8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that God has not only created us, but he wants to help us to grow and to thrive in a way that he has envisioned for us. This concern and care of God for his creation, big and small, is called divine Providence, and we, as creatures gifted with freedom and responsibility, can not only benefit from God’s Providence, but also help him usher creation toward the perfection that he desires for all his creatures, big and small.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that God’s care and concern for us goes beyond the care and concern of the creature who represents one of the greatest blessings of Providence in our lives: our mothers. Mother’s Day is rightly one of the biggest days we celebrate, sometimes overshadowing even Father’s Day. The bond between mother and child is so strong that newborn children need physical contact with their mothers in order to ensure later development. Every one of us spent our first years of life defenseless and completely dependent on our mother. Yet God’s love and concern goes beyond even the maternal: he enabled us to exist and sustains us in our existence. He created us, and our parents wouldn’t have been able to bring us unto the world without him. He wants our happiness as much as our parents and, as Isaiah reminds us, even if our parents were to forget us, God will never forget.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that our belief in Providence and our efforts to help it along will be judged by God. Paul describes himself as a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. A servant is not an owner, and despite our mortgages and deeds and pink slips we’re ultimately accountable to the Owner-in-chief regarding how we’ve used the possessions with which he has blessed us. A steward is entrusted with the care of something and trust is essential in a steward. God wants us to cooperate in his plan of Divine Providence: “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 306).

In today’s Gospel Our Lord directs our attention to the signs of God’s Providence in the present in order to not worry about the future. He could have provided for the oxygen we need to breathe by creating lots of molds and fungi, ugly green splotches, but instead he created magnificent trees, flowers and meadows that receive the sun and rain they need to grow and fulfill their purpose in the grand scheme of things in a beautiful way. Thinking about the future can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty if we lose sight of the signs around us every day of how God has created all things to be good and arranges them to help them achieve good ends and often in a beautiful way. He knows what we need before we even ask. He has also traced out a path to goodness and beauty for our lives, but, unlike plants and animals, he has given us the gift of freedom and responsibility for our actions. We can work with him to help goodness and beauty grow and endure in a lasting way: not just the necessary needs of life that people sometimes worry about too much, but the sum of all noble dreams and aspirations in God’s loving and saving plan that he calls his Kingdom. Goodness and beauty for humanity are justice and love for all who choose to welcome them and strive for them in their lives.

Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us get with the program. His program.

Readings: Isaiah 49:14–15; Psalm 62:2–3, 6–9; 1 Corinthians 4:1–5; Matthew 6:24–34. See also 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

Everyone has a moment where they question the purpose of life, often a moment of depression or discouragement. Sirach today presents a list of wonders from the Lord today in the First Reading that helps us see our life as one big gift basket:

The gift of life. Our Lord created us, and he was not obliged to create us. As the most reasonable being ever, he had some idea in mind when he created us, which means we have some purpose in life to discover and enjoy.

The gift of being made in God’s image. God is pretty amazing, and he decided to make us like him. We’re a work of art depicting something wonderful.

The gift of time. We’re not living on borrowed time, but gifted time. Life is full of milestones, and we all have a deadline. Deadlines can make us amazingly productive, and the big deadline at the end of our earthly life will be the biggest milestone of all: it catapults us from here to eternity. Time is a gift, and each moment is a treasure.

The gift of his creations. The Lord has blessed us with all sorts of things in order to live, to grow, and to be happy. He’s given us so many choices of pets, but also many choices of menu. He’s given us wool sweaters, guide dogs, and hamburgers with all the trimmings.

The gift of understanding and creativity. He’s given us scientific knowledge that amazes us, movies, novels, paintings, and sculptures. He’s given us great things to discover and to share with others. He’d made us creative like him, and also made us inquisitive so that we seek him through his creatures and always strive to unravel mysteries.

The gift of knowledge beyond our immediate perceptions. We know, thanks to him, that there is a whole spiritual world underpinning our material one and also going beyond it. A world that makes life more than just a rat race of eat, sleep, strive, die. A world beyond the ordinary happenings of everyday life and any one life.

The gift of wisdom regarding good and evil. He’s given us a conscience to learn and to know right from wrong, not just because of the satisfaction or guilt it might bring, but as a path to true growth and happiness. He’s given us freedom to choose, but also the responsibility to choose wisely, the rewards that come from living a good life, and the consequences of living a bad one.

