Because God Does Not Take Six Weeks’ Vacation

I was walking down the street after Mass this morning when I passed one of the Protestant churches in town. On the signboard outside, beneath the four names of the female minister, the church announced: “No Services until after Labor Day.” I’m not sure this post couldn’t end here, but let me share a few thoughts that occurred to me by the time I reached my office, a couple of blocks away.

If I didn’t go to church for the next six weeks, something inside me would grow cold. That something is already lukewarm now and then, and it wouldn’t take long for it to freeze up entirely.

An argument can be made here for a full-time celibate priesthood, don’t you think? Father Barnes is away for two weeks, but he never would have left for more than a day if he didn’t have Father Hennessey, our wonderful “permanent” guest priest, to fill in for him.

Finally, it occurs to me that if God really exists, and His Son Jesus Christ really appeared on earth 2000 years ago and remains present in the Eucharist today, then a minister taking six weeks off is a bit like installing a hammock in your office and sleeping the summer away while your boss is working 24/7. If I were the boss, I’d fire you.

But maybe that’s just me.

(Note: Bliss Hammocks did not endorse this message.)

ADDED Wednesday 8/4/10:

Faithful follower of this blog Mujerlatina has suggested this alternate illustration, noting that it shows “the legendary Johnny Appleseed who imbues the perfect qualities of a folk hero on vacation: au natural; earthy; contemplative and, for the priests’ sake, celibate!  He was like a St. Francis of the Americas.”

  • Karen

    So often I think we take for granted what a treasure – a pearl of great price – we have in the availability of Daily Mass. Reconciliation, Eucharist – available somewhere – e.v.e.r.y d.a.y

  • cathyf

    One time I read a little comment by someone who was visiting Europe and he met a priest from the rural midwest who was also touristing around. From their conversations, it quickly became clear that while father was on vacation, there was no priest back home in his parish. It's a far-flung, sparsely populated diocese, and there was no one who could come without leaving one of his own parishes priest-less.But it's ok, the priest reassured his new friend, because he had consecrated a large number of hosts before he left, enough so that they could have communion services until he got back. The author had this immediate (and awful) mental picture of some huge tub of the Blessed Sacrament in some lonely sacristy in some lonely church out in the middle of nowhere.I live in a not-so-populated rural diocese, where churches not so close together. Our pastor is a week into a 5-week trip back to his native country, and we will have to start the school year without him. Fortunately we are not so desperate — we have cobbled together enough substitutes for each weekend of his absence (although there will be no daily masses.) But I still have that that mental picture that pops into my mind — how long before we have a giant tub in our sacristy?I know that God has promised never to abandon us… But still, the future frightens me…

  • Colin Kerr

    No matter what your theology, the minister has to realize that if he/she doesn't take it seriously, no one will. Is this the message those four ministers mean to send: hey, what we do here is no big deal. So we'll see ya after the fun stuff ends…

  • Nick

    Could you please change the picture? It's immodest dress.

  • cathyf

    Colin, you missed the fun — go re-read Webster's OP. One minister, and she has four names.I think it was here, and months ago, Frank and/or Webster were celebrating one of those little Catholic things, which is that because of what we believe about the Eucharist, we go to mass even when we're on vacation or otherwise away from home. But, of course, Protestants see no such necessity. I suspect what happens is that 80% of the congregation is out of town on vacation, so the minister figured she should leave town too.

  • Webster Bull

    @Nick, I'm sorry, but to my point of view, there's an awful lot to commend this picture, especially the incredibly apposite brand name "Bliss" Hammocks. Until Frank or Allison instructs otherwise, I think we'll keep it.

  • cathyf

    Yeah, Webster, I vote to keep the picture, too.The Anchoress posted a video of Fr. Jim Martin's talk about joy and the spiritual life on Sunday night, and he tells a joke. Pope John XXIII, before he was pope, was Cardinal Roncalli, and he was the papal legate to France. So one night they are at a diplomatic dinner, and he is seated across from a woman showing lots of cleavage. His secretary whispers, "The scandal!" Roncalli says, "What scandal?" "The woman across from us. Everyone is staring at her cleavage!" Roncalli: "Nonsense! Nobody is looking at her. They are all looking at me, to see if I'm looking at her!"

  • Anonymous

    My parish priest is in Italy (where he summers each year) for over a month. The other local monsignor just returned from 3 weeks in Australia. The visiting priests from Ghana are the ones who "keep house" while the 'master' is away. I believe the Catholic Church allows their priests to blissfully pass the summer away — the Church merely cloaks this reality by sending in the substitutes — in our case the Africans. My point? At least that Protestant minister is telling the truth about her vacation. Pax Christi.

  • Allison

    I am fine with the picture. The idea that bliss comes in the form of a blond on a hammock is so ironic.

