Ordinary of the Mass
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In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiasticus we are admonished to
Bear with God's delays, cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you; in sorrow endure; in humiliation be patient. For in fire are silver and gold tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you; make straight your ways and hope in Him. Keep the fear of Him and grow old in it.... You who fear the Lord hope in Him, and His mercy will bring you joy.
Our Lord is telling us something very similar in today's Gospel, taken from the Sermon on the Mount. God made us with wonderful qualities: a soul capable of knowledge and love; our physical strength; an intellect capable of discerning all we need for our life on earth and augmenting our strength in attaining it. We would be foolish indeed to make the mistake of the Manicheans, who condemn our material nature as the creation of an evil “god,” whom they place in opposition to the good “god” whom they claim to have created the spiritual aspect of creation. All of God's creations are good—they go wrong only when they are misused. And the fact that they can be misused suggests why it is that we must go through life clinging to God and relying on His providence.
Clearly, our Lord is not telling us to emulate the lilies of the field in the sense understood by the “hippies” of the 1960s—He is not telling us to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” He is using the form of exaggeration called “hyperbole” to make the point that we must not make our material efforts great while failing to acknowledge the spiritual side of things. God ensures the well-being of the lilies and the birds—surely He cares far more for His human creatures—that should be clear to us by virtue of the fact that He became one of us, and even died for us on the Cross.
God has given us the ability to do great things, but those abilities must always be used in accordance with His will. Indeed, if we misuse our God given abilities we are certain to suffer for our efforts.
The Lord's prayer came at the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. “Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray the Lord's prayer, we are asking, first of all, to be freed from the destructive excesses of attachment to the things of the world—what St. Paul calls “the lust of the flesh against the spirit.” He includes immorality, idolatry, divisiveness, envy, murder, drunkenness, witchcraft, anger, quarrels, and so on. And virtually every one he names is an example of something basically good, gone wrong:
There is no idolatry if there is no love of God seeking to express itself without a proper outlet. There is no drunkenness and carousing if first God hasn't given “wine to gladden the hearts of men.” There is no anger, no quarreling, if we have no friends; there is no envy if we taken no responsibility in providing for our needs and those of our family.
So, we are asking, first of all that God grant us the enlightenment of the mind and the warming of the will to use all of the good things that He has given us on earth with wisdom and moderation. We are asking God to send the Holy Ghost to us, so that we can make use of his gifts in the proper way:
That instead of envy and anger we will have joy and peace; mildness instead of quarreling. That instead of idolatry, we will have faith and charity, and worship the true God. That instead of immorality and licentiousness, we will have modesty and chastity.
Again, we are asking that God take the natural, normal, human drives that are inescapable for people in this life—and allow us to direct them without excess, and without over attachment to the material things of the world—asking Him not only to direct us away from the bad, but also to direct us towards what is positively good.
“Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven.” Certainly, this is a plea that God guide Christian family life. It is precisely the misuse of earthly gifts that wedges between the members of families. Immorality, idolatry, divisiveness, envy, murder, drunkenness, anger, quarrels, and so on must be replaced by charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, mildness, faith, modesty, chastity, and so on.
“Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven.” This is also a plea for the reign of Christ the King on earth. Wouldn't we be far better off, if, like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, we were all subject to the will of God, rather than forming complex polities to direct every aspect of human life. It is the height of sinful pride to think that some ruling elite can direct the ways of the world better than following the will of God. Did not God create man with unalienable rights and a natural understanding of the moral law? How could anyone think that a committee of men could do better? Or that any authority on earth can challenge God given rights and God given law? Such are the “errors of Russia” that we talked about last week—errors that have been adopted by Western Civilization, and even by Christendom itself.
In sorrow endure; in humiliation be patient. For in fire are silver and gold tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you; make straight your ways and hope in Him.