(Photo: Unsplash/Colin Moldenhauer)


“Anticipation of vacation is evidence of the will to live; for just this reason it must not be ‘vacation’ from oneself. Then summer will not be an interruption or a postponement of taking life seriously.”

The vacation period is approaching. This is not a detachment from oneself, but an opportunity to go even deeper into what one lives. For it is there, during time off, that one understands what one really wants. We repropose passages on this theme taken from dialogues between some young people and Fr. Giussani.

The following text is an excerpt from the notes on a conversation Msgr. Luigi Giussani had in the summer of 1964. It first appeared in English in the July 2000 issue of Traces.

From Gioventù Studentesca’s earliest days we have had a clear and simple idea: free time is time when you are not obligated to do anything, there is nothing you are obligated to do, free time is free time.

Cervinia 2017

Since we often debated with parents and teachers about their idea that GS took up too much of the young people’s free time, while they should be studying or working in the kitchen or around the house, I used to say, “They surely have free time, these kids!” “But a young person, an adult,” people would object, “is judged by his work; by how seriously he takes his work, by his tenaciousness and loyalty to his job.” “No,” I would answer, “not at all! A young person is judged by how he uses his free time.” Oh, they were all scandalized. Instead… if it is free time, this means that one is free to do what one wants. Thus what someone wants can be understood by how he uses his free time.

I understand what a person (young or adult) truly wants not from his work or studies, which he has to do out of social pressure or necessity, but from how he uses his free time. If a young person or an adult wastes his free time, he does not love life; he is a fool. Vacation is in fact the classic time when almost everybody becomes a fool. On the contrary, vacation time is the noblest time of the year, because it is the moment when one becomes as involved as he likes in the value he recognizes as dominant for his life, or he doesn’t get involved in anything at all, and then he is, as I said, a fool.

The reply we gave to parents and teachers more than forty years ago has a depth they had never reached: man’s highest value, his virtue, courage, energy, what makes life worth living, lies in gratuitousness, in his capacity for gratuitousness. And it is in free time that gratuitousness truly comes out and affirms itself in an amazing way.

The way one prays, one’s faithfulness to prayer, the truth of one’s relationships, one’s self-dedication, enthusiasm, humble approach to reality, emotional involvement and compassion toward things, all this is much more evident during vacation than during the year. On vacation one is free, and if he is free, he does what he wants.

Andalo, 1967

This means that vacation is important. First of all, it demands attention in the choice of companions and place, but above all it concerns the way one lives: if vacation never reminds you of what you should remember more often, if it doesn’t make you better toward others, but makes you respond more to instinct than to reason, if it doesn’t teach you to look at nature with profound intention, if it doesn’t make you make sacrifices joyfully, then your time of rest has not achieved its purpose.

Vacation should be as free as possible. The criterion of vacation time is to have some breathing room and, if possible, room for breathing deeply.

From this point of view, establishing as a principle a priori that a group must take its vacation together is, above all, contrary to what we have said, because the weaker members of the group, for example, might not have the courage to say “no.” Secondly, it is against the missionary principle: going on vacation together must answer to this criterion. In any case, above all else, freedom. Freedom to do what you want… according to the ideal!

What does one gain by living like this? Gratuitousness, and human relationships that are pure. In all this, the last thing we can be accused of is offering a sad kind of life or forcing one to do something burdensome: it would be the sign that the person who objects is sad, tiresome, a wet blanket–where being a wet blanket means somebody who doesn’t eat and drink, thus someone who does not enjoy life. Why, Jesus identified the instrument, the supreme connection between man who walks on the earth and the living God, the Infinite, the infinite Mystery, with eating and drinking. The Eucharist is eating and drinking–even if now it is so often reduced to something schematic whose meaning is no longer understood. It is eating and drinking; agape is eating and drinking. The greatest expression of the relationship between me and this presence that is God-made-man in You, o Christ, is eating and drinking with You, where You identify with what you eat and drink, so that, “Even though living in the flesh I live in the faith of the Son of God” (“faith” means acknowledging a Presence).