Like water that refreshes us from the heat, thankfulness refreshes the soul in its trials.
Real baseball fans know the importance of the “dog days” of summer, the 40-day period ending in August that typically marks the hottest and most sultry days of the year. It’s during this time that teams either renew their passion for the game or succumb to the fatigue of a long season intensified by the heat and humidity.
But the teams that advance into the playoffs (like my St. Louis Cardinals always do) embrace the struggle and use it to strengthen and form themselves into a championship team. That’s also true in the spiritual life.
It’s said that if not for the weather, most people would have difficulty initiating a conversation. It’s the same with our trials and sufferings: without them many people might neglect their relationship with God. This isn’t to suggest God annoys us into praying—far from it. God wants us only to be filled with his love and peace and especially to share it with others, even when our crosses are heavy and we’re tempted to despair. We would do well to reflect often upon the invitation of Christ, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you . . .” (Matthew 11:28).
As a priest for more than 25 years, I’ve learned that the easiest way to lose peace and joy of heart is not to be thankful, especially for our crosses. I am reminded of the words of St. Basil, who said, “Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.” When we give thanks to God, our struggles and crosses can be a source of abundance that drives away the hunger of our soul and that of others.
I always recall this lesson when a new school year approaches, and I hear children bemoaning the end of summer vacation. Yet without the classroom and the struggle that comes with learning, we would remain limited in our capacity to receive what the future offers.
When properly observed, the Church calendar, with its seasons and its many memorials, feast days, and solemnities, can serve as a classroom of education and refreshment for the soul that helps us navigate the trials of life. During the period of time the Church calls ordinary, between the end of Easter and the beginning of Advent, we are blessed to have a number of days dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, who especially longs to refresh our tired souls with the life-giving waters of her Son.
In the upcoming weeks we will be blessed with three such days: the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15, followed by the Memorial of her Queenship on Aug. 22, and on Sept. 8 the celebration of her birth and the 23rd birthday of our diocese. Sept. 8 is the day Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will be installed as the new shepherd of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Cardinal Justin Rigali and the Diocese of Knoxville.
As many of you know, my dear friend Cardinal Rigali submitted his letter of retirement last year to the Holy Father on the occasion of his 75th birthday, as required by Church law. With the announcement on July 19 of the appointment of Archbishop Chaput as his successor, I am pleased to announce that Cardinal Rigali will reside with us in the Diocese of Knoxville, at least when he is not in Rome, working with the Congregation of Bishops and other congregations. As far as I know, Cardinal Rigali will be the first cardinal ever to reside in the southeastern United States, yet another blessing for us to be thankful for.
In my next column I hope to share with you the exciting news of the creation of a new foundation. With the pending sale of Mercy Health Partners, we have recognized the need for a foundation that will continue the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that the Sisters of Mercy have so faithfully provided for 81 years. It is these works of mercy that help refresh those impoverished in body and soul.
As we seek ways to refresh ourselves from the unrelenting heat, may we also seek the refreshment only God can give when we experience the “dog days” of life. Aided by Our Blessed Mother and the angels and saints, in a spirit of thanksgiving, may we all be able to pray with St. Paul in the final inning of life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
And with your prayers, perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals will go all the way to a World Series win!