Some Summer Lessons
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2005
What kind of thoughts come to mind when considering the summer season?
Children enjoying a break from school, families taking a vacation far from home, work-mates playing ball, neighbors taking refreshing dips in the local swimming hole—all these are prominent among summertime images.
This season connotes rest from labor and a change of pace. But that doesn’t mean that these special months should degenerate into a period of sloth. They can be productive, as well. Relationships may be renewed, a new language studied and attractive literary classics read.
In the spiritual realm, an important truth must also be recalled. As one Catholic teacher said to her students before summer recess: “We never take a vacation from God.”
With the Easter season concluded and Advent more than four months away, a dangerous lull can occur in our spiritual lives. For some, Sunday Mass may become optional, the Sacrament of Penance completely forgotten, devotion to Our Blessed Lady neglected and daily prayer and self-denial placed on the shelf.
That is unfortunate because summer is a perfect time to take a personal spiritual inventory. Use these special weeks to take stock of your friendship with Jesus.
Ask yourself: “How can I be a more faithful disciple of Christ? How can I detach from what’s not necessary so as to surrender myself wholeheartedly to the Almighty’s wise plan for my life?”
There are many ways to answer these questions, but it helps to have a spiritually proficient guide.
One of the most famous, and deservedly so, is Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th century English prelate known for his sanctity and learning, and whose cause for Beatification is under way in the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Cardinal Newman wrote a reflection in "The Idea of a University" that makes beneficial summertime meditation and a basis for some inner searching.
The reflection offers a description of an authentic gentleman, a man whose character has strong Catholic-Christian underpinnings. Of course, Newman’s words have as much applicability to women striving to be holy ladies in Christ as they do to men desiring to be upstanding gentlemen.
Here’s a portion of Newman’s essay about the authentic gentleman:
“He is one who never inflicts unnecessary pain. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home.
“He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unreasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate.
“He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring.
“He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil he dare not say out loud. From a longsighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage that we should ever conduct ourselves toward our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.
“He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.”
We might argue that it’s possible to adopt the attitudes saluted by Cardinal Newman without any reference to Jesus Christ. True, a “pagan” can be “kind” in a merely human sense, devoid of any direct Christian meaning.
Nevertheless, for a follower of Christ, being a real gentleman or lady has added import—a closer conformity to the gentle Messiah. For Jesus Himself “raised” these attitudes and bestowed on them a supernatural charity—a virtue that distinguishes His flock from those animated with only a humanitarian flavor.
When a Christian looks after one who, for example, is bashful, distant or absurd, he does so with his own eyes fixed on the Savior. The Christian’s charitable act—far from being just polite—is loving and compassionate in imitation of the King of Kings.
Summer is a superlative time to attempt this practice. The season provides a backdrop by which we may grow in holiness. Turning with confidence to the Lord of the world, we beg His assistance in using these months for His honor and glory and—please God—for a renewal in our relationship with Him.
(A slightly edited version of an article that appeared on page eighteen of the June 26, 1994 issue of the "Catholic Twin Circle.")
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Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman; Spirituality of Vacations
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