We Must Set the Earth on Fire!

Audio recording of this homily, from 9AM on August 18, 2019

Today we hear Jesus say, “I have come to set the earth on fire!” and “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is not subtle language. This is not the “I’m fine, You’re fine, We’re all OK, let’s just be nice to each other” language that so many attribute to Jesus. The fact that we find these lines in St. Luke’s Gospel makes them even more jarring: Luke is often considered the most merciful and joyful of the Gospel writers. So how can we understand these jarring lines of the Gospel? What is Jesus demanding of us when he wants the world set afire? Does he really want divided families?

After Jesus speaks of fire, he immediately refers to a baptism. This is most certainly a reference to the Pentecost, where thousands were added to the Church and tongues of fire appeared above their heads. This is the fire Jesus wishes were here: the fire of the Spirit, living within each of us. We were baptized with much more than just water. No, we were baptized with the divine fire of love and life proceeding forth from the Holy Spirit into our hearts. This divine fire comes forth from God; it lives within us; and, it transforms us. Until we are baptized with this fire of the Spirit, Jesus is in anguish. Other translations say that he is constrained. Jesus needs us to burn with his fire to complete his mission of salvation from sin and death.

In the book of Revelation, the Holy Spirit says to the church in Laodicea (wherever that is…), “because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Brothers and sister, we cannot be lukewarm in our faith and in our lives. We must be fire. Not only must we be fire, but we must set the world on fire with God’s love. To become that fire, we must, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.” Simply put: We cannot deny the teachings of the church to those around us. We cannot live our lives contrary to those same teachings. We have to be honest with ourselves about this. So many of us, myself included, tell ourselves little lies, like “this is just a tiny sin, it’s OK,” or, “I don’t like this Church teaching, so I’m going to pretend not to know it,” or, “I think the Church is wrong, so I don’t have to follow this.” These thoughts are the work of Satan, the father of lies. He wants to turn us against God, against our own well being, against everything it means to be a child of God, and against that fire inside of us that we were entrusted with at our baptisms. He wants us to fail at “running the race that lies before us” we are called to run.

An image of Jesus depicting his Sacred Heart, the Crown of Thorns, and the marks of the Crucifixion
Notice how Jesus’s Sacred Heart is on fire with love for us, despite his suffering.

This race is not an easy one. In it, we must be exemplars of the faith to those around us. We must be willing to suffer, as the prophet Jeremiah did in today’s first reading. God had instructed Jeremiah to tell the king of Jerusalem to surrender the city, which was under seige by the Babylonians. The prophecy did not go over well, so he was thrown into a cistern. A cistern, if you’ve never seen one, is deep and pretty much impossible to climb out of. This was, basically, a death sentence for Jeremiah. He knew that going in, and was willing to risk his life to proclaim God’s message. In the United States of America, we may not have to risk our lives for God, but we may be asked to risk other things. If God asks us to stand up for him, it could cost us a career, money, friends, or sometimes even family. The devil is the one who sows this pain and division. The evil one is the reason families turn against one another, father against son, daughter against mother. He is behind the sin that lives in the world today, and sadly, too many people have helped him establish structure where sin can continue to grow and flourish.

When Christ says he came to establish division, it is not because he wants to break up families. It is not because he has only invited some of us to join him in Heaven. The divisions exist because Christ has called us to join his fight against the forces of evil and darkness. We can’t stay on the sidelines in this fight: we must pick a side. Do we fight for everything that is good and right and virtuous, for God himself? Or do we fight for the evil one, the father of lies, who desires our downfall?

One outstanding example of a Christian who stared evil in the face and said, “no,” was St. Maximilian Kolbe. During World War II, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. After a prisoner escaped that horrible place, the Nazis chose ten people at random to execute. One man began to weep, and begged to be spared. St. Maximilian Kolbe saw this, and walked up to the commander—which should have gotten him shot on sight—and said, “I will take his place.” The commander replied, “who are you?” St. Maximilian Kolbe replied, “a Catholic priest.” The ten men were locked in a room to starve to death. St. Maximilian Kolbe led them in prayer and song. St. Maximilian Kolbe was the last to die. In fact, it took him so long, the Nazis ended up giving him a lethal injection. This man stared evil in the face and won. Before all this happened, St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote that, “the value of any [community] depends only and absolutely on our life of prayer, on our interior life, on our personal closeness to the Immaculate [i.e., Mary] and, through her, to the Heart of Jesus.”

