Beloved in the Lord:
I write to you from the coolness of my home’s basement on a warm day, thinking about the coming weeks. August is typically a rather quiet month…yet, this year has been anything but typical! Amid all our concerns, what does this month teach us about how to be faithful?
The major Holy Days in August are the Transfiguration of our Lord (8/6), St. Mary’s Day (8/15), and St. Bartholomew’s Day (8/24). Each of these tells us something about our faith and how to practice it.
The Transfiguration celebrates Christ’s light-filled presence on the Holy Mountain as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The story connects Christ’s divinity—made manifest in this mysterious encounter—with his mission to bring humanity out of the darkness of sin and strife into the light of God’s presence. It bids us ask the question: Whose “light” do I shine into the world? Is it Christ Jesus and the Gospel light of love, or is it something quite different, the “light of this world,” with all of its limitations and ulterior motives? One leads to the Kingdom of God; the other leads to division, hatred, and death. This is a question to be asked at each day’s start.
St. Mary’s Day celebrates the traditional date of the Blessed Virgin’s “falling asleep” or death (early Christians, with their deep awareness of death’s irrelevance after being reborn in Christ, often referred to it as more like falling asleep than anything else). Each year on this day, we hear again the words of Mary’s Song (from Luke, chapter 1:46-55)—words which challenge all complacency or easy deal-making with the powers of this world (or any ideology, for that matter). It will be a good day to ask if we are, like St. Mary, “God-bearers” into the world, or more like “place-fillers.” There’s a big difference, and the Gospel has no need for the latter. When we say Mary’s Song at Evening Prayer each day, we may think about this.
St. Bartholomew is one of those apostles about whom scripture tells us nothing much beside his name. Even that is a bit sketchy in his case, as St. John never mentions "Bartholomew" in his Gospel account, speaking of “Nathaniel” instead (the Church has always treated these two names as referring to the same person, based on then-contemporary naming practices). In any case, his feast day reminds us we don’t have to be world-famous or even known to others in order to be counted as pivotal to the story of salvation. Indeed, some of the greatest and most holy people probably never know they have been anything other than “just trying” to be faithful. What is important is that we are sent by Christ, bearing and practicing his message. This is a good day to recommit to a simple life of basic holiness, not getting caught up in all the debates and details.
Three holy days, three touch-points with authentic, revolutionary, and very “homely” Christianity. By God’s grace, let’s observe these feasts on their appointed dates—and live their teaching each day.