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What can fall break do for you?

Kate Barrett | Thursday, October 13, 2011

Perhaps you, dear Notre Dame student, have had the same debate with your parents that I seem to have regularly with one of my sons whenever he has some free time. Perhaps because you’re closer in age to my son than to your parents or me, you will take his side. So even though I, like John the Baptist, may simply be “a voice crying out in the wilderness,” I will again take the position that having a break (be it fall, Christmas, spring, summer or even just a day off) shouldn’t simply become a reason to turn into a complete slug.

I am not opposed to relaxing, and I am the first to encourage my busy and perpetually tired teenagers to try to sleep in, go to bed earlier or take a nap when they have a chance. However (you knew there would be a “however” … go ahead, roll your eyes; I get that a lot), your fall break week, starting tomorrow, is a wonderful opportunity. It’s a gift of time worth more than a raft of reruns of “Two and a Half Men,” hours of trolling through YouTube or defeating the Master Chief on Halo 3.

Next week, even allowing for a generous 10 hours of sleep each night and coming back to campus early for the USC game, you’ll still have approximately 100 hours without a single lecture, lab or seminar to attend. So go ahead and spend a few of them on the couch with the remote, but just a few. Every moment in time is a gift God has given us. That same generous God has also given each of us a variety of talents and interests, the enthusiasm to pursue those interests and great sense of curiosity. During a week in which you will probably enjoy an unusual amount of free time, will you share those talents with others? Pursue a new interest you haven’t had time for yet? Learn a new skill or teach one of your favorites to someone else? Spend time with a person you haven’t seen since the summer?

Remember the gospel story in which the Pharisees asked Jesus whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to the occupying Roman forces? Knowing they were trying to trap him, Jesus used the Roman coin with its picture of Caesar to remind them — and us — of the importance of striking a balance. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” Jesus told the plotting Pharisees, silencing them.

He recognized, as we all must be careful to do, that we ought to be intentional about the way we live in the world. For it is precisely in the world that we meet God — in that which we can touch and taste and smell; in the people we meet and talk to and argue with and serve.

Similarly, we can ask ourselves how we will be intentional in the ways we spend the gift of time God has given us, especially during a week in which we will have more of it to offer than usual. Imagine if all the thousands of you who have received the gift of extra time over break next week spent even a portion of it volunteering at your old grade school … visiting a home-bound neighbor … sending an email to your congressman about an important local need in your community … cleaning up a park nearby … taking a younger brother or sister out for ice cream … trying out a new form of prayer you’ve wondered about … sorting canned goods at your local food bank … helping an elderly person clean up their garden for the winter … learning how to cook a new dish with your mom or dad.

Our time really does belong to God, and he has given it to each of us so that we will be stewards of a prized gift. To give to God what belongs to God, we can find the balance to which Jesus calls us. Make sure to leave some time to relax and catch up on your sleep next week, and consider also the many extra hours which will be yours to spend, as St. Paul said, as a “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus Program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.