Our prayer life must bring us always closer to Jesus, and the surest route is through Mary. It is what allowed St. Maximilian Kolbe and all the saints to stand up to evil. Read the story of any saint—of Fr. Emil Kapaun, of St. Augustine, of St. Francis of Assisi, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, of St. Catherine of Siena, or any of those Saints we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer—and you will find that they all begin with prayer.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.”

Today’s Readings:
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
August 18, 2019
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

Faithful witnesses

Today, we hear the story of Abraham and Sarah recounted. They embarked on a journey together, moving away from home and not knowing where they were going. They became foreigners in every land, wandering around and living in tents. Though they had lost their ability to be fruitful, they believed that one day they would have descendants as numerous as the stars.

Why?

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon of Rome who defied the emperor. In the year 258, after witnessing the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II, the rulers of Rome, perhaps even Emperor Valerian himself, demanded that Lawrence surrender the riches of the church to the state. Lawrence showed up the next day with all the poor of Rome. He was sentenced to be grilled on the gridiron. He faced this terrible death with patience and courage, and even joked with his executioners, “I’m done on this side, turn me over.” His memory has stayed alive, and his story passed from generation to generation.

Why?

The disciples repeatedly did all the seemingly crazy things that Jesus demanded of them. Today he tells them not to fear, to sell all their things, to give alms, and to trust that their treasure is not on earth, but in Heaven. And they did it.

Why?

We can find the answer in one half of one sentence that we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews today: they “thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” Abraham and Sarah thought that God was trustworthy. St. Lawrence thought that God was trustworthy. The disciples thought that God was trustworthy. And what was the promise he had made them? To Abraham and Sarah, he promised to make their descendant as numerous as the stars of the sky. To Lawrence, he promised that whoever follows him and gives up their life will preserve it for eternity. To the disciples, he promised that the “Father is pleased to give [them] the kingdom.”

What do we call this trust that God will do as he promised? Faith.

These people found God trustworthy; they knew in their hearts that God keeps all of his promises. They knew that God is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He is incapable of not keeping his promises. The idea of God breaking his promises was nonsensical to them, as silly as a square circle or a bad plate of spaghetti. These things just don’t exist. (Well, I’m kidding about the spaghetti thing. I guess that’s possible. Just really hard to do.)

God has made each one of us a promise too. He’s asked us to detach ourselves from the things of this world, to surrender our wills to him, and follow him wherever he goes. If we do that, he promises that no one will give up anything in this life without being repaid many times over, and he promises eternal life with him in Heaven.

How will we respond? Will we light our lamps and wait for him? Will we, like the good servants, execute his will with love and charity? Or will we become like the other servants: bitter and angry, resentful that God has given us this task?

A day is coming—we do not know when—that our lives will be demanded of us. We will have to answer to God for our lives. I hope that each of us here will be able to say, “Lord, I knew that you were trustworthy, so I put my faith in you and followed you as well as I could.” Brothers and sisters, never forget to pray for faith and for the courage to live your faith. I do nearly every day, because I know that my soul and my hope of eternal life in Heaven both depend on it.

Today’s Readings:
August 11, 2019
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

How do I seek the Lord?

Father Matt Siegman Live Homily

Posted by Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday, August 4, 2019
Video of Gospel and Homily from 11AM Mass on August 4, 2019.

When we die, what do we take with us?

Reading this weekend’s Gospel reminded me, oddly enough, of a story I once saw on one of those whimsical signs on the wall of a Jimmy John’s. I’ll recount it briefly for you. A man was on vacation at a sandy beach somewhere. He came across a poor looking fisherman sitting in a chair on the beach. The fisherman was sipping a beer while he fished for his family’s dinner. The man explained to the fisherman how he could work a bit harder, sell some more fish and buy nets. Then he could work a bit harder, sell more fish, and buy a bigger boat. Eventually, with a lot of hard work, he could one day be a fish magnate, selling fish all around the world. The fisherman asked the man, “what would I do then?” The man responded, “Well, then you could retire to the beach, sip a cold beer, and do whatever it is that you enjoy for the rest of your life.”

