Seasonal notes

August seasonal notes

Ordinary Time

Notes, important dates, and other material for August.

Notes for Cycle A

THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS, then and now, don’t seem to get it. Which is to say, followers of Jesus rarely appreciate what Jesus’ mission will entail. First of all, we don’t recognize Jesus in exalted moments of power and majesty. Who knew him at first glance after the Resurrection, at the Transfiguration—or after a little stroll across the lake? Second, we don’t recognize him in the hour of suffering, when he’s too poor and forsaken to resemble the Son of God. Yet Peter, who had as much trouble as anyone in accepting who Jesus was meant to be—see how flustered he is at the very suggestion that Jesus should suffer!—is selected to be the leader of those who would be disciples in the future. Jesus has a certain sympathy for those who don’t apprehend his mission all at once. Didn’t he himself once encounter a Canaanite woman who told him a thing or two about what it meant to be the Lord of all?

IT'S WISE TO BE LEERY about dividing reality into opposing principles: “two kinds of people” or “two options available.” Yet for the sake of argument, let’s say this month’s selections from Matthew suggest competing religious worldviews battling for dominance in the life of every disciple.

One perspective suggests that everything depends on us. That is hardly a wrongheaded view, because our freedom is divinely given, protected, and guaranteed. The moment of decision is ours and remains our responsibility. The other perspective insists that everything depends on God. God’s freedom has a far longer reach and the true believer has only to wait on God to receive every grace and blessing.

The traditional Jewish position was, frankly, strong on both. Mosaic law is all about the wise exercise of human freedom, whereas the stories of the patriarchs are full of examples of God being God despite human limitations or because of them. The spiritual life is a dance, not a choice, between God’s freedom and ours.

Notes for Cycle B

ORDINARY TIME CONTINUES with selections from the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel. Last month ended with the story of the miracle of the loaves, an event that satisfied the crowds viscerally and theologically. But when Jesus begins to speak of himself as living bread from heaven and offers himself as food for the life of the world, many quickly sense that he has stepped over a line. The story moves through the grumbling, debate, and subsequent rejection and departure of many who followed Jesus until now. At the end of the month, we return to Mark’s narrative, to overhear the debate with the Pharisees about the unseemly table manners of the disciples. It seems that Jesus and his followers are always getting in trouble around the subject of food! How fitting that is, when the business at hand is life and death, and food is, for all of us, the meat of the matter.

AUGUST BEGINS with the Feast of the Transfiguration, which puts the homilist at a disadvantage: Didn’t we just cover this event during Lent? Five months is a long time ago, liturgically speaking; try polling your parishioners to see who remembers what you preached that day.

The theological significance of this feast is worth another pass through, regardless. Jesus can’t be revealed to the world often enough. Besides, if you’re looking for a real challenge at the ambo, this month’s offering is the Johannine Bread of Life discourse. Voted most brainteasing series of proclamations in the three-year cycle, the “John weeks” at the end of Mark’s short year do tend to separate the preachers from the pikers.

The best recommendation is to plot out your Bread of Life homilies in advance: Choose three themes and make a short outline of the scope of each. That way, you won’t end up repeating yourself (as much as John does!). But a little repetition is fine for catechetical reinforcement.

Notes for Cycle C

THE LESSONS IN DISCIPLESHIP continue this month as Jesus takes on the issues of greed, stewardship, vigilance, prudence, and humility. August becomes a seminar on Christian lifestyle: How will we live in this world, and who will be our master? What use will we make of our resources? Do we recognize that we are only stewards of this passing hour with its opportunities and advantages? Will we train our sights on this world or the next? Do we put our trust in religious acts or in God? Are we convinced yet that the only way to the top is to enter into solidarity with those at the bottom? These are related questions, with sovereignty as the bottom line. If we’re clear on whose world it is and who we are, our course of action becomes self-evident. If, however, we cling to the notion that “it’s all about us,” then we have lost our Christian moorings. For those seeking a role model in discipleship, Mary appears mid-month on the Solemnity of the Assumption to remind us again how it’s done.

