We may not be familiar with the opera’s plot or even know any more words from the song, but almost everyone can tell you how Summertime from the opera Porgy and Bess begins: “Summertime, And the livin’ is easy.” It is natural to think of July when you hear that song. After all, isn’t July the month most Americans would associate with the word “vacation”?
Independence Day does provide a focus for the first part of the month, but then the rest of the month stretches ahead, relatively empty of obligations for many of us. So the living must be easy – or is it?
For many farmers, for example, July is relatively calm. True, the crops must be irrigated, and perhaps fertilizer or pesticides need to be applied, but it’s not nearly as hectic as either the spring planting season or the fall harvest.
But there’s another side to July. It’s HOT. If we telescoped the year into a day, July would fall at noon. And the noonday sun can even be dangerous. Especially in an agricultural society like the one in which the Israelites lived, conditions out in the countryside were important. Even the Psalms reflect the realities of daily life. In Psalm 91, one of the psalms used by clergy and religious during the week at Night Prayer, assurance is given to those who trust in God, “You will not fear… the scourge that lays waste at noon.”
However, “the scourge that lays waste at noon” does not have to be limited to sunstroke or some insect-borne disease. There can be a psychological and even spiritual component to it.
Like the farmer’s field crops — having a busy planting season and a hectic harvest, with a long growing season in between — so it is with our lives. In our professional lives, completing our education, starting our careers, getting married, and beginning a family correspond with the planting season. Then, retirement, with the changes in our lives that come with it, is comparable to the harvest. But between the two lies 40 years of labor — for some people, these are years of exciting and fulfilling work, but for others, these are years of drudgery. For them, it seems like “the scourge that lays waste at noon” in their jobs will never come to an end.
The same is sometimes true of our spiritual life. Most of us don’t remember our Christian beginnings because we were baptized as infants. But all that you have to do is see the joy and excitement in the faces of those who come into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Their spirits have been planted in the rich soil of grace from God and begin to sprout. The harvest we have to look forward to? Eternal life with God in heaven. But between our baptism and our arrival at heaven, there are years of Christian living. For most of us, there are peaks and valleys, high points of joy and low points of sin, with long stretches of spiritual plateau in between. And that’s when the noonday sun seems to weaken our resolve to live for Christ.
The best way to deal with that difficulty in the spiritual life is through the practice of stewardship. The commitments we make to devote some portion of our time, our talent, and our treasure to God guarantee that we come into contact with Him in regular worship and service. By maintaining our relationship with Him, we can grow in our trust in His love for us, so we do not need to fear “the scourge that lays waste” in the noon of our life’s demands. Maybe for us Christians, “the living is holy” should replace “the livin’ is easy.”
May God bless you and protect you this summer from all scourges physical and spiritual. You’ll be more prepared to experience his grace if you’re at Mass each week.