I think the fisherman had it figured out. The story gives the impression that his family was happy and that they were able to fulfill their needs. They did not have to worry about all sorts of extra things like whether the boat would make it back safely, how to pay the hired hands, where to sell their fish. So what if they didn’t have an enormous house, in which they could store many things? So what if they didn’t have much to pass down to the next generation? The author of Ecclesiastes asks the question, “what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” The Lord answers it in the Gospel, asking if our life was demanded of us this very night, to whom would our riches belong? If we store up the riches of this earth, “but are not rich in what matter to God,” then what can we expect God to say to us when we meet Him? Jesus makes it fairly clear that the Father will not be congratulating us based on the size of our bank account or how many cars we have. What will he be asking us? How have you allowed Christ to live within your heart?

The answer to that question is the most important one we will ever give, and we are answering it every moment of every day of our lives. With every action, we bring Christ closer to our hearts or push him further away. With every action, we answer God’s question.

Let’s return to our fisherman from the wall of Jimmy John’s. Say that he thinks about it, talks to his family, and he decides to become a fish magnate after all. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Let’s say this fisherman is Catholic, but not too concerned about his faith. One day, he reads St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians and is convicted by the words, “Put to death […] the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another.” The fisherman has a change of heart, and he decides to live his life by these rules. He starts to learn his faith, and he begins to live it. He treats his employees fairly, paying them a living wage and ensuring they aren’t in undue danger. He cares for the environment, not just because he has a vested interest in ensuring he will have somewhere to fish, but also because it is good to care for God’s creation. He might even give everybody Sunday off so that they can worship God and spend time with their families. Instead of opening more bank accounts to hold his profits—the modern equivalent of building a bigger barn—he establishes a scholarship fund for disadvantaged youth to attend college, he helps fund various charitable organizations, he gives generously to his parish’s Glory and Praise initiative, and he might even go beyond the standard 10% in his tithing.

Whichever path—remaining a simple fisherman or becoming a fish magnate—the fisherman chooses can lead to him inviting Jesus closer to his heart every day, just as most paths open to us are capable of doing. Each path has different challenges. Each path will stretch us and our families in a different way. What is absolutely critical, though, is that we seek to follow our Lord in every situation. If we does that, with honesty, then we will never go wrong.

Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of August 3-4, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.

Today’s Readings:
August 4, 2019
18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

Your Mission: Convert the World

Audio Version, recorded at the 5:15PM Mass on Sunday, July 28, 2019 at Blessed Sacrament.

If God could find even 10 innocent people within the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he would have let them remain. I’d encourage you to read the rest of the story if you haven’t. Parents, just a warning, if it were a movie, it would be rated “R.” But as we continue to read the story, we find a few things: how a certain sin got its name, just how bad things were in those cities, and that—even after all Abraham’s pleading—God did destroy the cities. God is incapable of lying: similar to a square circle, it doesn’t even make sense to describe God as a liar—he is the essence of truth. If God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and he did make that promise to Abraham, that means he could not find even 10 people in those cities capable of being saved. “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

Friends, I am concerned about our world today. Our societies seem to be plunging deeper and deeper into sin. There is so much confusion and sin around sexuality, the meaning of life, and simple basic morality that our society has, sadly, grown used to sin. It cannot stay this way. We cannot simply stand by and let it stay this way. As Catholics, as Christians who follow Christ, as human beings who love our neighbors, we cannot stand idly by and allow society to destroy itself. We know that God is infinitely merciful to those who follow him. He saved Lot’s family, the only innocent one in Sodom and Gomorrah; however, that does not mean he is not just. Lot’s wife, after having been warned of the destruction of the cities, why they were being destroy, and the consequences of turning back to the cities, was turned into a pillar of salt for turning away from God. Despite what many of the academic elites, the media, the politicians tell us: there is a God, there are universal truths, and there are universal moral norms by which we are bound. Despite what society would have us believe, every action we take matters. We do not get to start the level over as if life was a game or something like that. We do not have the luxury of getting a second try when we pass on from this life. We have one life, and the actions of this life have eternal consequences for our souls. As a side note, this is one reason that confession is so critically important for our souls—it is, in effect, a reset button for our lives, which allows us to cast off our sins and start back over on our path toward God. Sin is serious business: we must cast it out of our lives.

