Updated: Oct 13, 2020
About a week ago (June 20th at 9:43 PM, to be exact) our planet experienced what we, in the Northern Hemisphere, call the “summer solstice,” or more informally, “midsummer.” It is the moment when the earth’s north pole is at its maximum tilt towards the sun. It is the day of peak sunlight; beginning after the solstice, the days start getting a little shorter and sunset comes a little more quickly. By all astronomical ac-counts, the summer solstice is indeed the exact midpoint of the season of summer. But it never seems like it is. I remember being quite confused about this as a child, when I first learned what the term “summer solstice” meant. After all, my mind was operating in “school mode,” where school was still in session into at least early June. With June, July, and August free of school, it always seemed like July represented midsummer, not June. From the standpoint of temperatures, the solstice seems “off” as well; in this part of Connecticut, the average peak summer temperature occurs during the last days of July certainly not during the third week in June. Now most normal people would not necessarily lose any sleep over this, but the young, scientist in the making Fr. John Paul was quite perplexed by this. But once I learned the reason why, it all made sense. And it teaches a lesson that is an important reminder for all of us.
You see, while it is true that the days right around the summer solstice are the days when the sun’s rays are most directly hitting our planet, and while that would presumably dictate that those days would correspond to the hottest temperatures, the reality is that the earth is a big planet. There is a lot of air, a lot of water, and a lot of dirt. And so it takes a good long while more than a month for the energy from all of that peak sunlight beating down on our planet to really heat things up to their peak temperature. It’s not a perfect analogy, but think about turning on an oven. If you put on the oven and set it to 400 degrees, it’s sending max heat into that oven from the moment you turn it on. But it takes a while before the whole oven actually reaches the temperature of 400 degrees. There’s a delay. The “effect” (having a 400 degree oven) is produced at some point after the cause (turning the oven on). So why have I been rambling on about all this? Because in our spiritual lives, our faith lives, our human lives, the same reality is often true. We see the effects of our choices only after a period of delay, not immediately. Actions often take time to manifest their fruits. This is where the Christian virtue of perseverance is so necessary. If I’m not one who usually prays the rosary, and I pick up a rosary one day and pray it, it’s unlikely my entire spiritual life is going to be transformed. But if I pray it every day, seven days a week, week after week after week...it will change me. It will transform my life. If I’m a parent and I encourage my children to seriously discern and ask God whether they might be called to a vocation as a priest or vowed religious, depending upon the child (their age, personality, and so forth) that invitation might not seem to have any effect in the moment. But perhaps years, even decades later, when the Lord is moving a certain way in their heart, they will remember that invitation and it will finally bear its fruit. There are limitless examples we could consider, across every spectrum of human life. Putting extra effort into studying in school, even going beyond what is “going to be on the exam,” can pay off years down the line. Reaching out and saying a word of welcome the first time you see someone new show up at Sunday Mass (perhaps someone new to the area and “shopping around” for a parish) might not bring them back the next Sunday, but weeks later after they’ve looked at a half dozen churches, maybe your friendly greeting is what brings them back to our parish. Making the effort to invest your time getting to know someone from a different racial or ethnic background can give you a whole new perspective when, down the road, we see issues of racism and discrimination flare up in our community or our nation. While I’m not aware of the “rays of the summer solstice” appearing anywhere in the Bible, the lesson it teaches is very Biblical in theme. During the days and weeks ahead, I pray all of us can work on making choices not based on immediate results, but true fruitfulness in the future.
Fr. John Paul