Father David Andel shares his sabbatical experience of 2017 and provides a background on this important period of rest for both clergy and laity
By Fr. David Andel
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.”
While it is impossible to slow down the speed of life, it feels at times like no matter how hard we try to slow ourselves down, we’re swimming against the rapid current of life, hopelessly forced to move along at the speed of life, instead of a more comfortable, peaceful pace.
It is very difficult for us – clergy and lay people alike – to slow down our lives. We are all under pressure from others and susceptible to stress, and no one takes care of us if we don’t take care of ourselves. Fortunately, one of the spiritual tools available to us is a sabbatical. In some dioceses – including the Diocese of San Bernardino – a time of renewal and continuing education may include a period of sabbatical once every seven years; such time is designed to enable the priest to become a more effective pastoral minister.
This past August through November I was blessed to be on sabbatical. I drove to St. Thomas More, the Catholic Center and Chapel for Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
The concept of the sabbatical – as its name suggests – is biblical. Once every seven days we rest on the Sabbath; once every seven years the Jewish people rested their land and their workers; and after seven sets of seven years there was a year-long jubilee. One of the images of heaven is the eternal Sabbath, the Sunday that knows no end and is not followed by a work Monday!
Of course other professions have sabbaticals, for example, university professors. For incardinated priests who wish to take a sabbatical, Bishop Barnes has been very generous and supportive over the years. In this Diocese a period of sabbatical generally lasts around three months. The ‘content’ of the sabbatical is threefold – a time of prayer, a time of study, and a time of rest/vacation. There are several places that offer a sabbatical program for priests, but a priest is also free to create his own sabbatical experience. The idea is that a sabbatical helps a priest slow down and renew himself spiritually, intellectually, and physically in order to return to his ministry with new enthusiasm and knowledge.
During my sabbatical, the pastor of St. Thomas More was extremely hospitable and generous in opening the rectory to me; he is a fantastic priest (reminded me a bit of + Fr. Bob Miller) who introduced me to many people and took me along to many events.
Another component of my sabbatical was to visit some of the sites important in the life of Dorothy Day and to read more of the works by and about her in order to create a parish mission experience based on her life and work. That was the spiritual (and academic) aspect of the sabbatical. I also wanted to do some language studies (another intellectual component). I wanted to volunteer at the Amistad Catholic Worker House in New Haven (I washed a lot of dishes), and I also hoped to glean some knowledge about campus ministry from the pastor of St. Thomas More because it is regarded as one of the top five campus ministries in the country.
In all these areas I would say the sabbatical was successful.
Why St. Thomas More at Yale University? I had visited before because one of my sisters lives in New Haven and a friend works on staff; I’ve always wanted to visit New England in the fall; and I wanted to see Quebec and Montreal (where my parents honeymooned over 50 years ago). These events were part of the social/vacation aspect of the sabbatical. There were also a few trips to New York and many Yale sporting events, including “The Game” against Harvard (won by Yale for their first Ivy League Championship since 1980). New Haven is also known for its pizza, and I compiled a good list of pizzerias (in my book, Sally’s edges Pepe’s for top honors). After Thanksgiving I started the drive home and happened to stay ahead of the cold weather and snow that was following me.
What did the sabbatical do for me? I have been reflecting on that for two months, and I will continue to unpack the experience in the months ahead. It filled me with gratitude; every day I woke up grateful as I jogged through the beautiful streets of Yale and New Haven and then pursued my studies. I was grateful to God, to my brother priests who covered for me while I was away, and to the staff of Canonical Services who had more work and more stress because I wasn’t there.
It renewed my friendship and love for my sister, who hasn’t lived in southern California since 2003. Even though my stay was brief, I made some good, strong friendships that I hope will last. The sabbatical made me more compassionate for the poor and re-awoke in me the desire to live voluntary poverty and practice the works of mercy in some concrete manner in my life (as much as anything, my comfortable life continues to bother my conscience daily).
Finally, the sabbatical ‘reset’ my priorities – inner peace, more prayer, slower life style, less work and meetings, the importance of family and friends, and living in the present moment. In the words of Gandhi, it helped me to slow down the speed of my life, and now it’s my duty to maintain that pace.
No matter our vocation in life, even if one’s career does not allow for a formal sabbatical, all of us have the right and duty to create some Sabbath space in our lives, at least once a week. If we don’t consciously slow down the speed of our lives, no one will do it for us.
Father David Andel, JCL, is the Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of San Bernardino.