Vacation time’s here. Time to step outside the rat race. Unplug the alarm clock. Take the family somewhere fun or relaxing. Get away from it all.

See you at Mass in a couple of weeks.

Whoa! What’s wrong with this picture? Going on vacation should never mean taking an intermission from the faith. On the contrary, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict show us each summer in the mountains and at Castel Gandolfo, there’s no better time to bask in God’s glory than when the pressure is off.

That’s something Jeff and Lisa Spillane of Suwanee, Ga., have learned when vacationing with their six children, ages 9 months to 13 years old.

“With our faith growing and developing, we realize vacation time has to be an extension of what we do at home,” explains Lisa. “There are so many ways to form your children. Vacation is another opportunity to do that.”

The parents make sure their vacation spot is near a Catholic church so the family can attend Mass — daily, if possible.

“You have to teach your children that being a Christian is not a sometimes thing,” adds Jeff. “It’s an all-the-time thing.” Even forgetting to bring their usual church clothes along on one camping vacation didn’t stop them.

“We’d rather show up as ragamuffins,” says Jeff, “than not go to Mass.

Reminding that Sunday Eucharist is essential, Conventual Franciscan Father John Grigus of Marytown says parents should plan ahead to know where the churches are located. He suggests looking at the website. A ministry of Pauline Books & Media, it’s a wealth of U.S. and international information: times, directions, phone numbers. (Also helpful:

That’s what the Spillanes do. “As soon as we get to our destination,” says Lisa, “we check out the church.”

They check times not only for Mass but also for confession and adoration. Last year they vacationed at Amelia Island, Fla., where they went to daily Mass and still had plenty of fun in the sun.

Dennis and Lisa Reilly of Stilwell, Kan., find that attending Masses in different churches during vacation spiritually stimulates their four children, ages 4 to 8.

“They think it’s kind of neat,” says Lisa Reilly about the kids’ wide-eyed wonder. “Gary, our oldest has commented, ‘Look at that church!’”

The Spillanes also reap benefits by becoming part of the “vacation church” community for the whole week. “It’s so cool because we meet the parishioners,” says Lisa. “It reminds me of the Creed: We’re united to each other in our faith wherever we go. And it’s a great way for the children to see wherever they go they can practice their faith.”

The family has been invited to ice cream socials and church Sunday picnics. They’ve participated in a parish mission and made Catholic friends along the way.

Prayer shouldn’t get the backseat or be suspended like the newspaper delivery, either.

“Outside of Mass the other important thing is for families to maintain the family Rosary,” counsels Father Grigus. It’s a wonderful practice for the family to pray it while driving. “This way they bring the protection and intercession of Our Lady when traveling.” Her intercession is to protect them from accidents and mishaps and to protect them on the spiritual level as well, especially the children.

“We’re in the midst of a world that’s very dark, not filled with grace,” he says, pointing out that kids will “see things on the billboards and all over the place that are not good for the soul.”

Father Grigus points out that, in his priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for the 12 and for those who believe in him.

“God’s intention is for us to remain in the world but he does not want us to be of the world,” adds the priest. “We need to be in the world to be a source of light, to bring others to God. And one of the ways we do this is through prayer, to pray with the family. That united prayer places a protective bubble of grace around the family and each of its members precisely so the world does not affect them, that corruption does not touch them.”

The Spillanes pray a family Rosary every night at home, typically after dinner. But on vacation, says Lisa, it’s harder to stop everything. That’s why the car becomes a chapel on wheels.

“On the way to daily Mass we say the Rosary,” says Lisa. The children each lead a decade and participate in the intentions, too.

“I think it’s important to say the family Rosary on vacation because we’re all more charitable and we have more fun,” says 13-year-old Kevin. “I need a lot of graces and it’s very important to my dad.”

That’s another continuing lesson. “Dads should be dads,” Jeff advises. “Be the leader, especially with boys. It’s so important for the boys to look at the dad and see a model they can follow after.”

Wonderful Witness

The Reilly children already pray on the way to school with dad Dennis in the car.

“We’ve got our regular prayer routine,” says Lisa Reilly. “But when you pray on a trip it binds you together more because everyone is out of their routine and you’re huddled together.”

On the 10-hour drive to vacation at her parents’ home in Milwaukee, if they see an accident or hear an ambulance, they pray for those people involved — just like at home.

Before starting out on vacation, the Reillys begin with a family prayer for a safe trip, asking Jesus to send his angels with them to guide their car.

Father Grigus confirms that practice as important and effective. The St. Michael prayer and guardian-angel prayer are wonderful for protection, he adds.

So are Our Lady of the Highway, Our Lady of Loreto, St. Joseph (who knew a think or two about travel) and St. Raphael.

Father Grigus also explains the importance of families consecrating their vacation to Our Lord and Our Lady.

“As this is given over to God, amazing things happen,” he says. “God will use this as a way to evangelize and to witness in powerful ways to others because we dispose ourselves to the workings of grace within our lives.”

“We give God permission to use even vacation time not only for our good but for the good of others we encounter along the way,” adds the priest. “We don’t have to plan it; God brings that about.”

He also says families can have a tremendous impact in something as simple as saying grace together in restaurants.

“What a beautiful witness in a public sphere to see the family do that,” says Father Grigus. “This, combined with the politeness and kindness they show among themselves, is a powerfully attractive force.”

Once everyone’s home from vacation, families shouldn’t forget giving thanks for a safe return. Before going to bed, the Reilly children pray their “Thank Yous” for a good vacation and a safe trip.

See you in Mass in a couple of weeks? Yes — and we’ll see lots of other people at the Lord’s table till then.

Joseph Pronechen writes from
Trumbull, Connecticut.