Here we are, summer is just about at its usual close and most of us have been able, I hope, to get some time for a break or vacation. We all need to refresh ourselves and to focus on things other than work and the usual chores of living. It is a necessary human experience.

Even Jesus needed to pull back and take time to refresh himself. Throughout the Gospels, we often see Jesus withdraw to a quiet place to be alone and pray. Now it seems that Jesus has taken just a short trip across the border into Lebanon. He arrives without the attention that he is used to as he enters the towns and villages along the Galilee. In short, it seems that Jesus and the 12 have taken a weekend getaway,

The disciples would be content to leave it that way. Were it not for this one Canaanite woman, we would have never heard about this side trip. This unidentified woman – not even a Jewish woman – begs Jesus to expel the demons that afflict her daughter.

While he initially resists her pleas, he does allow her to testify to the power and depth of her faith. Jesus pronounces the exorcism and sends the woman away. That she leaves in peace is yet a further testimony to the power of faith in her life. She is confident that Jesus has done what he says he has done. His Word is enough for her.

We get ourselves caught up in so many things during the course of our daily lives. The many concerns we have in our lives, work and families can serve as a real distraction from the work of faith and our relationship with Jesus. While the business of getting our children to their soccer game or just relaxing after a busy week and weekend might be more immediately pressing, we know that it cannot really be equal in priority to the work of faith.

This event in Jesus’ life reminds us of two very important truths. First, we must take time to relax and recover from the business of life. Whether that means a vacation or a “staycation,” a weekend or just a dinner outside the home, we all need to recharge and reconnect. Our spiritual, physical, emotional and relational lives depend on it.

At the same time we are reminded that we are never on vacation from our obligations as disciples. We cannot take vacation from attending Mass or the responsibilities of meeting the needs of others. When I was a college seminarian, we had a dean who used to remind us that there was no “vacation from our vocation” and that is true for all of us who would be disciples of Jesus.

While we have all had the experience where attending Mass was unlikely because of where we were at a given unusual moment in our lives, our vacation and travel plans can also either fit into or intentionally include the opportunity to attend Mass. At the same time, we must also focus on maintaining some regular routine of prayer as we travel.

We also never have a vacation from our obligations to be of service to those in need. We do not check our compassion on the airport runway or the last toll on the turnpike. The demands to be disciples of Jesus Christ go with us everywhere, even and especially when it seems least convenient to us.

In this way we begin to exercise true evangelization to the world

Aug. 24 – Simon is the first of the many “Peters” who are the rock of the Church

As we delve deeper into Matthew’s Gospel in this cycle of Ordinary Time, we have seen the many miracles and signs that Jesus has performed to indicate to his disciples who he is and the nature of his mission. We should anticipate what would happen at some point in his ministry -- when he would begin to more pointedly clarify his message. Alone with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, he asks the question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples have been attuned to the crowds and can easily answer the first question. They hear rumblings that perhaps Jesus is John the Baptist returned from the dead or maybe even the ancient prophet Elijah who has returned to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus must be a prophet of some sort, they reasoned, but just who they do not know.

Jesus is not yet satisfied with the response, so he poses the all-important and lingering follow-up question: “Who do you say that I am?” We do not know what the rest of the disciples were thinking but we know that it is Simon who responds rather quickly – “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Imagine the immediate internal reactions of the disciples. Maybe some nodded in agreement, while others were shocked. Some might even have rejected the notion all together. They certainly must have all had their sights transfixed on Jesus to see how he would react.

Jesus’ attention draws immediately to Simon and then sets him apart from the others:  “… You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Someone had to be Peter and through the boldness of his insight – gifted to him by the father. It is Simon who becomes the Rock (petros) upon which Jesus will build his Church.

We have a two-fold connection – the attestation of the faith of Simon and the designation of Simon as Peter, the foundation stone of the Church. This Church will belong not to Peter, nor to the disciples, but to Jesus himself. The equation of Jesus with the Church is a strong and important biblical and ecclesiological tradition which often gets lost in modern discussion.

At the same time one cannot easily dismiss the role of Peter in the foundation of the Church, not just in the historical past but in the present and the future. Peter then becomes not so much a personal name given to one man but the title of an office within the Church, and office which retains the apostolic continuity of the teaching and ministry of the Church.

Today we look to Francis as Peter, the 265th successor to Simon, who was first gifted with the office and the title. We look to Simon Peter as the first example of those who would follow. We know that at times he stumbled and caused others to do so. We know that at the crucial moment in the life of Jesus that Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was. We know that Peter was sometimes too brash and too bold and that at other times he cowered under pressure. We know also that Peter loved Jesus in the end more than did any of the others.

What was just said of one man – Simon Peter – is also true of the subsequent 265. Not all of the Peters in the history of the Church have been “saints” and many of them were quite public sinners. Yet each of them – to a man – maintained the faith of the Church and handed down the tradition that had been handed to him.

We pray for our Peter, Francis, Bishop of Rome, and for all of those who will follow after him in the line of Peter, that they will continue to shepherd us along the path to eternal life.

Father Garry Koch is parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.