We are in the midst of those days (typically, but not universally, from mid-July through August) which we might think were named for our being “dog-tired,” mostly because of the humidity that piles on top of the heat. But no, that would be too simple (and too realistic!) an explanation.
In fact, the days are marked by the appearance of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog, in the sky. Sirius (the “Dog-Star”) is part of this constellation, and in fact Sirius is the 4th brightest object in the sky (after the sun, moon, Venus, and Jupiter), and it is (to our vision) the brightest star after the sun. The rising of Sirius and its canine constellation coincides with these sweltering days; hence, the name.
But what else can we think of besides sweating when we think about “dog-days”? I think there are a couple of alternatives that might be better for our minds. The first is the man whose feast we celebrated on the 8th of this month: St Dominic. A form in Latin of the name given to the members of his order is closely related to (and often translated as) “the dogs of the Lord.” Formally, this religious congregation is the “Order of Preachers,” but referring to them as “God’s hunting hounds” is especially appropriate for a community of friars dedicated to defeating heretics by its preaching and example. The heretics he mostly had in mind were known as “Cathars,” or “Albigensians,” people who lived lives of radical poverty because they were convinced that all material existence was irreparably defaced by evil and sin. The Dominicans’ desire was to challenge this by living lives of equal poverty and simplicity and yet affirming the goodness of God’s presence in creation, in spite of sin. With so much present in our world and Church today, it is easy to see the logic of the Cathars (even if we would not be willing to embrace their answers). All the more, we should appreciate the Dominicans.
Even better than this saint, though, is our Lord Himself, under a nickname given Him by the English poet (and Roman Catholic) Francis Thompson with his poem “The Hound of Heaven.” Here, Jesus (like the image of the shepherd in Luke 15:1-7) will not let the lone lost soul remain separated, no matter how badly that soul wanted to be separated:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
At the end of this long search (of the Lord for him, and not the other way around), Thompson admits that his fears that desire to avoid Him are no match for Love’s desire to pursue and find him. As C S Lewis put it, often folks talk about their search for God. In his case, he said, that would have been like the mouse’s search for the cat! The Hound of heaven (the Son of Man) has come to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
There are, after all, many blessings to be enjoyed during our “Dog-days.”