Brothers and sisters, it is not just our lives at stake. Our Lord called us to be the ones to lead others to him. Each of us was called to make disciples and to teach the faith, because every single person on this planet is in the same, eternally serious situation. If they aren’t Catholic Christians, they might not even recognize the stakes. While God won’t hold what they are incapable of knowing against them, they are capable of knowing universal truths. Everybody must follow those. If they are Christians, they are in a particularly dangerous situation. At our baptisms, we became bound to follow God in a uniquely Christian way. The Church knows the high standards to which God holds us, and those who refuse to follow her are refusing her help in reaching those standards. It is an even more precarious situation for those who have fallen away from their Catholic faith. Frankly, they have turned away from the mercy God is willing to offer, because, for one reason or another, they think the world has offers something better. These poor people have thrown away the “reset” button that God offers us through Confession, and they’ve denied the love God wishes to offer them in the Eucharist at Mass.

So what can we do about it? I know what we can’t do. We cannot sit idly by and allow our society to fall apart. We cannot sit idly by and allow our neighbors—who we are called to love—to turn away from God. We must do something.

We can start by getting our own lives in order. The first step is prayer. The Gospel today teaches us how to pray. In the Lords prayer, Jesus teaches us what we should ask God to give us: freedom from sin and the strength to follow his will. In the following parable, he teaches us how we should pray: persistently. Make time to pray. Included in prayer is the sacraments. Make use of confession, and attend Mass, at a minimum, every Sunday. There is nothing you could possibly be doing that is more important than going to Mass on Sunday. Sleeping in, sports, work—these things must be second in our lives to God. He really is that important.

Just by getting our lives in order, we bear witness to Christ, but we can’t stop there. Our faith must inform our every moment, our every decision. We have to read and learn about our faith so that we can respond to others who ask about it, and so that we can understand it ourselves—especially in those areas where we harbor doubts about Church teaching. The Church is right, and sometimes our emotional attachments to this world—and even to other people—prevent us from comprehending the beauty and consistency of Church teachings. We must stand up for what is good and right, publicly, even—no, especially—if it is hard. As if that weren’t a great enough challenge, we must do all these things with charity. It doesn’t help to beat others over the head with a Bible, but it also doesn’t help if we never bring up God and his teachings.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ and his Church need you. They need you to spread the Gospel, to stand up for the truth, to be beacons of light in a world darkened by sin. It is not just Jesus and his Church who need you. My brother priests and I also need you, because we cannot do this by ourselves. We need your help. You can reach people we can’t. When Jesus ascended, he left us in charge. The Spirit will be with us to help us, but we have been given the task to must teach the world to hallowed God’s name. We must help God’s kingdom come into the world. We must receive our daily sustenance from God. We must forgive others and help them to forgive. We must work to convert the world, teaching everyone around us to live their lives in a way that they are never subjected to the final test.

Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of July 27-28, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.

Today’s Readings:
July 28, 2019
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Mary and Martha

Note: Sorry for the (very late) posting of this homily.

Nearly every time I read this weekend’s Gospel, I find it incredibly frustrating. Martha is trying to be a good host, but she’s struggling to get everything done. She is obviously frustrated that her sister Mary doesn’t come to help. I feel her pain, as it seems many hosts across the country do. I must admit to you all, I have a subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. When I got tired of reading German theologians arguing about whether “People of God” or “Body of Christ” was a better image of the Church in seminary, (pro tip: it’s both!) I switched to lighter fare like Bon Appétit to give my brain a little break. From this scholarly journal, I’ve learned that hosting a dinner party or the holidays is on the same levels of stress as a root canal. If I remember correctly, the Christmas issue last year had a multi-week plan of attack for how to host a stress-free Christmas party for family.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that hosting people who come over to your house is hard. I’ve seen the trouble people go to when they invite us priests over, and it’s truly humbling. If I invited God Himself over for dinner, I can only imagine how perfect I would try to make the menu, how sparkling the appliance would be, how stuffed into closets all my junk would be. Like Abraham in the first reading and Martha in the Gospel, I’d be running around like a crazy person trying to get it all done. I read this passage, and I just want to give Martha big hug and say, “I feel you, Martha.”