The gift of knowing and respecting God. He’s revealed himself to us, as we know from the first chapters of Genesis, and he’s shown us throughout history that he is amazing, loving, and worthy of our respect.

The gift of a relationship and covenant with him. He’s made the deal of a lifetime with us that he never rescinds. He never shortchanges us, and he shows us how to live a worthy life. He also warns us about living an unworthy life, and, like a loving Father, is always watching over us to keep us out of trouble.

The gift of a relationship and covenant with others. He’s also given us others like us so that we never need to be alone. He’s given us the gift of family, friends, society, and culture so that we can love and enrich one another. In the Gospel today we’re reminded about the gift of children, who teach us simplicity in striving for the Kingdom of God and the joy and purity of innocence.

Take stock of your gift basket today and give thanks to God. You’ll find at least one gift that makes your life worth living.

Readings: Sirach 17:1–15; Psalm 103:13–18; Mark 10:13–16. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II and 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

Anyone who uses FaceBook occasionally receives a post from a “friend” who wonders whether his “friends” are willing to show their friendship. He asks his post be re-posted on his “friend’s” FaceBook to show not only that his “friend” is reading his posts, but that he acknowledges him publicly as a friend. Not surprisingly some “friends” get upset at this kind of request. FaceBook probably chose to name the magic button “friend” because “acquaintance” was too long a word.

Sirach in today’s First Reading reminds us that there is a difference between a friend and an acquaintances: a friend is someone you can trust and count on; an acquaintance is simply someone you know. Some friends do not go the distance: they’re friends in fair weather, but abandon ship in hard times. They turn on you when you upset them. That’s why a true and faithful friend is a rare treasure, and it’s only something you discover over time. That doesn’t mean avoiding others; Sirach also counsels us to be on good terms with everyone, but also to be very cautious in making friends.

We all have a faithful friend who fits the profile perfectly: a sturdy shelter, beyond price, and a life-saving remedy. You already know His name. Why not get in touch with Him today if you haven’t spoken in a while? No FaceBook required.

Readings: Sirach 6:5–17; Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34–35; Mark 10:1–12. See also 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday and 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Year I

A few weeks ago we recalled how Adam and Eve somehow convinced themselves they’d not get “caught,” yet right after they ate of the fruit they hid at the first sign of God. Did it work? Sirach in today’s First Reading reminds us that God sees everything and he is the only one on which we can rely. If we convince ourselves that money, power, or cleverness will enable us to get away with whatever we want, Sirach reminds us today that the Lord watches over us as closely (and more) as a loving Father, and a loving father rewards or punishes accordingly. Sometimes we see him as a police officer, an authority against which we want to prove our autonomy, but in the end, he only wants the best for us.

Sirach also reminds us that God ultimately decides when to be merciful, so we must not abuse of his mercy. When you knowingly sin, for example, but tell yourself, “I’ll just go to confession afterwards,” you are abusing of God’s mercy. In early Christianity some notorious pagans, including the emperor Constantine, put off their Baptism until their deathbed so that they could “enjoy” themselves before taking on the demanding commitments of being a Christian. If Constantine had been instantly killed in battle or an accident, his opportunity for mercy would have died with him. If we live as if we’ll be held accountable for what we do, we’ll treat ourselves and others better.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us of the merit of even a small act of kindness, and also the need to be radical to avoid a life of sin and its consequences. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to tweak our consciences whenever we think we can get away with something.

Readings: Sirach 5:1–8; Psalm 1:1–4, 6; Mark 9:41–50. See also 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

7th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

When a goalie stands in front of the net, he doesn’t wonder about whether the shots will come; they do. Sirach in today’s First Reading teaches us the same lesson about life. If we serve the Lord, the shots will come, and we must stand firm in our moral convictions and remain faithful to him. Some shots get past us, some shots we take, and some shots cause us a lot of pain.

A good servant is tested, not just by his master, but by circumstances. He can not only question his moral convictions, but his master as well. Sirach today reminds us that to “fear the Lord” not only means to respect him, but to trust him. Sometimes that trust is all that keeps us in front of the net.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord tries to share this wisdom with his disciples, and he will be the example of a faithful and dedicated son who takes all the shots life gives him, even to the point of death. Let’s imitate Our Lord today and don’t shy away from any shots that may come.

Readings: Sirach 2:1–11; Psalm 37:3–4, 18–19, 27–28, 39–40; Mark 9:30–37. See also 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B19th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.