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Saint Athanasius, Sirach, and the Sobbing-Face Emoji

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Sirach 6:5-17

A kind mouth multiplies friends and appeases enemies,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him.
For one sort is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self,
and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low, he turns against you
and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35

R. (35a) Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
In your statutes I will delight;
I will not forget your words.
R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.
R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart.
R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.
Lead me in the path of your commands,
for in it I delight.
R. Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan.
Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom,
he again taught them.
The Pharisees approached him and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
They replied,
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.”

NAB

After the Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the 4th century, the Church was finally able to come out from underground and make some things official. Important things, like what constitutes the Bible. And they did. In 367 AD, Saint Athanasius presented a complete list of the 27 books of the New Testament. These, along with the 46 books of the Old Testament were affirmed as the official canon of Sacred Scripture for the Catholic Church by the synod of Hippo in 393. While there have been occasional discussions of possible changes over the years, the books of the Bible have remained unaltered from then until now. For us.

But. In 1534, Martin Luther, a former Catholic priest who had been excommunicated in 1521, published a new translation of the Bible that was noteworthy. It grouped seven books of the Old Testament out of their traditional order and labeled them as non-canonical or apocryphal. Today, these seven books are left out of Protestant Bibles completely.

And why am I telling you this today? Because one of those books is Sirach. And it just breaks my heart to know that our Protestant sisters are being denied the depth and beauty of this book of wisdom. It’s my favorite book of the Old Testament. (And not JUST because my now-husband was considering the priesthood when we first met, did the old finger-on-a-random-page-of-the-Bible thing, and landed on Sirach 26: “Happy the husband of a good wife.” #whew) Just look at the timeless yet timely nature of today’s reading. Joshua ben Sirach is a guy who understands human nature and, somehow, also the particular challenges of modern friendship.

Amassing followers on social media and contacts in my phone is not the same thing as nurturing that faithful friend Sirach talks about. There’s nothing wrong with the former, but the latter is what really counts. As someone who tends towards radical openness on my blog and social media, I have to do regular sanity checks to make sure I’m honoring my deep friendships. The godmother of my sixth child should not have to find out that I’m expecting my ninth via . . . Instagram. (Totally my bad. She knows I’m sorry.)

Though my acquaintances are many, my true confidants are few. As Sirach advises, I keep away from my enemies (there’s an unfollow for that), and trust new friends slowly, then wholeheartedly. I am so grateful for the handful of faithful, God-fearing women upon whom I can count to share meals and baby gear and congratulations on blessings we aren’t always expecting, and to be together in times of disappointment. Because sometimes those thumbs-ups or crying-with-laughters or sobbing-faces are just better in person.

Are you looking to cultivate those in-person relationships? Ask a new friend out for coffee and see how it goes. Host a Blessed Brunch (potluck, don’t worry!) in your home. Be open to new sisterhood.

Kendra Tierney is wife to a good man and mother to eight pretty good kids. Together they are fixing up a tumbledown hundred year old house. She’s a writer, and a blogger, and a graphic designer, and a homeschooler, and a regular schooler. Her word art is available here. Her book, A Little Book About Confession for Children, is available here. Find out more about her here.

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