Living Catholicism: On Family Vacations

by Nan Balfour

Each summer, I could count on this conversation between my sons and me as we packed for our family vacation:
“Make sure you pack clothes for Mass.”
“What?! Why do we have to go to Mass when we are on vacation?!”

My usual response, “Just because we are on vacation does not mean we do not go to Mass. Don’t you think you should be thanking God for blessing us with such a beautiful vacation?” was met with eye rolls and grunts, but it never made me angry. I remembered having the same conversation with my parents when I was their age.

It is easy to understand their protests. Anticipating in excitement the fun of sand and surf, having to sit still for an hour just does not fit into their idea of vacation. But as their parent, I know there is no downtime in instilling what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies (2224).” Catholic parents are called to raise our children to love God through the Church our Lord gave us by adhering to her teachings. One way we do this is by participating at Mass every Sunday, no matter what the circumstances: sports schedules, family events, and, yes, even vacations.

I have discovered that parenting consistently with a “zero tolerance” in falling away from our sacramental obligations bears fruit. My sons no longer push back and, in fact, before a recent trip my 16 year old came to tell me he was all packed and said without my prompting, “Yes, I packed for Mass.” I have witnessed in my sons that this knowing what is expected of them has helped them to grow as responsible young men and gives them a sense of identity. It is a foundation from which they learn how to view the world and know how they are called to act in it. We are a Catholic family.

Parenting as God asks of us is certainly the best reason to insist we participate at Mass, but there is another reason that uniquely enhances our travel together, and that is the beauty and joy of discovering the rich unity in diversity of our Catholic faith. This is done by visiting all the variety of architectural styles of churches in the places we travel and worshiping alongside others of different cultures. We have attended small seaside churches with names like Our Lady of the Gulf, where parishioners passed large shells for the collection and wear flip flops. We have attended large city Masses at gothic cathedrals full of gold, stained glass, and marble, flanked by those who are homeless next to those dressed in suits and bonnets. We have been at inner-city parishes and desert chapels, and what my family and I have seen through them all is that, no matter how different the people may look inside, no matter how different the churches look from one another, we all offer the same worship, prayers, and sacrifice. We have the same Father, the same Mother, and we have brothers and sisters who span the globe! We are a Catholic Family.

If vacation is meant as a way to rest and step away from the ordinary routine of life, then these visits to different churches perfectly fit into this purpose. Our eyes, our minds, our spirits are lifted into a beautiful liturgical kaleidoscope, higher than even the tallest water slide!

I encourage you to take the time, with your family, to discover what Catholic Churches are in the cities and towns you will be traveling to this year and visit them during your vacation. Our experience has proven that, though they may grumble at first, my sons have come to appreciate these little pilgrimages and treasure the memories.

Not traveling this summer? You can still visit a rich diversity of churches right here in San Antonio. There is San Fernando Cathedral, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, the San Antonio Missions, and the Wayside Shrine of Schoenstatt in Helotes, just to name a few of the hundreds of churches and parishes in our city. Your family will be the richer for it, and if the eye rolls and grunts are too much to bear, I’ll share a secret . . . promise them ice cream afterwards!

Nan Balfour is Events Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living Catholicism is Pilgrim Center of Hope’s regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.