[Mass for the junior high school children.]
Of all birds, sparrows are probably the most insignificant. They are small in size and dull in color. They undertake no great flights. They live in bushes rather than in trees. Though they are found in vast numbers all over the world, we take them completely for granted. They so blend in with the earth and their surroundings that we hardly ever notice them.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants us to know how far God’s love for us and care for us and knowledge of us goes. In doing that, he didn’t talk about swans or eagles, even though these birds make a much more splendid appearance as opposed to the humble sparrow. But listen again to what he says about them: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing.”
By this he means that everything that happens to any of his creatures, whether they are roaring lions or tiny sparrows, whether they are world leaders, or little children, whether they are great or insignificant, God still cares for them – they are still important to God. He notices what happens to us, no matter who we are, he cares for us and wants us to be with him forever.
In our day, there are lots of things to worry about. Many people right now are worrying about the economy. Will we be able to stay in our homes or will we lose them? Will we be able to pay our bills? Can we still afford to live in a safe place? And there are lots of other things we worry about too. We worry about people we love when they are sick. We worry about passing tests, whether they are tests in school or medical tests. We worry about our family and friends who are off in foreign lands fighting difficult wars. There is no shortage of things to worry about.
But Jesus reminds us today that we are in God’s hands. The hairs of our head have been counted. We are worth more than millions of sparrows, and God notices every single one of them.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop at the end of the first and beginning of the second century. At that time, Christians were often persecuted, this time under the Emperor Trajan. Christians were being forced to deny Christ or lose their lives. Many of them chose to give their lives for Christ, and Ignatius was one of them.
When he was in prison, Ignatius wrote to the people in the churches he led. He told them not to worry about him. In fact, he told them not to try to intervene for him, not to try to stop what was going to happen. He knew he would die for his faith, but he didn’t want them to try and stop it. He was not worried about his life, because he knew that God would take care of him. He wrote: “No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.”
He was killed for his faith and became a martyr. We celebrate his courage on this feast day for him. We celebrate his faith in Jesus, that faith that told him there was nothing to worry about because God loved him and valued him more than many sparrows.
What we need to do today is to give our worries back to Jesus, to remember that we are in his hands, and to tell him that we trust in him. After our prayers of the faithful, we are all going to come forward and offer our worries back to Jesus so that we can put them in his hands as we celebrate the Eucharist today. After you come forward to give your worries to one of our students who will place them before the altar, I want you to return to your seat and imagine yourself giving that worry to Jesus. Imagine him taking it from you, reassuring you that you are worth more than many sparrows, and imagine him embracing you and reassuring you that you will be cared for.