  • Dave

    I don't really think it is all that immodest. She is, after all, at the beach. It could be worse, like a string bikini.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous @ 10:12pm:I disagree.The Catholic church is still taking care of her flock at that particular parish by finding substitutes so that Mass can still be said. Holy Mother Church is acknowledging that everyone needs a vacation, even priests, however, this does not mean that responsibilities are being abdicated. It is not a "cloaking" of some nefarious reality that priests don't take vacations. In fact, it's quite obvious with the substitute priests at the parish.On the other hand, the protestant minister is abdicating her responsibilities by going on vacation and leaving no substitute behind for services. She has a particular job that if she were unable to find a substitute, she must forgo her vacation until she could find one. It's a special and unique job.My point? The protestant minister may be telling the truth about her vacation, but she is abandoning her responsibility of ministering to her flock by not finding someone to work in her stead. At least the Catholic Church is making sure her flock are being taken care of. Imagine if doctors, firemen, police did such a thing as this minister.– Jayne

  • Grace

    Yes. The Catholic Church never quits.I used to be a nondenominational church member, and it used to bother me that there was no service on Good Friday due to lack of popular demand. And — the last year before I left— one year no service on Christmas Day because one faction wanted to open their presents in the morning and another group vetoed mid-day because that was when they had their main meal. That was the second-to-last-straw for me.The last straw is another story (people shouting down the preacher and fighting about the one-minute prayer and respect for the fallen on Poppy Day, November 11th).

  • Webster Bull

    cathf,Thanks for the Roncalli story. Father Barnes told me that he read somewhere (this may be WAY apocryphal) that Roncalli/JXXIII never experienced sexual temptation. Which, paired with your story, says to me that sin is in us and how we view the world, not in God's beautiful creation. My Dad, who while no Pope was a real straight arrow, would have appreciated the image. He admired the female form, without leer or salacious comment.

  • Anonymous

    @WebsterGreat post!@cathfI saw that video too, hilarious!

  • Bali villas

    i agree with you..

  • Tim H.

    Nick said, "Could you please change the picture? It's immodest dress."Agreed. Many men struggle with temptation on the internet and the problem is bigger than most people realize. Personally, a woman in a bikini is one of the last things I want to see at a Catholic blog. The Bible does say something about placing a stumbling block in front of a brother…The pic is entirely innapropriate IMO and I know I'm not alone. -Tim-


    Why does society continue to objectify women? The implication here is that one of the four female ministers IS the dumb bikini-clad blond in the hammock. The other implication is that the celibate parish priest is off on his blissful vacation with the dumb blond, while the substitute African priests take care of the flock. Either way Webster, this photo is in very poor taste.

  • Nannette

    For 18 years, I’ve lived in the south, where just mentioning that you’re Catholic to a stranger or acquaintance opens you up to challenge and contest. (I never experienced that in my first 27 years of life in the northeast. In fact, my fundamentalist friends down here are a bit taken aback when I tell them that my concept of Protestantism was presented to me by Protestant schoolmates, and it was this: “Why can’t you go on Sunday? . . . Oh, well . . . I’m protestant, so I don’t have to go to church like you do.”)Over the years, after much thought on theology differences and what a protestant service is (beyond community worship), as opposed to what a Catholic Mass is (beyond community worship), I have come up with this metaphor:A protestant minister is like a teacher. The most important part of the service is the minister’s teaching (sermon), so it better be good. A Catholic priest is like a doctor. The most important part of the “service” is not the teaching (homily), it’s the Eucharist. Our priests’ main job is not to teach (though it’s wonderful when we encounter the rare bird who is also a good teacher), it is to administer prescriptions. The diagnosis is sin, the cure is Jesus Christ; until He comes again and while we’re stuck on this earth, the prescription is the Sacraments.Remarkably, this analogy has quieted a few challengers and even seemed to please them. Today, it came to mind when I read your blog and thought, “Well, it makes sense to me. Schools take summer break; Hospitals can’t.”

  • rubiaexplosiva

    @mujerlatinaPerhaps people will learn not to objectify women when people like yourself don't immediately assume that a blonde women on a hammock is "dumb".

  • EPG

    Webster, I think the photo is a riot — keep it — I would hate to think that Catholics are humor impaired :) — The Roncalli story tells me that maybe, just maybe, you all aren't (double grins here) — (Then again, I live in Florida, and probably see people more scantily clothed at the grocery store on a regular basis). More seriously, I loved Nanette's anthology, and suspect that there is a lot to it. Webster did not specify the denomination, but, if it was a Congregational or Methodist church (or one of the few American Baptist congregations left), that would be right in keeping with my experience. The Episcopalians have their own issues, but mostly they have some sense of sacramentality — maybe we just think we're too healthy to need the medicine when the weather is good.


    @ rubiaexplosiva: No need to be angry my blond friend!! That blond on the hammock makes mockery of ALL women: "rubia" or not, The point is that the photo objectifies women and inculcates stereotypes of "the dumb blond." I also take pause with the majority of cable news anchorwomen — some very Catholic — who somehow feel compelled to peroxide their hair in order to 'make it' in the 24 hour news cycle. Who pressures women to make themselves blond? Afterall, no woman after age twenty is a true blond — whether of the 'rubia' persuasion or not! Pax Christi. Que Dios la bendiga.