But that’s not what Jesus does. Not even close. Instead he tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. She’s too anxious and worried about things, Jesus says. Jesus simply wants to share himself with his friends: the serving can wait. Jesus isn’t concerned with how clean the house is; he isn’t concerned about whether the lasagna is a bit burnt or whether the steak is medium-rare as opposed to medium (although I personally want to believe he does care that it isn’t cooked any more than that…); he isn’t concerned about the toys that the kids left out. Jesus wants us. When Jesus enters under our roof—as he does every moment of our lives, but in a special way at Mass—, Jesus simply wants us. He wants us to open the doors of our hearts to him. He wants us to listen to him. He wants us to follow him. He wants us to leave behind our concerns for the world—even for just a moment—and be with him.

You may have noticed, though, that I said Jesus is with us every moment of our lives. If he wants us to simply be with him when he is with us, and he is always with us, then how could we ever get anything done? Fantastic question. That is why the Church is so concerned about what Catholic do with their lives! In every action we take, Christ is with us. Every action, then, should in some way be oriented toward God. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote that, “there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it […]. There is no other way. Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him.” (as quoted in The Navarre Bible: Standard Edition: Saint Luke’s Gospel, pg. 112)

We cannot avoid being a bit like Martha in our modern times, but the Lord reminds us to remember to imitate Martha’s sister Mary and stay close to Him. This is easy to say and hard to do, but nobody ever said living the Catholic life was easy: Jesus even promised us that it wouldn’t be! Then, though, he revealed to us the richness of his glory and his deep generosity. In return for living our lives as his disciples, Jesus promised us the Kingdom of Heaven, and that promise is worth everything we have, everything we are, and everything we might ever do.

Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of July 20-21, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.

Today’s Readings:
July 21, 2019
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

The abundant harvest

As the seventy-two disciples return from their mission, they are rejoicing! They tell Jesus that even the demons are subject to them. Jesus responds positively, saying he’s seen Satan fall like lightning, but then he cautions the disciples. “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,” he says, “but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” What does Jesus mean by this? Isn’t casting out demons a good thing? Shouldn’t we rejoice over that?

Imagine this scenario with me. A good man has run his own company for many years. He has many employees and has been very successful. He and his wife are getting older, though, and they have decided that it is time to retire. For years, the man’s daughter has been working alongside him, learning the business, but not really in charge. A few days after the man retires, the daughter—now in charge of the large and successful business herself—comes to visit her father. She says to him, “This is amazing! As soon as I decide something will be done, hundreds of people make it so!” The man says to his daughter, “This is good, as it should be. But never forget, that power you wield is for a greater purpose.”

Brothers and sisters, it is all too easy to rejoice in the gifts we have been given by God and to completely miss the whole point of the gifts. Why does God give us all the gifts he has given us? The answer is right in the Gospel: “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are dew; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.” This verse is often used in reference to priestly and religious vocations, but it applies to each and every one of us here today. We are all called to be laborers for the Lord. We are all called to bring souls to the Lord. All of us, disciples of Christ, are called to be missionaries. God gives us our many gifts so that we can labor in his harvest. He gives us our many talents so that we can not only bring our own soul to him, but so that we can go out into the world and bring ever more people to Him!

You may be thinking, “I have no idea how to be missionary! I don’t know Catholic doctrine and church teaching nearly well enough to be a missionary! I don’t know the Bible nearly well enough to teach others about it!” I understand your concern, but the first part of being a missionary is becoming a living witness of Christ. Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.”1 We don’t have to be Ms. Happy-all-the-time or Mr. Always-has-the-Catholic-answer. We must simply live in the hope that our Savior gave us when he wrote his law on our hearts and made us new creations at our baptisms. Maybe today, or this week, or this year, or even this decade, was rough, but I have something amazing waiting for me on the other side of this life. When we live this way, knowing what Jesus did to make that possible for us, we radiate an inner peace. That peace attracts people. Everybody is in search of that peace. They might ask us what it is that is different about us, or even about our faith. This is our chance to give a joyful witness to Jesus! If we don’t have answers, seek them out, but above all, trust that the Lord will supply what you need.

I mentioned a writing of Saint Pope John Paul II above. That wasn’t the end of the letter. He continued, writing, “Today, as never before, the Church has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations. I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time.”2

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

Today’s Readings:
July 7, 2019
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66:10-14c, 19-21; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

The yoke of Christ

Note: this homily was given on June 30, but not published until July 5. Sorry about the delay.

