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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

On Breaks and Vacations

Posted by Michael Krom on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 @ 11:02 AM

Saint Vincent College is headed toward spring break as this day comes to a close. While the weather here hardly makes one think of spring (the meteorologists are predicting a powerful snowstorm in the coming days), our minds turn toward trips, time with family and old friends, relaxation, and the like.

basilica in winterJust last week I was reading St. Thomas Aquinas's reflections on the contemplative life, and discovered the Latin origin of the word "vacation." This, in turn, made me think about the difference between a break and a vacation: a break is time off from work that really exists in order to refresh us for more work. We "break" the semester in half so as to recharge ourselves for the second half, something like halftime in a sporting event. As such, the break exists for the sake of work; to use traditional philosophical language - it is a means to an end. By contrast, a vacation has value for itself, is a release from the world of work; vacation is taken for its own sake. 


The origin of the word "vacation," which is the Latin vacatio, is helpful in thinking about this:  vacatio can be translated as "freedom," and also refers to the money a Roman citizen would use to exempt himself from military duties. So, unlike a break, a vacation is freedom from work rather than freedom for work. More meaningfully, one can think of a vacation as the freedom to take up things that are higher than work, such as conversation among friends, art, poetry, and contemplation. In another, related sense, vacatio could be translated as "leisure," "stillness," or "quietude." In this most elevated sense, vacation is a way of living:  it is the leisure of acting out of joy, the stillness that we enjoy when we reflect on the goodness of the created order and its Creator, the quietude that we receive from rejoicing in the gift of life. 

There's a beautiful line in the Latin Vulgate version of Psalm 45 that illustrates the true meaning of vacation: "vacate, et videte quoniam ego sum Deus." Notice that first word, vacate; this term is a form of the word vacatio. In English, we could translate this as "Be still, and see that I am God."  What a wonderful way of putting it: unless we are still, unless we are on vacation, we fail to see God, who is everywhere present should we have the freedom to look. So, then, I exhort you to be on vacation, not just take a break! And, with that, I believe my vacation has begun....

Students on campus in the winter

Topics: Michael Krom, Spring Break

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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