Ahh! The “Dogs Days of Summer!” For many years, as I child, I used to think the “Dog Days” of summer was a term we use for those lazy days of summer when the weather gets so hot that dogs would lie around and pant and when our local lake (which we used to swim in) turned into a pea-green soup, complete with chiggers for all those who were foolish enough to jump in! This could not be further from the truth!
The Dogs Days of Summer do occur during the hottest time of year, the late days of July and through mid-August, but that’s where our common understanding begins to depart from the facts. Historically, the concept of “Dog Days” began with the ancient Romans and Greeks who recognized that the dog constellation, Canis Major, would appear on the horizon just before the sunrise during this time in late July to mid-August. The star, Sirius, which makes up the ‘nose of the dog’ (of Canis Major) is actually the brightest star in the night sky so it is not surprising that ancient people took notice of it! Some ancients believed this was the time of year when severe thunderstorms or drought would occur, along with lethargy, fever, and dogs going mad. About the dogs going mad, I think all dogs do go a little stir-crazy whenever there is lighting or a thunderstorm, not sure why. This may be another item for research.
One thing I do know is that when we don’t know the reason for something (i.e. “dog days”) our human tendency is to come up with other plausible explanations or answers which makes sense and which in turn gets passed on erroneously from one generation to the next. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, human nature always wants to find connections. However the problem arises when we confuse our commonly held myths with historical fact.
This reminds me of our Catholic Christian Tradition and how important it is for us to know what we are talking about. Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to know what we believe, why we believe it, and to be able to articulate in front of others who may question or even at times confront us about it. One reason other churches are able to do so well at recruiting Catholics into their fold is because we do not know how to answer their barrage of questions. Soon, we question our self why we believe and sometimes we come up with all sorts of plausible answers which our non-Catholic friends are able to use as ammunition to up pick apart. It’s not that we shouldn’t engage in healthy discussion, but as Vatican II states, the Catholic Church is the Mother of all churches who has ‘the fullness of faith,’ complete, well-defined, and time-tested. It’s not that we are perfect, it’s that we have the most seamless garment of theology and belief, so let’s not be ashamed of that! It might be good for all to read a Papal document from Pope Francis once in a while or to read good Catholic apologetic material that will keep us informed and enrich our life in Christ. Then, when people ask, we can give them a reason for our hope, as St. Paul would say. If not, like the “dog days” of summer, we will be trying to come up with just about anything that holds no ground and we will in fact be feeling the heat!
By the way, I recently purchased a new hunting dog, her name is “Jen.” Jen is a yellow lab, full of energy and still has a lot of puppy in her. It’s fun to watch her learn and tap into some of her basic instincts of retrieving. One thing about puppies, like our faith, you need to stay one step ahead of them or they are the ones who will be training you and calling the shots! One another note: Sirius (the dog star) follows the constellation, Orion (the great hunter). Orion always appears in the early morning sky during the months of the October and November hunting seasons. I see Orion in the southern sky every time I go out at 4:00 AM to my duck blind or deer stand. Maybe that’s why a hunter and his dog get along so well? Then again, maybe that’s myth too, one not based on fact!
Words to live by: “The three essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”