The readings today present two seemingly opposite ideas to us. St. Paul calls on us to break free of the yoke of slavery; meanwhile, Elijah and Jesus demand an immediate and drastic response to God’s call. It isn’t too much of a mental leap to hear what Jesus and Elijah are calling us to do and thinking that they are asking us to put on a yoke of slavery. Two questions come to mind. The first question is, simply, “which is it? Do we yoke ourselves or not?” The second question that some of us might be asking is, “What in the world is a yoke?!” The second question is a little easier to answer: a yoke is a piece of wood that goes across your neck and shoulders, and it allows you to carry pails and things. On animals such as horses, the yoke is fastened around their necks, and it allows them to pull carts. That first question, though, is the much more important question. The answer is the classic Catholic “both-and.” We must both throw off the yoke of slavery as St. Paul said, and take on the yoke of Christ. This doesn’t make sense until we realize that they are two different yokes.

St. Paul tells us to cast off our yoke of slavery to the flesh. This is St. Paul-speak for a very simple idea: stop sinning! Sin does not come from God, and only in God will we find true freedom. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to truly love God. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to be truly happy. Because we are flesh-and-bone, every time we do something, we become just a little bit better at it. If we do something many times, it slowly develops into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t even think about doing it. The problem is that we can develop bad habits—we call these vices—which can take control of our lives. Addictions live in the realm of vice. Addiction is not just something that users of drugs have to fight. We all have things which we are drawn to despite our will. The internet has made these addictions even easier to feed. This is what St. Paul is calling us to cast off. St. Paul is telling us to cast off these “desires of the flesh,” so that instead of letting addictions and vices and bad habits and temptation and sin rule us, we can rule ourselves.

When Jesus offers us his yoke, he tells us it is light and easy. He is not talking about the yoke of sin, but the yoke of freedom. Christ calls us to follow him immediately and without reserve, because following him means getting out of our slavery to sin and living in the freedom and joy of God. Christ is calling us to live with him, to allow his Spirit to guide us toward him. As we do this, we will train ourselves in new ways to live. We will develop good habits if we follow Christ. We will grow in that wonderful thing called virtue. When we do that, it becomes easy to do the right thing without even thinking. This allows us to grow closer and closer to God. This allows us to love God more and more and to experience his love more and more.

We are creatures made of flesh and of spirit. Because of original sin, the two parts of us are often at war with one another. We get to decide which part of us is driving: the flesh or the spirit. If we let the flesh-blood-and-bone part of us drive, we cannot follow God and grow farther away from him. We will become slaves to our vices and addictions, and ultimately, that route leads to eternal damnation. Nobody wants that. If we let the spirit drive, we can follow God. We can grow closer to him every day and every moment of our lives on this earth. We will become truly free to love God, and ultimately, we will hear God say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy.”

Today’s Readings:
June 30, 2019
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

What is the Mass?

What are we doing at Mass?

What is it that we’re actually celebrating at Mass?

To an outsider, I suppose, this would all look very strange.

All those strange things that the outsider would think we’re doing, well, we are doing them. But that’s the thing: we are doing those things. It’s not all just crazy talk from those weird Catholics. But we know that beneath the surface of the Mass, beyond the ceremony and the seemingly strange gestures and actions, something much deeper lives. One of the best summaries of why we do what we do at Mass can be found in the Mass itself, right in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the Memorial Acclamation. During this acclamation, which takes place immediately after the bread and wine have been consecrated and have become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we say to Christ who is in the Blessed Sacrament, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” We say this because we know that through his death, Christ destroyed our death. Through his Resurrection, Christ restored to us the promise of eternal life. When Christ comes again, our bodies will be raised up, the Heavens and Earth will be renewed, we will see God in all his glory, and we will live with him for all eternity. Jesus asked us to do this in memory of Him at the Last Supper. It seems appropriate that we re-iterate what we are remembering. And then we thank God for such a great gift.

In the first reading we heard that Melchizedek offered bread and wine in thanksgiving to God on behalf of Abraham. (Fun trivia tip: The term for Melchizedek’s thanksgiving offering in Greek is eucharistia.) God had merely blessed Abraham. He died and rose for us, saving us from death and opening the gates of Heaven! How much more incredible, then, should our offering to God be? It is. When we offer our thanksgiving to God, we do not use mere bread and wine. We offer something far more precious for the gifts he has given to us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater we can offer to Him. At every Mass, we remember Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and we offer the true Eucharist, the perfect thanksgiving to God for his mercy.

Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ
Fr. Matt elevates the Body and Blood of Christ at his First Mass

And then, as everyone offering thanksgiving to God must do to, we partake of the gifts we have offered to God. Christ told us that he would give us his Body and Blood so that we might have eternal life. Those who partake of his Body and Blood, then, shall live forever. The mere act of receiving our Lord brings us in communion with Him and with all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In this communion, our Lord offers us salvation. It is through this communion, with our Lord and with those who belong to his Church, that we are redeemed. By this communion, we may be washed clean of our sins, drawn closer to our Lord, and invited to participate in the kingdom of Heaven. When we partake of these most precious gifts, God abides in us in a true and unique way. This is why we must prepare ourselves—especially by the sacrament of Confession—to receive Communion, to make a proper and holy dwelling for our Lord.

Today, we celebrate. Our Lord has given us his Body and his Blood so that we might have eternal life.

Today’s Readings
June 23, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Lauda Sion Sequence; Luke 9:11b-17

The limits of human comprehension

Note: Sorry this didn’t come out earlier. I just started my new assignment and have been very busy!

If you ever meet someone who says that they understand the Trinity, that person is either lying or his name is Jesus and the second coming just happened. Alongside the Eucharist, how Jesus is both God and Man, what the Church actually is, and a few other things, the Trinity is one of the mysteries of our faith. We’ll never fully understand these things on earth, and even in Heaven we’ll be pondering them for eternity, but while we’re here, we can try and make at least a little sense of this whole Trinity thing.

How anything can be both one and three at the same time is baffling. Many analogies have been made over the last 2,000 to explain the Trinity, but none really work. All we are left with to describe the Trinity is words: words which can sometimes be very abstract, very confusing, and, frankly, very boring. I’ll keep this part as brief and simple as I can, but I think that is very important to try to understand a little bit about our God. He is, after all, who we come to visit when we come to Mass on Sundays. He is the one we receive in the Eucharist. We try to get to know our spouses and our friends, understanding that we never will know them fully, often through words. Why should we try to learn about God any differently? OK. Buckle up.

Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation derived from the Athanasian Creed.
Shield of the Trinity

The Trinity is God. Specifically, the Trinity refers to the fact that God is both one and three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we have three gods. The three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—are not different things. They are one Trinity of Divine persons. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are, together, one God. But at the same time, they are each distinct. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing. So is mine. That means that your beginning to grasp how mysterious God is to us. It is strange and confusing. It doesn’t make sense to us. Only God will ever truly understand what it means to be the Trinity. For us, it is important to know that God is the Trinity. Even more importantly, we must know that this Triune God loves us. God loves us more than we could imagine. God created us. After we fell the Father sent his only-begotten Son to us; so, God became one of us and to suffer and die for us. The Spirit was breathed into the world and into our hearts at Pentecost; so, that God could remain with us every moment of our lives. With all of himself, our Triune God loves us from before we are created by our parents and through all eternity. Even when we turn away from God, and deny Him, and cause him anguish because we sin against Him, he continues to love us.

Paul tells us that we must boast of this glorious God we have. No other religion makes such audacious claims as ours! Who else believes in a God willing to suffer and die for our love? Who else has a God who calls them to such perfection, yet offers such great mercy when we fall? Who else has a God who promises—and yes, as Catholics we believe what I’m about to say—that when we die we will become like him? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the true bliss of man and end of human life” is to fully participate in the very life of God. 1 St. Athanasius said it very clearly: “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” 2

This is a glorious promise that God has given us! We can start living this way now, by emulating God in our daily lives. We do this by following the commandments, the teachings of Jesus in scripture, and the teaching of the Spirit through God’s Church. This is hard work. It will bring us suffering and affliction in this life. But God suffered through many afflictions for us, and he did it as one of us. Paul teaches us that these afflictions teach us endurance. Endurance proves our character. This character teaches us to hope in God, and this hope does not disappoint, because through this hope God pours love into our hearts and transforms us to be like him right now, in this very place, today.

Today’s Readings
June 16, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

see, I am doing something new!

We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.

God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.

Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.

The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, taken February 20, 2018.

We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.

As we approach the culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water that bring life back into the world.

Today’s Readings:
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11