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Father Cantalamessa on the Meaning of Vacations

Not a Time of Pure Escape, Says Capuchin

ROME, JUNE 20, 2006 (Zenit) - God's teaching about the need for rest is "a gift given to man to discover something," says the Pontifical Household preacher, in a reflection on the meaning of vacations.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in an interview with Vatican Radio, explained that the word "'repose' ... means to pause, to make a pause and also to lay aside; to lay aside everything in our activity, in our lives, which often becomes an interior dust cloud that prevents us from seeing clearly the meaning of life."

The Capuchin recalled the creation narrative in Genesis: "On the seventh day, God rested."

"Obviously, he did not need to, but we are in need of his teaching in regard to the need to rest," Father Cantalamessa observed.

In his review of the original meaning of terms relating to rest, the priest also mentioned the word "vacation."

"It comes from the Latin 'vacare,' which meant to abstain from normal activities to concentrate on something different," he said.

Also present in a biblical psalm, the term directs us to "take a vacation, to lay aside all our activities to become aware of the most important thing in the world, namely, that God exists," the Pontifical Household preacher said.

Vacation "is the complete opposite of escape; it does not mean to alienate oneself, to distract oneself," he clarified.

What vacation does mean, in itself, is to "concentrate on something, to abstain from other activities to concentrate on the essential, heeding that famous dictum, 'Only one thing is necessary,'" the Capuchin insisted.

"Perhaps the most beautiful meaning of vacation would be to renew an intimate, profound contact with the root of our being, which is God," noted Father Cantalamessa.

Holy days

He recalled that the Latin term "feriae" (holidays), "which has already become synonymous with days of vacation, of distraction, ... often also of failure and noise ... means days dedicated to divine worship."

"This was the meaning adopted by the ancient Romans and this is the meaning they also have today, in liturgical language, in which there is talk of 'feria I,' 'feria II,' namely, a day dedicated to the Lord," the priest noted.

In this context Father Cantalamessa said, "Vacations should be, in the course of the year, precisely those days in which, through the contemplation of nature, of the reading of the Word of God, one enters into oneself, to touch base again with the profound motivations of one's life.

"It seems significant to me that the word with which this time is indicated in the English language in the course of the year is 'holidays,' which means 'holy days,' days that must be dedicated to holiness."

The Capuchin continued: "I have insisted somewhat on the meaning of these words, because all enable us to see how at the origin of this activity of man, which is vacation, 'feria,' rest, etc., there is something profoundly different from the present meaning, which understands vacation as a time to amuse oneself, to be reckless, to do strange things.

"It is not that vacations should not also be a time to have fun, to be distracted, but they are a gift made to man to discover something; it is not a time to waste, to burn, but rather a time to be valued to the utmost."

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