August can be a dreadful month, with summer heat and lethargy at their peak. This is why so many take the month off, or most of it, heading to favored spots for vacation. Congress “recesses” for the month, a well-deserved break from months spent bickering and accomplishing practically nothing. Traditionally, many European offices are shuttered for the month, with even Vatican officials heading to places like Castel Gandolfo.
Liturgically, it’s also a dry month, smack in the middle of Ordinary Time. In fact, those praying the Liturgy of the Hours will have just cracked open the second volume for Ordinary Time (covering weeks 18-34) the last weekend of July. Easter is far off in the distant past and it’s a long, slow haul to Advent.
It may be easy to drop off certain habits while waiting for the next big season to be re-inspired and re-engaged, but there’s one thing that’s big this month—a celebration of saints on the calendar.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Let’s start in the middle, like any good story: August 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s so important a solemnity, it’s usually a holy day of obligation. Don’t let it being on a Monday this year lull you into complacency. Get to Mass anyway. I love this feast because of the hope in inspires for not just a happy death, but also for the bodily resurrection. Heaven is there waiting for us, as a physical place in some sort of way, because Our Lord and Our Lady are there, body and soul. Fittingly, the following Monday, August 22, we recall that Our Lady was crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. What else could she be? And what more could we ask for than a queen who is full of grace?
Backing up to the beginning of the month, August 1, we have St. Alphonsus Ligouri, an eighteenth-century Italian bishop and doctor of the Church. He was prolific in his writings on moral, theological and spiritual matters, and founded the Redemptorist Order. A few days later, on August 4, we remember St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, a French priest from the first half of the nineteenth century, famous for the time he spent in the confessional. Both he and St. Alphonsus are patron saints of confessors. Need we a better reminder? Get to confession.
On August 6, we celebrate an event, the feast of the Transfiguration, when Our Lord’s glory was revealed to Sts. Peter, James, and John—the three who would see him a short time later, praying in agony in Gethsemane. They would each need the virtue of hope they would have received seeing Our Lord transfigured on Mt. Tabor.
We remember St. Dominic on August 8, a Spanish friar who flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, founder of the Dominican Order, focused on preaching and education. It’s a good day to say the Rosary, since he’s the one Our Lady presented it to, in a vision. I also love the fact that he ran into Francis of Assisi in Rome and that they and their orders stayed in friarly friendship over the years. What wonderful conversations these two saints would have had—and may still be having.
St. Lawrence is honored on August 10, an early Roman martyr beloved for the sense of humor with which he met his death, being burned on a grill. He told his persecutors to turn him over, as he was done on one side. He’s a patron saint of cooks, someone we can honestly petition for help barbecuing. And some of us need all the help we can get.
On August 11, St. Clare of Assisi, is celebrated, one of the first followers of St. Francis. She founded what are now known as the Poor Clares, but here’s another interesting fact: She’s the patron saint of television. As the story goes, when she was too sick to go to Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room. And I’m sure it was probably high-def.
We’ve talked about the Redemptorists, the Dominicans, the Franciscans and Poor Clares. On August 20, we remember a saint who helped restore the Cistercian Order, the twelfth century French abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He battled schism and heresy, and preached to recruit men for the Second Crusade. One line from a biography strikes to the heart: “The last years of Bernard’s life were saddened by the failure of the Crusade he had preached, the entire responsibility for which was thrown upon him.” The next time you’re blamed for something not your fault at the office, turn to St. Bernard in your prayers.
Very little is known about St. Bartholomew, one of the Apostles, whom we honor on August 24, other than the great praise heaped upon him by Our Lord, that he is without guile and incapable of deceit. Are we? Something else to pray for as our list grows.
On August 27 we celebrate St. Monica, mother of the great Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine. She is known for the many tears and prayers she offered for her wayward son, and she is a great consolation for those dealing with family crises. We all know families and people who can use her intercession—maybe even our own.
Finally, as the month winds down and you start thinking of Labor Day weekend, on August 29 there is the Passion of St. John the Baptist. Very few saints have more than one feast day, but we always knew St. John the Baptist, cousin of Our Lord, was special. We celebrate both his earthly birth (on June 24) and his birth to new life through his passion.
Whether we’re vacationing in Bar Harbor, Waikiki or Lake of the Ozarks, these feast days offer us the opportunity to take the time and remember the saints, pray for those who need your prayers, and take our thoughts away from ourselves and our petty problems and annoyances. They offer a real completion to our vacation—the ability to re-create our spiritual lives while recreating from months of work and drudgery.
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).