At daily Mass this week (7th week of the year) we are reading from the Book of Sirach. God inspired Jesus ben Sirach to pen advice so beautiful and wise that the early Church used it to instruct catechumens in their first year. Consider the following passage:
My son, when you come to serve the LORD, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus will you be wise in all your ways.
Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient; For in fire gold and silver are tested, and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and God will help you; trust in him, and he will direct your way; keep his fear and grow old therein.
You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. You who fear the LORD, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in his commandments and been forsaken? Has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed? Compassionate and merciful is the LORD; he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth (Sirach 2:1-11).
We can see in this text a prudent description of reality along with some remedies and rewards. Let’s ponder them.
The text speaks plainly of the things that befall God’s people: trials, adversity, sorry, crushing misfortune, and humiliation. Therefore, we are not exempt from the cross but deeply associated with it. We have been crucified with Christ and to the world. There will be times of joy and victory to be sure, but this world is not our ultimate home. Satan is the prince of this world and God mysteriously allows him significant influence and power—for a time.
This world, then, is a place of trial and testing for us. It is a crucible, an exile, a valley of tears. Worldly victories are not promised, but heavenly ones are, provided we persevere to the end. Jesus said, In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage! I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33). To the Church at Smyrna He said, Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer tribulation for ten days. Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev 2:10).
This is our reality. The world has joys and God grants many blessings and consolation, but on the whole, this life is a time of testing and significant pain.
The text goes on to set forth certain requirements, admonitions, and remedies. Let’s look at some of them.
Stand in justice and fear. We must do what is right out of a holy reverence for and obedience to God; this will secure our inheritance in the heavenly kingdom. Without the holy fear of God, we will fear the world and its punishments. If you’re going to fear something, it might as well be the God who loves you! The world’s blows are only temporary; God’s promises are eternal. We must be actively engaged in doing and trumpeting what is right rather than passively sitting in resignation. Stand! Do your work, revere God, and prefer His favor to the trinkets this world offers.
Be steadfast. The world constantly bombards us with what is new, trendy, and flashy. Do not be mesmerized. Stand firm, stably rooted in the time-tested wisdom of God; it has lasted millennia for a reason. When difficulties come, remember that “troubles don’t last always.” You may weep for a night, but joy will come with the morning light. Stand firm; do not be easily moved.
Incline your ear to the Word. Be deeply rooted in the Word of God. Let it dwell within you richly. The Word of God is a prophetic declaration of reality. It tells us what is really going on and what shall ultimately be. Savor God’s word; let it become the very substance of your thoughts. Our minds are going to be polluted if we immerse ourselves in so much filth and error. The mind is like a sponge. If you put a sponge in dirty water, it is going to come out dirty. How do you clean a dirty sponge? By plunging it into clean water, wringing it out, putting it back into the clean water, and then wringing it out again. The Word of God is that clean water for us, for our mind. If we are going to make it through this world of error, confusion, and misplaced priorities, we need the steady, cleansing influence of God’s Word. Put on your gospel glasses and see the world through them!
Be undisturbed. Do not be drawn in to the turmoil of the world. If we are rooted in God’s Word and have our heart fixed on Him, then even if there are storms on the surface of our life, deep within is a serenity that the world did not give and thus cannot take away.
Be Patient. The word patience is rooted in the Latin word patior (I suffer). Thus, patience is the capacity or willingness to suffer in the moment for the sake of some greater good. Patience is rooted in the perspective that comes from faith. We may have to suffer for a time, but those sufferings will produce a harvest of virtue and many other good fruits.
Cling to the Lord. Run to the Lord. Hold to His unchanging hand. Pray every day and always keep Him on your mind. This is essential lest we lose our perspective.
Accept what befalls you. The word accept is rooted in the Latin word coeptare (to carry). To accept something is thus to pick it up and carry it for a time. Acceptance does not mean approval; neither does it mean resignation. It simply means being willing to carry what the Lord asks. We might rather that things be different. We might pray that the burden lessens or goes away, but for now, we must be willing to take up this or that cross and carry it for a while. Acceptance is a virtuous middle ground between delight and despair. To accept is to trust God and the truth that He asks this of me for now.
Turn not away. When the road gets difficult it is easy to become angry at God or to look for an easy way out. Doing what is easy today, however, often serves merely to postpone troubles to tomorrow. Do not turn aside from the Lord. He knows what is best; we do not. Trust Him. Keep following Him, and do not turn away.
Hope. Hope is more than a vague wish that things get better; it is the confident expectation that God will provide me with the blessings necessary to get me home, that He will help me to attain eternal life. Therefore, hope points to and empowers fortitude and courage.
Love the Lord. Pray earnestly for the gift of a tender and deep love for God. Love lightens every load and disposes us to want what our beloved wants. A deep, tender, and grateful love for God helps us to endure and to run joyfully toward our goal of being happy with Him forever.
If we do these things, the Lord promises rewards, both here in this world and most perfectly in Heaven, where joys unspeakable and glories untold await us. The text from Sirach speaks of present and future rewards: thus will you be wise in all your ways. A worthy people are helped and directed by God through their trust in Him. Lasting joy and the fruits of mercy will be ours. Our hearts and minds will be enlightened. We will not be disappointed, but will be saved, protected, and always with the Lord.