August is a month of brutal heat in our hemisphere. For many years the popes observed the custom of fleeing Rome for the countryside in late summer. It seemed a sensible thing — though Pope Francis has opted to stay in the city and work, like everybody else.
Can anything good come of August? The curmudgeon in me is tempted to answer no. But then I look ahead in my Ordo, the daily planner I use as a priest, and I see the month in a different light.
Why? Because August has a mother’s heart — a Marian heart.
On August 15 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — the moment when God took her, body and soul, into heaven. It’s a holy day of obligation, so I’ll see you at Mass. But what a sweet obligation the Church gives us in the middle of this sweltering month!
Mary was not the first or only person to be assumed bodily into heaven at the end of her earthly days. The Old Testament tells us that the Prophet Elijah was (2 Kings 2:11-12), and hints that maybe Enoch was as well (Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5). There are rumors, too, in ancient sources, that make the same claim for Moses; and Pope St. John XXIII believed that St. Joseph also was assumed.
But Mary’s assumption is a singular event, because she is a singular person. Only she was preserved, for her entire life, from any taint of sin. She alone fed and housed the Son of God with her very body. When her earthly life drew to a close, God drew this vessel to its rightful glory.
A week after marking the Assumption, we celebrate the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary on August 22. When St. John had his vision of heaven, he saw Jesus’ mother there, “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Her divine son was “destined to rule all the nations.” Yet he chose not to rule alone. The Son of God, the King of Kings, crowned Mary to reign as his Queen Mother.
These are reasons to celebrate — reasons to party. These are reasons to believe that good things can come from the extreme heat of August in Southern California.
For there is nothing random about the Church’s calendar. The feasts are there to form us — to make us richer — to help us grow in knowledge and communion with God — to ease the burden of difficult days.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl put the matter well: “The feasts are to time what churches are to space.” They’re sacred. They’re moments of extraordinary grace. When we gather to celebrate Jesus’ Mother, we can be sure that Our Lord stays especially close to us — and joins in the celebration.
What good can come of August’s heat?
The greatest good.
More than a century ago, the historian Henry Adams — who was an unbeliever — worried that we Americans were incapable of producing a culture of lasting value. From the European peoples’ devotion to Mary came the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the poetry of Dante, He contrasted Europe’s Virgin with America’s “dynamo,” its gas-powered engine — and he longed for the beauty and humanity of Europe’s heritage.
All these decades later, America still distracts itself with marvelous gadgets. Sad to say, Europe has largely forgotten its Marian heritage. And our common culture is impoverished at the roots.
This August we can begin to turn things around, by making the most of the feasts of Our Lady. Go to Mass with family or friends. Make a special meal. Pray a Rosary for the conversion of the world.
This is how we begin to rebuild a civilization and a culture, one feast at a time.