Grace Abounds
A media ministry of Grace Episcopal Church
The Kalendar
The first day in July for which the Church calendar prescribes an optional special observance is Independence Day. An observance of Independence Day in the Church was first proposed in the draft Prayer Book of 1786, but General Convention in 1789 voted this down, based in large part on the intervention of Bishop William White (Pennsylvania—his feast day is on the 17th), who argued such an observance to be inappropriate in a church in which the majority of clergy had been loyal to the British crown throughout the War of Independence. The Fourth of July was not included in the church calendar until the 1928 Prayer Book.

On 8 July the martyrs Aquila and Priscilla are remembered. This husband and wife team were coworkers with Paul, killed in the same Neronian persecution in which Paul died. Paul refers to Priscilla as Prisca (an affectionate diminutive) at Romans 16.3. Paul says Aquila and Priscilla “risked their necks for my life”; they endangered themselves in partnership with Paul. Elsewhere (at Acts 18, where Prisca is referred to as Priscilla) they are described as leaders of a house church. Paul meets them (recently expelled from “Italy”) in Corinth (Acts 18.2). They travel with Paul to Ephesus (vv. 18–19). There they meet Apollos and “take him aside to teach him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).

Did Priscilla teach Apollos? Yes; otherwise there is no point in mentioning her. Moreover, the order of names (cf. Paul and Barnabas) suggests that she is the more prominent of the two. (Cf. Rom. 16.3). So much for the idea that women had no active role in ministry in the early Church.

On 11 July, Benedict of Nursia is remembered. Benedict was a sixth century abbot who is considered to be the father of western monasticism. The Benedictine Rule for monks and nuns is observed in all of the monastic orders of the Anglican tradition. Other notable observances in July include that of the abolitionist William Wilberforce (30 July), Mary Magdalene (July 22), and St. James the Apostle on 25 July (“James the Greater,” brother of John), Silas (Paul’s companion, 13 July), and Thomas à Kempis (feast is 24 July), the author of the late-Medieval devotional The Imitation of Christ.

In the East Mary Magdalene is referred to as the “apostle to the apostles” for her role in first encountering the risen Lord, and taking this message to the other disciples. The Magdalene is often thought of as having been a reformed prostitute. This is simply mistaken, and dates to a fifth century sermon of Pope Leo I, in which he conflated the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Lk. 7.36-50) with Mary Magdalene, mentioned at Lk. 8.2. In Leo’s day (and for about another thousand years) the Bible did not have numbered chapters and verses (let alone punctuation), and so Leo’s mistake in conflating two stories was a natural one. In point of fact, it was very unusual for a woman in Luke’s day to have a surname (Mary “of Magdala”), and this is strong evidence that she was a woman of substance. (Mary Magdalene should also not be confused with Mary—remembered on 29 July—sister of Martha and Lazarus, described in John’s gospel, or with Mary, the wife of Clopas, referred to by Matthew.)

Benedict, of course, gave us his famous Rule, but in speaking of rules let us not forget St. Ignatius Loyola (31 July, d. 1556), the founder of The Society of Jesus (Jesuits), a Spanish soldier who experienced a profound conversion and recruited men to be soldiers for Christ. Ignatius is justly famous for his Spiritual Exercises, a series of meditations within a rule-of-life intended to make a person more open to God’s will, and better equipped to submit to God’s will.