Tuesday, March 13, 2012

40 Things #18: The Book of Sirach

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***

A while ago, a priest recommended to me that I spend more time reading the Bible.  My daughter was only a few months old at the time, and my weekly exposure to Scripture was basically limited to hearing the readings and Gospel at Mass on Sundays.  Reading the Bible at home sounded like a great idea in principle, but I wasn't sure if I would have the time, and I debated over what part to read (start with Genesis? start with the Gospels? etc.).  So one day I sent up a little prayer: "What should I do here, God?"  The answer was surprisingly quick and surprisingly clear: the Book of Sirach.

Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) is an Old Testament book filled with moral teachings and maxims about living a good, holy life (similar to, say, the Book of Proverbs; it's organized with the "Wisdom Books").  For example:
"My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts." (Sirach 3:17)
"No matter the wrong, do no violence to your neighbor, and do not walk the path of arrogance." (Sirach 10:6)
"Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize." (Sirach 11:7)
"Like the sun rising in the Lord's heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home." (Sirach 26:16)
It is not part of the Protestant canon (they group it with the Apocrypha), but it has always been considered inspired by the Catholic Church*.

It took me weeks to read it at the pace of one or two chapters a day, but it was a richly rewarding experience.  There is so much wisdom contained in this book!  Here are just a couple of the passages I love:
"My son, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
undisturbed in times of adversity.
Cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will your future be great.
Accept whatever befalls you,
in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold is tested,
and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust God and he will help you;
make straight your ways and hope in him." (Sirach 2:1-6)
"The works of God are all of them good;
in its own time every need is supplied.
At his word the waters become still as in a flask;
he had but to speak and the reservoirs were made.
He has but to command and his will is done;
nothing can limit his achievement.
The works of mankind are present to him;
not a thing escapes his eye.
His gaze spans all the ages;
to him there is nothing unexpected.
No cause then to say: 'What is the purpose of this?'
Everything is chosen to satisfy a need." Sirach 39:16-21

I highly recommend reading the Book of Sirach.  It provided considerable peace in my life during a time when adjusting to the exhausting demands of new motherhood indeed made me feel like gold being tested in fire!

*For more reading on the basis for including the deuterocanonical books, check out some fascinating posts from Shameless Popery:
Jesus Christ and the Old Testament Canon
Did the Protestant Bible Exist Before the Reformation?
Jim Crow and the Protestant Bible


  1. I have recently reconnected with the Bible myself. I have not read the Book of Sirach. Thank you for the inspiration to give it a try!

    I just love your posts about what you love about Catholicism! I share that same love and you capture the faith so wonderfully! Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Leanne! Your encouragement means the world.