SOME PARTS OF THE BIBLE are naturally more appealing than others. For example, people like the lectionary bits of worldly weary Qoheleth more than challenging lines from Amos or Malachi. However, some prophets do have pop appeal: Jeremiah’s suffering and Isaiah’s relentless cheer (at least in the lectionary passages) are perennial favorites. Why? Perhaps because all of these moods are familiar to our own experience, in a way the exploits of the patriarchs, say, are not.

Certainly our first readings this month may find more takers than passages from the Letter to the Hebrews, with its cosmic and ethereal perspective. (But don’t forget Raymond Collins’ excellent work, Preaching the Epistles, for a fresh proclamation platform of your own.) And, of course, the gospel remains the springboard for all the good news we have to share, even when it’s Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ harsh sayings. As Hebrews says later this month: Just because the news hurts, doesn’t mean it’s not good for us.

Back to school

“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?”
—Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t.”
—Pete Seeger (b. 1919)

“We can get a feel for how our biblical ancestors thought of the Word of God if we take a closer look at the pages of scripture. Several English words are needed to capture the . . . meanings covered by the Hebrew dabar. Besides meaning “spoken word,” it also figures where we could use deed or event or thing. For the ancients, to speak was not just to utter words but to do something. In our own experience, we do something through words when we make a covenant . . . in marriage or in solemn commitments to service and fidelity. Those word-events (one could almost say ‘sacraments’) are dynamic, for they are not just ‘about’ life, but they actually generate life and shape its course.”
—Eugene King, O.M.I., Assembly, July 2004

August calendar

Tisha B’Av  The “ninth day of Av” in the Jewish calendar is the day of mourning in memory of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the several disasters that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of the month of Av, including:

  • The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., and of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E.
  • King Ferdinand of Spain’s 1492 decree expelling all Jews who would not convert to Christianity, setting a deadline of Tisha B’Av.

Tisha B’Av is the climax of a three-week period of mourning. Prohibitions on Tisha B’Av itself are similar to those of Yom Kippur. In addition to not eating or drinking, Jews are not allowed to wash, use cosmetics, or wear leather shoes. In a restriction more stringent than on Yom Kippur, Jews are allowed to study only certain portions of the Torah and the Talmud. Many traditional mourning practices are also observed.

AUGUST 6: Hiroshima Memorial Day
AUGUST 9: Nagasaki Memorial Day

War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death. . . . Two cities will forever have their names linked together, two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the only cities in the world that have had the ill fortune to be a reminder that man is capable of destruction beyond belief. Their names will forever stand out as the names of the only cities in our time that have been singled out as a warning to future generations that war can destroy human efforts to build a world of peace. . . .

To the creator of nature and man, of truth and beauty, I pray: Hear my voice, for I speak for the multitudes in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace. Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice and to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace. O God, hear my voice and grant unto the world your everlasting peace. . . . To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.
—From Pope John Paul II’s Appeal for Peace, February 25, 1981

In his 1976 message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Paul VI called the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “a butchery of untold magnitude.”

According to Gaudium et Spes, (no. 80), “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.”

Assumption Day Blessing of Harvest  As Mary was “lifted up” into heaven, in some countries it is customary on this day to bless the Earth, sea, sky, and harvest and thank God for the blessings that come through them. In this spirit of blessing and offering, some churches place produce and flowers around an image of Mary. We also recall the words of Mary’s Magnificat: “The Lord has lifted up the lowly. The Lord has filled the hungry with good things.”

Dormition of the Theotokos (Orthodox)  Preceded by a two-week fast, the Orthodox Eastern Church celebrates the Dormition (Falling-Asleep) of the Theotokos (Mary, the “God-bearer”). This feast commemorates the death, resurrection, and assumption of Christ’s mother into the heavenly kingdom in spirit and body.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary  When the Emperor Marcian summoned the Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Council of Chalcedon in 451, he asked the bishop to bring the relics of Mary to be enshrined in Constantinople. The patriarch said he could not comply because there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem. “Mary had died in the presence of the apostles,” he said, “but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.”

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