A quick look at a Church calendar for June reveals a lot of red and a lot of white. Red days commemorate martyrs. These include those killed under Roman persecution (2 June, The Martyrs of Lyons; and Sts. Peter and Paul, 29 June, both killed under Nero, ca. A.D. 64–66; those killed for taking the faith into a new territory (5 June, St. Boniface, d. 754; Barnabas the Apostle, 11 June); and those who died witnessing to the faith in their own land (3 June, The Martyrs of Uganda; 18 June, Bernard Mizeki, d. 1896). The word “martyr” is Greek for “witness”. Those who die for the Lord witness to the faith, to the truth that Jesus is Lord; that He is the Way to salvation. As Anglicans we may claim a special relationship with St. Alban (22 June, d. ca. 304), the first martyr recorded in England. Alban was a Roman soldier, a pagan. Alban gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing persecution. The priest spent several days with Alban, and Alban was converted to the faith. When pursuing soldiers arrived, Alban presented himself to them clothed in the priest’s cloak, allowing the priest to escape. It is not clear if Alban was baptized by the priest. Regardless, his martyrdom constituted a “baptism of blood”. He is remembered as the first known witness to the faith in Britain, and commemorated in many parish churches throughout the Anglican Communion.
White days commemorate saints who were not martyred. In June these include a notable monastics (Norbert of Magdeburg and Columba of Iona), teachers and theologians (Ephrem of Edessa, Cyril of Alexandria), and the teacher/mystic, Evelyn Underhill (d. 1941). White days also include “high” feasts, even if the saint was martyred (Nativity of St. John the Baptist, 24 June), and the feast of Corpus Christi (4 June). This latter feast arose in response to a forty year effort by the thirteenth century Norbertine abbess, Juliana of Liège. The feast is a solemnity commemorating devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessèd Sacrament.
Why does the Church calendar matter? Transformation is real but gradual. Just as two people can live together for fifty or more years of marriage, and end up looking very much like each other through daily personal contact and close identification with each other, we can each become more Christ-like through daily personal contact and close identification with our Lord. Each prayer we make to God orients our being more toward Him. Each time we seek His word in prayer or in Scripture, our being is set more on the path He intends. Each time we receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, our own bodies become more identified with His. Each time our hands do His work in helping others we become members attached all the more strongly to His Body. So in journeying onward focus on little steps, little steps in which you are assisted above all by our Lord’s grace, but also by the fact that you take those steps alongside those who journey with you in your parish family. Focus on habits that facilitate those little steps, habits like daily prayer and study.
All journeys involve little steps, and the first ones are the hardest to make. The little steps we each make to our Lord are taken best when practiced in habits of holiness, and when practiced together. Just as the Church observes the calendar as a habit of small steps in the life of our Lord, let us become “habitual Christians” worthy of a sentence of everlasting life!