July: Old Testament Saints

From British Museum / Public domain; see Wikimedia Commons.

Catholics who can remember attending Mass before the 1960s will remember feast days in honor of great figures from the Old Testament. Did those disappear along with Saint Christopher?

No, they did not. Although the Vatican II revision of the liturgical calendar may have changed the precedence and order of many commemorations of saints, the Church’s high regard for great Jewish leaders did not disappear. The simpler calendar that we are all now familiar with still includes holy Jewish men for us to remember, particularly in July.

For example, July 1 is the commemoration of first High Priest of God’s Chosen People, Aaron, Moses’ older brother. Although Aaron certainly hit a personal low when he helped the people create a golden calf to worship instead of God (Exo 32:21-24), nevertheless, he was the first High Priest. Other descriptions of Aaron in the book of Exodus are generally positive, though the poor man had the disadvantage of spending his life in the shadow of his gifted brother.

The Church recognizes the Prophet Elijah on July 20. How many people have had such profound trust in God that they were willing to ask Him for a public and miraculous event to disprove the existence of a pagan god? Yet that’s what Elijah did when he invited priests of Baal to a competition to prove to the Jewish audience that only God could miraculously light a fire in a water-soaked offering in broad daylight (1 Kings 18:20-40).

The Biblical book of Ezekiel records the visions and prophecies of one of the greatest Jewish prophets. The Prophet Ezekiel’s words provide us with some of the most famous images in the Old Testament: a valley of dry bones that God brings back to life through Ezekiel’s words and a vision of angels that are like “wheels within wheels”. Artists have done their best to try to show such a thing, but no one knows what he saw or what he meant by that. Presumably, what Ezekiel saw is so inexplicable to the physical world that words literally fail us. He’s commemorated on July 23.

The book of Ezra teaches how that brave Jewish leader led a remnant of the Chosen People back to the land of Judah after the Babylonian exile. After the Jews had spent several decades as slaves and servants of the people who had conquered them, Ezra led his people back to freedom. As may be imagined, the returning Jews had forgotten how to practice their faith while living their entire lives among pagans. Ezra (celebrated on July 13) had the unenviable task of telling them to make painful changes to their lifestyles if they wanted to be faithful to God.

All four of these men are still honored by the Church in part because they were “types” of Christ. That is, although they were imperfect men, they had faith in the one true God, and through their faithfulness, other people were led to the true God. As Christians, we can also see how each of these men acted as signposts, pointing forward in time to God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. What these four men did imperfectly, for the people of their time, Jesus accomplished perfectly.

For example, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the role of High Priest, as both priest and victim, on the Cross (see John 19:24; the High Priest wore a garment without a seam). Jesus proved the impotence of false gods by defeating death itself by rising from the dead (1 Cor 15:55). No sooner had Jesus died on the Cross than “dry bones” in nearby graves came back to life (see Matt 27:52-53). Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-7:29) explains how to rise from a life of slavery to sin to the freedom of being children of God.

Like Saint Christopher, these men are still honored by the Church as holy men. May they help us grow in holiness today.

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