Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time A
I met Margaret last evening at a little reception following the 4:00pm Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg. I had spotted her out in the pews earlier during the Mass. She had the most lovely big, dark eyes, and beautiful curly, dark hair. She was actually rather captivating. Now, before you get too nervous, I need to add: Margaret’s not quite two years old….
When I was introduced to her, Margaret had a big cookie in her hands, and was happily nibbling bits of it from around the edge. Her sippy cup was easily within reach—her reach, and that of her mother and grandparents, as well. And when I last saw her, as we headed out of the Cathedral together, Margaret had been wrapped in her pretty, pink, polka dotted raincoat, with the hood up to protected her from the rain.
With food, drink, and clothing all taken care of, Margaret seemed to be without a care in the world…with one exception. As the reception wore on, she began to venture farther and farther into the room, away from her family’s table. But every 10-15 seconds, she’d turn back to look over her shoulder. Margaret’s only worry was that she might wander out of her mother’s sight.
How is it that little children, whose needs are so great, manage to live without worry? Because they have complete confidence that they will be cared for; they have prefect trust that they are loved.
As we continue our reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this Sunday, he repeatedly tells us not to worry: “Look at the birds of the air! See the wildflowers of the field! Do not worry and ask, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is encouraging us to irresponsibility—to throw caution to the wind and neglect having any concern about the necessities of life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! In the first pages of the Bible, we’re told that, from the dawn of creation, we human beings have been given a stewardship over the good things of this world. We are to cultivate and care for the earth, by means of which God provides for our every material need—with more than enough to go around. In writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that this stewardship extends to spiritual goods, as well. For them all, we must one day give an accounting—not according to the opinions of our neighbors, but by the judgment of almighty God.
No, the opposite of worry is not irresponsibility. Jesus isn’t counseling us to be careless, but carefree. What he wants us to see is that the opposite if worry is faith.
Faith is a word that can have many dimensions. Three levels of meaning come to mind for me today.
We can say, “I believe in God,” and mean nothing more than, “I have faith that God exists.” Most people on this planet have some sort of belief in a “higher power”—whether they believe in a god or gods or some impersonal force that animates the universe. That’s not the level of faith to which Jesus is calling us.
We can say, “I believe in God,” and mean, “I have faith that the God revealed by Jesus Christ exists.” This is the foundation of Christian faith: belief in the Most Blessed Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a personal God who is an eternal communion of mutual love; and that this divine love overflows for sinful mankind, and is most perfectly manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, who is God-made-man. But Jesus is calling us to a level of faith even deeper than that.
When we say, “I believe in God,” we need to be saying, “I don’t only believe that God is perfect, eternal love. I believe that God loves ME—individually, particularly, and personally. He knows me inside out, and has a plan for my life. And I believe that to follow that plan, to obey his will, is my only path to real happiness—in this life and the next. And that’s what God wants more than anything else: for me to be happy with him forever.”
Jesus is calling us to just the sort of faith, the sort of trust, that I saw in Margaret. As Isaiah relates it so powerfully, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” We know of no stronger human bond than that between mother and child…which is why it’s so shocking to ever read the story of a mother abandoning her baby on the steps of a hospital, orphanage, or church. It should equally sadden and shock that the law of the land permits a mother to end the life of a little one growing within her. “Even should she forget,” the Lord assures, “I will never forget you.” It’s faith in that sort of promise that frees us of every worry. We are to believe that we are constantly cared for, to trust that we are perfectly loved.
If you want to be free from every worry, then you’ll have to put your complete confidence in God—not just for the most part, but 100%. The trick is, we oftentimes put our confidence in the good things God provides, rather than in God himself—or even mistakenly believe that we can provide them all on our own.
Lent starts this Wednesday, and it’s a fairly common custom for folks to give up something for 40 days. When we decide to give up something for Lent, it shouldn’t be something sinful…since we ought to give up our sins not only for a season, but for a lifetime. No, during Lent the challenge is to give up something good, and do so in favor of something even better. To practice such freely-chosen sacrifice and self-denial helps to refocus our faith and strengthen our will. Lent is a perfect time to make sure our trust is where it rightly belongs.
May this Lent be a time that frees you from all worry. Look to the birds of the air, the wildflowers in the field, to little children like Margaret, and learn to trust in the Lord’s love for you.
In God alone will your soul be at rest.