Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—17 August AD 2008
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice....”[1]


Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Some refer to this Sunday as the “Sunday of Divine Providence.” It is hard to hear this Gospel about the Lilies of the Field, and not see a picture in the mind's eye of beautiful flowers blossoming in the sunshine of a spring day—the birds in the air and the lilies in the field.

    Of course it is necessary to understand that this story, like several others in the Gospels, depends on what we call “hyperbole.” That is to say that the story makes its point with some degree of exaggeration. It is like that Gospel in which our Lord suggests that it is better to put out an eye or to cut off a hand if either of these causes us to commit serious sin—our Lord isn't really recommending that we maim ourselves; He is really suggesting that we take the far more simple and less painful alternative, and just stop sinning![3]

    Likewise, today, our Lord is not commending idleness and laziness—He is not telling us to go naked or to expect to find breakfast, lunch, and dinner just growing on the bushes and trees. Divine providence may have worked that way in Paradise, but it certainly does not work that way for the fallen descendents of Adam and Eve. In the world in which we live, we “bring forth our children in travail, and earn our bread with the sweat of our brow.”[4]

    In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul reminded them that when he was with him, he was an example of productive work, and went so far as to say: “if any man will not work, neither let him eat.”[5] And you can be sure that at the Joseph & Son Carpenter Shop in Nazareth, the very Son of God shared our human condition, toiling away with Saint Joseph to put bread on the Holy Family's table.

    Divine Providence meets us half way. God provides the earth and the sea and the sky, and allows us the use of the materials they contain and the creatures that dwell in them—but always with some effort. Even in primitive societies people must gather and hunt to provide their food and clothing. They learn that starvation and exposure to the elements can be overcome only with some foresight and labor to produce enough not only for today, but enough to get through the winters and the droughts that will inevitably come along.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with people making adequate preparations to keep their families and their neighbors fed and clothed and sheltered. There is nothing wrong with putting aside a surplus in order to weather “rainy days” or to prepare for illness or old age. Indeed, we often see that when people are forced to live at the level of bare subsistence they suffer spiritually as well as physically. It is difficult to acknowledge the love of God when one is in despair; unable to feed one's children, or to put a roof over their head. And, on the other hand, it is a holy thing to be able to feed the poor and clothe the naked—a truly good thing to have surplus goods to give to those in need.

    One must acknowledge that useful production is a responsibility for those who are able to do so. Parents have a responsibility to care for the needs of their small children, and husbands and wives to care for each other. Saint Paul wasn't discouraging the Thessalonians from being charitable—sometimes a man can't work, but he still must be able to eat.

    Well, what then is our Lord asking of us in this hyperbole about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field? It helps to read the passage in context—it is but a small part of our Lord's sermon on the mount.[6] A few verses earlier, our Lord warned his listeners “not to lay up treasures on earth, where rust and moths consume, and thieves break in to steal” but rather to “lay up treasure in heaven ... for wherever is thy treasure, there also will thy heart be.”[7] It is far more important, so to speak, for our hearts to be in heaven, than for us to be attracted to the things of the earth. Our primary focus must be on knowing, loving, and serving God in this world, so that we can be happy with Him in the next world.

    While we need adequate amounts of the goods of the earth, we must never allow them to become an obsession. Even if we are very talented and well able to acquire the wealth of the world, our acquisitions ought to be tempered with humility and with charity. The humble Christian does not gather his possessions with the intention that they be bigger or better or faster than those of his neighbors. He doesn't select his clothes or his car or his house in an effort to produce envy. The charitable Christian—the one who loves God and his neighbor as himself—the charitable Christian concerns himself with his treasure in heaven. He does not concern himself with having more things than his neighbor—quite the reverse—he worries about whether or not his neighbor needs things more than he does.

    In today's epistle, Saint Paul approached the problem from a slightly different perspective. He contrasts the things of the world, which he calls the “works of the flesh” with the “works of the spirit.” He is not saying that material things are evil—he is, after all, the same Paul who said “if you want to eat, you want to work.” What he is saying is that over attachment to material things tends to bring out the dark side of human nature. We have things like contention, enmity, jealousy, immorality, and even murder, only when we become over attached to the things of the world—only when we want more and more for ourselves, even at the expense of those far less fortunate.

    Attachment to heavenly things, the “works of the spirit,” tends to bring out the good side of human nature. When we “love God and our neighbor as ourselves,” and when we associate with other people who have this same love of God and neighbor, we experience things like charity, peace, patience, joy, faith, and chastity. If our treasure is in heaven we will not scrap over petty, unnecessary, material things.

    The theme of this “Divine Providence Sunday” then, is not one of lazy idleness. Lazy and idle people tend to find imaginative ways to get themselves in trouble, which go undiscovered by those engaged in useful activities. Rather, the Scriptures today urge us to make a choice of direction—to determine wisely and prudently the direction in which the activities of our life will take us. We are called to the “works of the spirit”; we are called to charity and humility. We are promised that in making such a choice we will be freed from the darker side of human nature with all of its quarrels and contentions—that instead we will experience the better side, blessed with all of those good gifts of the Holy Ghost which Saint Paul enumerated.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice,
and these other things shall be given you besides.”



[1]   Gospel: Matthew vi: 24-33.

[3]   Matthew v: 27-30.

[4]   Cf. Genesis iii: 16, 19.

[5] 2 Thessalonians iii: 10.

[6]   Matthew v-vii.

[7]   Matthew vi: 19-20.

[8]   Epistle: Galatians v: 16-24.


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