Jacqueline Marie | August 10, 2023
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, August marks the peak of summer, a time when many–including priests– schedule their “break.”
But this rest can often equal a burn-out coma or an overscheduled “holiday” only to return to the same hamster-wheel pace.
Father Pierluigi Vajra CRS, a DR-coached Parish Priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in Perth, Australia, shares his journey in experiencing rest as something more than just “not-working”. Like many priests — his workload is great, and rest does not come easily. But in his 28 years as a priest, he has come to recognize the profound value of prioritizing rest.
He readily admits that he is not an expert at applying it, “when I’m tired, I tend to just keep going and at times I realize it’s easier to keep going than to stop” As a leader, he emphasizes the need for honesty to admit exhaustion: “suppose if we meet with the leadership team and I’m in that condition, I need to acknowledge it,” because at that moment “I tend to see the difficulties more than the opportunities.”
But he also knows, “I do realize that when I rest, when I have moments in which I do things that are delightful for me, that nourish me, then the result is also that my people get something better out of me.” He lists the way rest strengthens his leadership, especially in his ability to listen, to see things clearly, “It’s like my vision is not too narrow, not too clouded and I can see solutions that I would not have seen in other moments.”
He has learned that rest for him is based on his giftings and strengths — in Clifton Strengths Finder, Father Pier ranks high in ideation and connectedness, so “for me it is restful, relaxing, and energizing listening to podcasts, which are visionary. So, if I have a walk in the bush and at the same time, I listen to some of those podcasts, after that I’m alive. I buzz with ideas.”
In this way, rest does not only happen in the absence of work but can also be in allowing space for things that bring renewed energy and joy to work. Though Father Pier also relates that intentional rest also includes saying “no.”
“I have learned little by little to recognize through discernment that God uses me through certain gifts and not through other gifts. I need to let go of commitments where I’m not gifted. That’s not for me to do. It’s for others to do… So why would I want to spend time doing something that I cannot do properly when there are people around me who actually enjoy doing?”
The motto of Father Pier’s religious order, the Clerics Regular of Somasca (CRS) “my yoke is easy and my burden light” comes from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
This scripture ties rest directly to the spiritual life. “Jesus there is comparing himself to an ox. The yoke is the tool that is used to harness the strength of an ox…So Jesus is saying take my yoke upon you, which really, I take it this way, he’s telling us …You don’t have to drive. Let the Father lead you. Let the mission of God lead you, and so at that point He can say, for My burden is light, My yoke is easy … You don’t have to do everything.”
Father Pier relates how often overworking comes from guilt. “On one side we are almost trained to think that if we do not do everything that people require of us, we are not good enough.” But instead, leading from a team enables accepting someone else’s strength in that weakness and offering it in return. The team is on mission, the parish is on mission, not just the priest.
“When I let God lead, it is easier for me to have a Sabbath. It is when I think I’m in charge of everything and I need to do everything that I’ll feel guilty. Then I burn out because I’m actually not letting God lead. I’m not taking the yoke of Jesus upon me, and so my burden is not light because I’m the driver. I have to do everything. Everything depends on me.”
While advocating for intentional rest, Father Pier is also aware of time sensitive needs that can come up. He references the story in Mark 6 when, after being sent out two by two, the disciples return and Jesus states, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31b). Instead, the crowds follow them wanting to be nourished both spiritually and physically. Instead of a holiday, the disciples end up serving the miracle of loaves and fishes.
“I do believe that I need to let God change my plans and when that happens at times, the experience I have is way more life-giving, way more relaxing, than what I would have done on my own.”
He shares an example: “Just last Monday, I decided to take two hours and have a long walk and so I prayed, I listened to some podcasts while I was walking, and then I simply stayed in silence and walked. But at one point I was thinking I didn’t really see the purpose of it. Towards the end of the walk, I suddenly bumped into a man who came into our community not even a year ago from elsewhere. He was so passionate to make our church a hospitable place, to welcome people on a Sunday – a wonderful presence– and suddenly he vanished. We didn’t see him anymore for quite a while and I didn’t have his contacts so I didn’t know where he was.”
Father Pierluigi struck up a conversation and quickly found out that the parishioner had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, suffered some falls, and could no longer drive to church. Father Pierluigi asked if he could arrange to get him picked up for Mass every Sunday. The man was elated and couldn’t wait to be back at the Welcome Desk on Sunday. Father Pier making space in his day for rest blessed both of them through this unexpected encounter.
God’s rest is not one of scarcity, but of abundance – multiplying out the grace to carry each other on our mutual mission.
Resting As a Team
Jessica Dy Tang is one of the hospitality leaders at St. Anthony of Padua in Vancouver, Canada — a parish that DR has been accompanying for several years. Her Parish Priest, Father Justin Huang, invited his entire parish to enter into “a summer of sabbath” – the focus was on resting in the presence of the Lord.
As a leader, Jessica considered how best to apply this for her team. Father Justin encourages his leaders to bring their team closer to Jesus rather than just focusing on the tasks in their ministries. So, she paused events for the summer and instead created a retreat day for her team and their families. They focused on drawing nearer to God, worship and a Carthusian walk meant to deepen relationship with one another.
“We cannot give what we do not have. Being on mission means, for me, sharing the joy of having Christ in us. Acknowledging with humility that it is Christ who strengthens us, and it is Jesus Christ who lives in us, doing the work through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The fruit has already shown itself in the relationships that have deepened in the team and the joy in serving together as opposed to a sense of burn-out from work that is driven by perfectionism instead of mission.