  • James

    Webster didn't mention the denomination of the Church/Minister but I can't imagine that she would abandon her congregation without making some arrangement for their spiritual sustenance. Possibly they could attend services at a nearby church of the same denomination. Or not. They're certainly welcome to attend Mass at our parish. As for the photo – I was surprised but certainly not offended except that – I prefer brunettes.

  • Webster Bull

    EPG and James — So good to hear from both of you and to feel that you have my back. I think that as a blogger one has to be a provocateur sometimes, and this post seems to have accomplished that. The more I think about the image, the more complex it is. And its message paired with the post. It doesn't "go down easy" like, say, a religious image or icon would. So my blond lady friend will continue to swing blissfully in the ocean breezes . . . Kind of like Popeye swinging at Bluto (inside joke?)


    @ Webster: Will you have the courage to address the 'blond lady friend', with respect to my above questions?

  • Webster Bull

    Dear dear Mujerlatina, who has been such a friend to this blog —I think my answer just above you comment is sufficient. It is a provocative image (and not in a prurient sense either) and one with a mixed, complicated, yes, maybe confused message. For that reason, it has evoked a wide range of comments, unlike many other posts I have written. People will read into it what they will. I don't understand reading the image as "dumb" (as I said in the comment about my Dad, the hammock-swinger can be seen with innocent eyes, as he certainly would have done). Furthermore, nothing I have ever written suggests that I think "celibate parish priest[s are] off on [a] blissful vacation with [any sort of] blond." Nor did I comment on African priests. That was a someone else — which just goes to show how provocative the image is. Is that "courage" enough?

  • Michael

    Hi Webster,Loved the post and the picture! Those that felt the picture too immodest /tempting should have closed the Blog immediately – the poor, insecure souls…nuff said!Anyway, what I wanted to say, Webster, is that here is not so much a case for a full-time, celibate priest: I was a Deacon in an Old Catholic Church for many years and if the Bishop or the Senior Priest went on vacation – to which they were entitled like any other working person, it was simply a matter for efficient management to have a replacement available and we always had. But I have to say that the notion to simply cancel services "until after Labor Day" is a slap in the face of our Lord.The rural setting mentioned by another commentator, with no Assistant Priest to stand in for the Senior Priest going on vacation, is of course, a more challenging matter. Personally I would have had the charity to allow for some R&R; for the priest, as I think that with my Bible, my Rosary and my relationship with Our Lord, I would have survived the priest’s absence and would have prayed that he returned well rested and full of vigour again!(A belated congrats on your 59th in July – my 59th was a few days before yours, I think)Regards and blessingsMichael, Auckland, New Zealand

  • Anonymous

    my own humble discernment on your photo? its unnecessary. You see, we have this huge gift that is the sacraments, at our disposal, every day. "My child, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." (Luke 15:31)So why look back to mock our protestant brothers and sisters, when we have work to do. Like to pray for them. They are worse off. My own sister fell into this trap, and became protestant. She doesn't want to baptize her children, my little nephews. Souls are at stake. Of course, this is just the opinion of one faithful reader who needs to get to work himself.

  • bo_leggs

    Quite frankly, I didn't even notice the picture until I read Nick's post and had to go back and look. I, too, find nothing immodest with the picture, nor do I think it objectifies women. It appears to me that Webster probably used it to illustrate the one, not four, woman minister who was on vacation since most people picture a day at the beach as a vacation. In my wife's Methodist church, the minister takes his vacation two weeks off as a time. During those two weeks, the church council is responsible for finding someone to take the minister's place. They usually do this by bringing in lay ministers. After suffering through just a few of those "replacements", it's easy to see why most of the congregation is absent at those times. I am so thankful that the Catholic Church does not work like that. One of the big differences between Catholics and Protestants is that a Catholic belongs to every Catholic Church in the world. Protestants belong only to their local church.

  • Webster Bull

    For all the kerfuffle about the very appealing and intelligent-looking woman in the hammock, this post has also drawn some really interesting and useful comments, most recently from bo_leggs, just above. Nannette's comment from yesterday is beautiful too, with its analogy of Protestant minister : teacher :: Catholic priest : doctor. Thanks to all.

  • Allison

    Agreed. One thing about Catholic priests, unlike their Protestant brethren, is that they are consecrating. As much as some Protestant denominations talk about how they have more gender equality, they do not. Neither their male nor female pastors consecrate a thing. Where are the females whose lives they honor? What did they do with Our Blessed Mother?

  • Anonymous

    Canon Law allows a priest 30 days vacation a year. For those who work in the Vatican, that works out to 5 weeks (6 day work weeks). A priest is also allowed 5 days for retreats. If Canon Law allows vacation, pope's know about it, including our current Holy Father who is at Castle Gondolfo, why are people griping? Not to be too critical but if families were offering more seminarians to their dioceses, this would not be an issue at all. This criticism of priests on vacation sounds more like the protestant work ethic than a Catholic idea.

  • Frank

    A brother said to Abba Poemen, “Give me a word,” and he said to him, “As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.”

  • Shannon

    And there are places in the world who might see a priest once in six months, or a year… How often do we consider their needs while exulting in our (by comparison) excesses?

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