Sunday, July 22, 2018


Come away by yourselves to a deserted place.
people  were  coming  and  going  in      great
numbers, and  they  had  no opportunity even
to eat. 
Mark 6

It was the Fourth of July, a typical holiday for me. I was holed up in my house, sitting in front of my computer cranking out RECORD columns, yet another homily for Bellarmine and outlining a chapter for another book. The doorbell rang and one of my friends stepped across the threshold and said quite emphatically, “I’ve come to drag you out of your hole!” I wasn’t behind in my work, necessarily. I was actually enjoying what I was doing. Like Mozart, “When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”

“I’ve come to drag you out of your hole!” Even though I was enjoying myself, he was right. I find writing and public speaking “enjoyable” and regular recreation and killing time “hard work.”  I admit that I overdo it. I am notorious among my friends for my lack of a social life. Even though I am entitled to one day a week off and four weeks of vacation a year, I often work on my day off and forget to plan a vacation until another year rolls around. Even when I do get away, I have written most of my books, sitting on a beach chair, on “vacation!”  The first step to dealing with a problem is to own the problem. I have to admit that I am a “workaholic.” I am addicted to my work. 

The story of Jesus’ disciples coming home tired from preaching and teaching and healing is one near and dear to my heart. I have been there and done that!  Their ministry was so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat.  Jesus steps in and takes them away for a short retreat. They go away to a deserted place to rest, recharge and re-assess. This story has so much to teach us all. 

The first thing that stands out is that there was plenty of work to be done, the disciples seem to be enjoying what they were doing and they were reasonably successful at doing it. It was a matter of too much of a good thing. Jesus knew the “harvest was great and the laborers were few,” but he also knew they needed rest, if they were going to last the long haul.

I am reminded of a situation when I was in the “home missions.” I was lucky to have two nuns from Connecticut working with me. Their order allowed them to work in the missions without a salary, but they had no car. I begged a parish up here in Louisville to buy them a used car, which they did. A few months after they got the car, they came to me one day and said that it had quit out on the highway. We had to have it towed in to the garage. It did not take the mechanic too long to diagnose the problem: the engine had locked up because they ha forgotten to change the oil. They simply drove it till it had run dry and the engine froze. We ended up having to take it to the junkyard.

Saint Vincent de Paul, who worked with the massive numbers of poor in his country, said it well when he spoke to those who worked with him. “Be careful to preserve your health. It is a trick of the devil, which he employs to deceive good souls, to invite them to do more than they are able, in order that they may no longer be able to do anything.”  This was why Jesus invited his disciples to “come away and rest a while.” He knew that, if they didn’t build rest and prayer into their schedules, they would soon be able to do nothing. To have something to give to others, our “wells” needs to be filled. We need to give our bodies rest. We need some time not doing.

It is pretty likely that you – or someone you know – is a workaholic. Workaholics live for their work, often spending many extra hours at work, and often taking work home to complete. When work becomes the sole reason for a person’s existence above more important things (such as family, friends and God), the issue becomes critical.

Part of the problem is societal. American – when compared to many other countries – are typically a work-hard culture. Americans are working more hours per week than in past years, and with all the downsizing and consolidations and lack of replacement hirings, more and more workers are putting in extra hours to complete work previously done by others. We priests are not spared. Single priests are now taking multiple parishes or ministry assignments, doing the work that several priests in the past used to do. Some studies show that 40% of workers, myself included, don’t even bother to take vacations. They even work more and more on Sundays, that sacred day that God calls the “Sabbath rest.” Instead of obeying God, who knows more than we do, we now have that “endless loop,” the seven-day workweek. In some cases, part of the problem is financial. Many Americans must work multiple jobs simply to earn a living wage and keep their family out of poverty.  

Just as Jesus and his disciples discovered, it is hard to get away, even if you want to get away. It says that they “took a boat to a deserted place, but people tracked them down.”  Today, especially, we live in a connected environment – e-mails, instant messaging, fax machines, cell phones and digital assistants – making it almost impossible to truly get time away from their work. People have better and better ways to “track us down.”

Another reason for working too much, which is not mentioned in this gospel, is that many of us use work as a drug to numb ourselves against having to face a fundamental loneliness that all human beings have. If we stay busy, we don’t have to feel that pain. More and more of us hide behind work so that we don’t have to deal with our struggling marriages, the constant demand for availability to our children and the lack of intimacy we need, but don’t have, in our lives. We can avoid it all, behind the respectable veil of “hard work.”

Regardless of the reasons, workaholism can be a serious condition that can lead to the decline and destruction of families, to stress-related health problems and to a total loss of a spiritual life. When work becomes the sole reason for being – when it becomes the only thing we think about, the only thing that truly makes us happy – then it is time “come away by yourself to a deserted place and rest awhile.”    We need not confuse hard work with workaholism. Hard workers know the boundaries between work and personal time and can function normally when not at work, while workaholics have no personal times and cannot function well unless they are working.

God isn’t as dumb as many of us think. He told us to rest one day a week and we think we know better! Really? 

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