They need to rest.

It can happen, however, that one needs to take time apart in order to gather resolve to start working. If a large part of one’s ordinary routine is spent wasting time, then perhaps one doesn’t need more rest. Killing time with excessive TV or morally destructive pornography, with silly pursuits that distract but do not refresh are an indication that one needs to work rather than rest. A vacation spent working for others, perhaps in a poor neighborhood or an underdeveloped country, might be the impetus needed to really break up routine and change one’s life. Working in joyful generosity will refresh and lead to the new start we often feel we need.

Time apart, if it is to be truly refreshing, is also marked by prayer. Pope Benedict XVI has been teaching about forms of prayer and helps to prayer during his weekly audiences. Recently, he has spoken about the Psalms, the prayers that are said regularly by all those who use the Liturgy of the Hours to enter into conversation with God. The Psalms are a record of conversations with God that span the length and breadth of human experience. Some Psalms praise God for his goodness in nature and in history. Others complain to God that he is abandoning his people, while others recognize that a sinful people have abandoned God and deserve to be punished. A good number of Psalms call on God to punish the enemies of his people, and others thank God for the mercy that can bring anyone and everyone to conversion of life.

Because the Psalms are inspired, they truly bring us into conversation with God. When prayed habitually, they gradually change one’s life and shape one’s soul to be constantly attuned to the action of God in our lives. Even Psalms can become part of a routine, however, and it might be good during “time apart” to pray them more reflectively, to set down new insights that come from the Spirit of God, even to choose a Psalm or two that one can come back to because it is a never failing favorite way of beginning a conversation with God. Personally, my spirits are always lifted when, in praying the Hours, I meet again Psalm 8 (O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!) and Psalm 19 (The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork). Since the responsorial Psalms are constants in the time set apart for celebration of the Holy Eucharist, choosing a favorite from among them after the first Scripture reading each Sunday can be a great help to personal prayer throughout the week.

Finally, this July 14 will be a very special time for our neighboring Diocese of Joliet and for the Catholic Church in Illinois. On that day, the new diocesan bishop will be installed in the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet. He is the Most Rev. Daniel Conlon, who has been the bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, in recent years and is well prepared to pastor the church of Joliet. He would be the first to remind us that he needs our prayers and to ask for them. May the Lord give him strength and wisdom: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27: 1).

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago