Living Like the Saints

Today we celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We celebrate the victory that all of the saints, those known and unknown to us, have achieved over sin and death. We celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us in joining them, because each and every one of us “want to be in that number,” as the famous song says. We desire to be one of those holy ones in revelation, who are clothed in robes that have been made white in the Blood of the Lamb. We desire that salvation which comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb. How do we do this? We must become children of God and make ourselves pure. We must separate ourselves from the things of this world. St. Paul tells us that the world does not know him. If we are to become like him, the world cannot know us either. Everything on this planet is secondary to the love we must have for God. We must entirely submit ourselves to God and his will, die to our earthly ambitions and desires, and allow God to use as his chosen instruments.

Jesus tells us how to do this in the Gospel today. The Beatitudes are not nice little platitudes about how we are to be nice to one another. They are the new law of Jesus Christ. Just as Moses proclaimed the Ten Commandments at the foundation of the Mosaic Law and the Old Covenant, now Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes from a mountain as the foundation of the New Covenant and the code of conduct for anyone who wants to call himself or herself a child of God. If we do not take living the Beatitudes seriously, we put our souls in peril of eternal damnation. To become saints, like those great and holy men and women we celebrate today, we must live the beatitudes.

[note: the following paragraphs make much use of St. Augustine’s work on the Sermon on the Mount, found here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm]

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Those who are poor in spirit have conquered the pride within themselves. They do not hold themselves above others. They are humble and God-fearing, because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and true wisdom is to live as a child of God. We should not have a crippling fear of God that terrorizes us, but we must remember that our actions on this earth will judge us, and God will pronounce this judgment. It is not wise to hold ourselves about the source of all knowledge and the ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven. To be poor in spirit means that we recognize the authorities over us, and that we recognize that we are not always right. The proud receive their reward on this earth, while the humble and poor in spirit receive their reward in Heaven. Thérèse of Lisieux shows us how to live this Beatitude: she wanted to be everything, but recognized that she simply could not achieve this. Instead of clinging to pride and trying to do so anyway, she recognized that her humble and simple prayers, her Little Way, would bring her to Heaven.

            Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. We may mourn the loss of certain things in this world: our power, our wealth, our prestige, our job, but the loss of these is nothing when compared to the rewards God has promised us. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will bring us peace as we seek out God. Much more than these temporal and fleeting losses, we should mourn the sinfulness in our lives that continues to separate us from God, and him to comfort us by delivering us from these sins. Mary, the Mother of God, and her Seven Sorrows are well known, yet she was never without peace and was never separated from God by sin.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. We often mistake weakness for meekness, but that is a grave error. The meek accept wickedness and evil inflicted upon them, but always work to overcome evil with good. The martyrs of our Holy Church exemplify meekness: often in the face of government persecution. Read the stories of St. Lawrence, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Thomas More. Our Catholic ancestors in the United States showed great meekness as they suffered through terrible anti-Catholic bias—both legally and illegally—in this country, but continued to work for the common good, founding organizations such as the Knight of Columbus, working for the rights of workers in the various labor movements, founding hospitals to care for the sick, establishing the largest non-governmental school system in the country, and being exemplars in charity toward neighbor. Piety, the prayer to and proper worship of God and prayer to the saints for their intercession, is how we submit all earthly things to God and allow him to transform evil to good.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Jesus himself told us that his food is to do the will of the Father. As we unite ourselves to Christ, this must also become our food, for righteousness is the will of the Father. We must fight off sin and temptations to do our own will, asking the Lord to give us fortitude. United to the will of the Father, we will be satisfied, for nothing is sweeter than the righteousness of union with God. Saint Mother Theresa found her nourishment in bringing the love and mercy of God to the poor and dying in India, and despite much trial and tribulation, persisted in this satisfying work.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. We are offered great mercy from God. He died for our sins on the Cross to redeem us from damnation. He gave us the Sacraments to be fonts of mercy in our lives. In the Sacrament of Confession, particularly, we see God’s mercy face-to-face. Mercy is constantly offered to us, but if we close our hearts to the people around us it is all for naught. If we cannot show mercy to our neighbor and love them as God loves us, then we are incapable of receiving God’s mercy. Those who are merciless condemn themselves to hell, while those who share God’s mercy will be lifted up to Heaven. Look at St. Dismas, the good thief: his last action on this earth was to stand up for Jesus, a small mercy in their last moments, and for such a small mercy St. Dismas was rewarded eternal life.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. We cannot see God with our eyes: we see him in our hearts; therefore, we must cleanse our hearts of evil and earthly things. God dwells within our hearts. If we continuously try to evict him, we have no chance of seeing Him, because we have hidden him with the muck and filth of sin. A clean heart comes from and informed conscience, an educated intellect, and a moral life. St. Mary Magdalene and St. Augustine were both public sinners, yet they achieved eternal glory by purifying themselves of their base desires for sin and replacing these perverse desires with desire for God alone.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. A peacemaker must first be at peace in his or her self. The peacemaker unifies his or her heart and body and soul with the will of God and casts out the things of this world. Purified from such lower things, the peacemaker can lead people to God, the source of peace. This work can be done only by the children of God, because only those who fear the Lord can gain this true wisdom. The prince of this world, Satan, strives after division, disorder, and strife. Those who keep their eyes solely on this world; those who place their hopes in political power or in money; those who have made an idol of their nation, their political party or political candidates, or even a particular person; those who have placed their hope for salvation in anyone who is not God; all of those people have separated themselves from God. Such people have made themselves, at best, children of this world and, at worst, children of the devil. Such people cannot bring peace, because there is no peace within them or the one whom they follow. Such people only bring division. Long before the United States made any progress against the morally bankrupt and totalitarian policies of Communism and Marxism, one of the greatest peacemakers in history was on the front lines: Saint Pope John Paul II. If we want to bring peace into this world, we too must become living saints.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. The person who exemplifies these beatitudes will be hated and persecuted by this world, because the children of this world hate everything for which they stand. But someone who lives the beatitudes is a child of God, a member of the Kingdom of Heaven, and will receive an eternal inheritance beyond all imagining.

We must take the beatitudes seriously, just as every single saint did. Today, we celebrate the saints, and we ask them to assist us as we strive to be in that number.

Today’s Readings:
November 1, 2020
All Saints Day, Year A
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

Updates – July 2020

I wanted to post a quick update, since I haven’t posted the full text of my homilies in a few weeks. (My apologies! I haven’t had a chance to write a full text version out for the last few weeks.) I am still posting the audio of my homilies to my podcast. You can find the homilies to the right, or you can subscribe to them in your podcast app:

Fr. Matt triumphs over the video streaming hardware!

Some more fun and exciting news: I got our new streaming computer setup in the Church, so I have my laptop back. Yay! This means I have my video editing computer back, which means I can get working on those again.

Have a great day!

The Humble Pursuit of Truth

In Romans today, St. Paul tells us that whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Conversely, if we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, then we will have life. This Spirit is none other than the Holy Spirit. This raises an important question: how do we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us through our love. (Commentary on Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626) Even though we received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and again in Confirmation, we drive the Holy Spirit out of ourselves when we sin. Venial sin damages and mortal sin destroys the relationship of love we have with God. The book of Wisdom tells us that God does not abide iniquity, sin, which logically means that our personal sin drives out the Spirit of God. (Wisdom 1:3, cf. Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626)

Driving sin out of our lives is extremely challenging. It is a life-long endeavor, but it is not something we do alone. God assists us regularly with his grace, and He walks with us through this life. He has also left us with the holy Scriptures. Readings the Scriptures and meditating upon them can allow us to grow closer to God and can allow the fertile ground in our hearts to be readied for the Spirit of God to dwell. Christ teaches us in today’s Gospel that he reveals all these things to little ones. Why does he reveal them to little ones and not to mature adults? I can think of a number of answers to this question; however, the strongest answer, I think, is that children have not lost their sense of wonder about the world, nor have they lost their sense of openness to others. A child is not afraid to look up at the clouds and the stars and to see all sorts of shapes and plants and animals. A child, to the horror of many parents, is not afraid to go talk to someone they don’t know. A child trusts his or her parents, and, generally, anybody multiple feet taller than him or her. A child wants to learn everything and is always seeking out truth in adventures, in friends, and in stories. A child also recognizes that sometimes he or she is wrong. In other words: a child has humility. Zechariah, in today’s first reading, tells us that the Messiah will be humble as well: he will not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, but on a donkey.

These three traits of children, of wonder, openness or docility, and humility, are essential to growing in love. No matter how hard we try to hold on to these virtues, we struggle to maintain them as we age. When was the last time you just looked up at the clouds or stared at the stars? When was the last time you admitted—to yourself—that you might not be the most knowledgeable person about any given thing? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be taught? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong?

Not counting the question about looking at the sky, none of these are “fun” things to do. As hard as the questions themselves are to stomach, it gets worse when I recognize that the answer is, to every single one of them, “it has been longer than it should have been.” We live in a society that proclaims that truth is whatever we make it. This relativism, which started in the realm of morality, has infected every area of our society. If we don’t like a truth, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, society teaches us that it is OK to decide that it is not true for us. Society tells us that this is good. Society tells us that we should be comfortable and that we should never have to experience the trauma of being wrong.

Society is wrong.

There is truth, and it is universal. If something is true, that will not change. If you jump up, you will come down. This is a truth. Just as gravity doesn’t change based on our feelings and what we want it to do, neither do the observable properties of the universe, such as the behavior of air molecules, non-living RNA and water droplets, etc. A newly conceived child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has a right to life no matter how we feel about the circumstances in which that child was conceived. No matter what our feelings are about something, no matter what our favorite political leaders tell us, truth does not change, because truth is grounded in God, and God does not change. This has been the teaching of the Church throughout all of time, and has been reiterated over and over again, for example, in the Second Vatican Council Document Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), then again in  St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), and again by the saint in Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason). Fides et ratio specifically discusses how, as Catholics, we are not only able to, but must use our reason in conjunction with our faith, because our reason is a gift from God. The Catholic Church, despite what some people may say, has always believe that science is a good thing. Through science we learn about creation. When we learn about creation, we learn about its creator, that is, God.

After informing myself on matters like this, I know more about creation than before. I have learned more about the truth. As Catholics, we must take one further step after learning the truth: We must allow the truth to inform our actions. As a result of my study and research this week, I am wearing my mask more. This is neither a mistake, nor is it a fluke. It is intentional. This is not due to government mandating that I wear a mask; however, Christians are, in most cases, bound to follow civil authority. 1 I am wearing my mask more, because I have come to the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. After informing myself with information from sources that make it their business to know these things, doctors and physicists and chemists, I see that the evidence is fairly clear that they help. I didn’t think wearing a mask was important, but I was wrong. Masks are effective, especially when combined with social distancing, at preventing others from catching disease from me. While the research shows that a mask does not protect me, it does protect those around me, that is: the mask protects my neighbor. Is it perfect? No. But it is significantly and scientifically proven to be better than nothing.

I don’t do this (wearing a mask) because I want to: Honestly, I don’t. But what I want and what I feel… it doesn’t matter. God demands that I love my neighbor as myself, always. This is truth, and like the truth, this demand will never change. If I don’t love my neighbor, I cannot love God, because it means my love is messed up. If my love is messed up and I can’t love God, then I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to live in me. God asks us, on a regular basis, to do things we don’t want to do for the good of ourselves and the good of others. This is, in fact, the essence of Christian love: to sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor. This is something every married couple knows: “I don’t always get my way, because I love my spouse.” As a priest, I see the situation a little differently. Daily, priests pray about sacrifice and remember what Jesus did to save us. The crucifixion is simply a part of priestly spirituality. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and crucified for us. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable. I can’t imagine that he really wanted to do it (at least, on the part of his human nature). Most importantly, Jesus did not need to die for himself. He suffered and died purely because he loves us, his neighbor, so that he could eradicate and conquer the most primordial contagion known to plague humanity: sin.

Brothers and sisters, let us always seek the truth with openness and humility, like children do. Let us allow the truth to inform our actions so that we can truly love our neighbor, and in doing so, open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Today’s Readings:
July 5, 2020
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

True Food and True Drink

The Church has taught, and Catholics have believed, since the very beginning that the Eucharist is something different. At Mass, ordinary bread and wine and changed into something beyond our imagination: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Church had established this teaching well before Justin Martyr wrote, around 150 A.D., that only those who believe that the bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood are permitted to partake of the Eucharist. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, around the year 180 A.D., fought heresies, such as some forms of Gnosticism which denied the God became man, on the grounds that this would deny that the Eucharist was Christ’s body and blood. In response, St. Irenaeus asks them: who other than God could do such a thing? Through the centuries and millennia, the Church has never wavered in this teaching. Similarly, through the centuries and millennia, many struggle to believe this teaching. Jesus Christ himself had to confront this unbelief:

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.”
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.

John 6:52-55

It has not changed. Last year, a Pew Research survey said that among Catholics who go to Mass every week only 63% believe in the Real Presence. If you include all of the people who don’t go to Mass, that number drops to 28%. Shockingly, 22% of people who identified themselves as Catholic expressly reject the teaching if the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Many have fallen prey to the idea that the Eucharist is some sort of symbol; however, in John’s Gospel we read that God himself refutes this understanding. What’s more is that in the Greek text it is abundantly clear that Jesus is not speaking about taking a meal with him or, in some symbolic way, consuming his Flesh and Blood. He is demanding not just that we eat his flesh, but that we gnaw and munch and chew on it, as an animal chews on its food. 1 The Eucharist is different than all of the other sacraments, in that it is not simply the power of Christ that becomes present and operates within us. Christ himself becomes present and operates within us. The only way this happens is if the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. A symbol would not work this way. Flannery O’Connor, in reference to the Eucharist said, “Well, it it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.”2 She was absolutely right. If the Eucharist were a symbol, the Protestants would be right, and the only prudent thing to do would be to leave and to cut our losses now.

The Eucharist is one of those teachings that seem simple, but, in reality, defies all our understanding. Like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrated last week, this teaching must be taken on faith. In the verses leading up to today’s passage from John, Jesus speaks of faith. Jesus tells us that belief in Him is essential to eternal life. If we believe in Jesus Christ, that means we must trust him, and if we trust him, then we must trust what he says. We must trust Jesus when he tells us that bread and wine become his Body and Blood. We must trust him when he tells us that we must eat it and gnaw it and munch it to have eternal life.

In the context of right now, I’m sure some might be thinking, “wait a second, if I have to literally eat Jesus, what is the point of this Spiritual Communion everyone keeps going on about?” This is an excellent question. Between a Sacramental Communion and a Spiritual Communion, much is the same. For both, we must prepare ourselves, especially through prayer. We should be in a state of grace, i.e., we should not be conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin. To receive Sacramental Communion, we must also fast from all food and drink—except water and medicine—for one hour, but this would also be praiseworthy for a Spiritual Communion. For both, we should participate to the extent that we are able in the Mass, uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Christ and asking God for his grace to fill our hearts. We should, as Jesus taught his followers in the parts leading up to today’s Gospel, strive to believe in Jesus and ask him to give us the Bread of Life, that is, himself.

The key difference between the two is in the reception itself. In a Sacramental Communion, we are assured that we are receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. We are fulfilling his Gospel command to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood. We receive actual graces due to God being present within us, and to the extent that we have prepared ourselves we are open to many more spiritual benefits. With a Spiritual Communion, the situation is a little different. Primarily, we are not physically receiving our Lord and fulfilling what he says in the Gospel. That does not make Spiritual Communion something unworthy, it simply means that it is different. We still receive many spiritual graces from Spiritual Communion, and God still inflames our hearts with love for him. We cannot allow ourselves to think, however, that Spiritual Communion is a fitting or good “replacement” for Sacramental Communion, because Sacramental Communion is essential for eternal life.

As we celebrate the Mass and approach the Eucharist, the True Presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament, let us strive to spiritually prepare ourselves so that in this Sacrament Most Holy, we may experience a taste of the Living Bread from Heaven, the Food of Angels, and the Sacrament of our Salvation.

Today’s Readings:
June 14, 2020
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), Year A
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Lauda Sion (sequence); John 6:51-58

Sharing the Trinitarian Life

Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship. Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” So, I’ve got to ask: is Moses talking about the Israelites fleeing from Egypt, or us, right now? Because, it could be both. Someone recently said to me, “We just need some Jesus!” And it’s so true. We can look around the world today and see stubborn, stiff-necked people who refuse to listen to each other. We see wickedness and sin. It is very easy to think, “where has God gone? Is he even living with us right now? Has he abandoned us while we suffer through a plague and racism and rioting all at once?” Right now, some are reading the Book of Revelation, looking at the world around them, and asking, “is this the end times?”

The answer is, of course, yes. Don’t hear me the wrong way: I am not saying that the world is ending tomorrow, although I also can’t guarantee that it won’t. The truth is this: we have been in the end times since the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is good news, though, because it means that the Kingdom of God is present in the world right now. It means that God is with us, and he has not abandoned us. In fact, he will never abandon us, because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. God was not willing to let the sin of Adam and Eve, the sins of Israel, and our own sins remain. He came to this world and saved us. He extended an offer of kinship to us: through our baptism we entered not just into the Church of God, not just the family of God, but also the Body of Christ himself. We have been initiated into the life of the Most Holy Trinity, but what in the world does that mean? What is the Trinity, and what does it mean to participate in the life of the Trinity?

We can spend the rest of our lives trying to answer this question. Theologians have. Ultimately, we must recognize that sharing in the life of God is a mystery we will never fully comprehend. Even in Heaven, we will never fully comprehend God, because he is so much more infinite in glory and magnificence than our souls, even they are infinite too, can handle. In engineering school, we talked about “levels of infinity.” (According to the internet, we have some 19th century German mathematician named Georg Cantor to thank for this revelation.) This is an area where science can help us understand our faith: some things are more infinite than others. It is, therefore, highly reasonable to say that even though our souls are infinite, they cannot fully comprehend the much more infinite glory and majesty and beauty of God. Perhaps the most profound of these mysteries we could spend eternity ponder is that of the Trinity: the fact that our One God is Three Divine Persons who share One Substance.

Even though we will never fully comprehend the Trinity, we can grasp at it, as a baby grasps toward the light or anything else they don’t understand. St. Paul does this marvelously at the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, writing, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” In this Trinitarian greeting, which we often use at the beginning of Mass, Paul shines a light on some characteristics of the Trinity. Love is associated with the Father; grace, with the Son; fellowship, with the Holy Spirit. How are these things associated with the persons of the Trinity? St. Thomas tells us that the person causes each of these things within us.1  By loving us, God the Father has caused us to love. Having been sent out of love by the Father into the world to save us, the Son is the source of grace, which is a way of saying that Jesus Christ, by becoming human and conquering sin, made it possible for the Divine Life to reside inside each of us. Having been sent by the Father, through the Son, the Holy Spirit communicates these gifts to each of us and causes our fellowship and communion as brothers and sisters in Christ.

When talking about things so lofty, it is not good to try and fully explain it, so I will not. Instead, let us ponder for a few moments the Trinity, and ask God to share his Divine Life with us. Let us ask him to lift the veil just a little bit, so that we can begin to comprehend the glory of God, the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in our lives today.

Today’s Readings:
June 7, 2020
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A
Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

Podcast link: https://mattsiegman.com/podcast/sharing-the-trinitarian-life/

The Time for Pentecost was Fulfilled

Pentecost, painted in 1732 by Jean II Restout

Last week, I promised to elaborate a bit on a point I made in my homily: that the apostles and disciples of Jesus would be transformed by the Ascension, election of Matthias, and the Pentecost. Today, we come to the culmination of these events: the Pentecost.

At the Ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of the Father. When Christ ascended to his throne in Heaven, God fulfilled the promise he had made to King David a thousand years earlier: that a David’s descendant would sit on the royal throne forever. (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13) The earthly portion of this kingdom was entrusted to Christ’s regents, the Apostles, who were commissioned to rule in his stead.

The election of Matthias helps us understand what is happening. King David appointed ministers to rule over each of the tribes of Israel. Over time, ten of those tribes were lost to war and conquest. Those tribes had been dispersed over the world. God had promised Israel that the tribes would be reunited into one nation and brought into their homeland. By appointing twelve apostles, Christ was bringing this promise to the forefront of people’s minds. The one nation was the Kingdom of God, which Christ showed us was not a political kingdom, but a kingdom mystically united by the Holy Spirit, a kingdom which transcends earth. The homeland of this people was, similarly, not on this earth, but in Heaven. The extraordinary Letter to Diognetus, written between 130AD and 200 AD, explains how Christians live in this mystical nation and heavenly homeland. The author writes “there is something extraordinary about [the Christians’] lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. […] They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them.”1

Jesus, a descendent and son of David, had appointed ministers over the twelve tribes. With the loss of Judas, their number was no longer complete. With the election of Matthias as the “new” 12th apostle, the apostles were again complete and ready to assume headship over the Kingdom which Jesus had left for them.

Everything is now prepared for Pentecost. Christ has assumed his throne, taking headship over the Body of Christ. The mystical Kingdom of God had been established both in Heaven and on Earth. One element remained: the coming of the Holy Spirit of God.2 In Acts of the Apostles, we are told that this occurred when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled. (Acts 2:1) Pentecost was—well, still is—a major Jewish feast day, where the giving of the Torah—the Law—on Mount Sinai is remembered. It is time for the fulfillment of this feast, Luke tells us. The prophet Jeremiah told us that God would make a new covenant in which he would write his law upon our hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33) Jesus told us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) How was a covenant ratified in the Old Testament? A sacrifice was made, cut in half, and the parties to the covenant walked between the two. The sacrifice was then burnt in offering to God.

Let us put this all together. On Good Friday, Jesus offered himself as sacrifice for us. In doing this, he destroyed sin. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, destroying death and showing us that we are called to life everlasting. On the Ascension, Jesus left Earth and entered Heaven. While he is mystically still united with us as his Church, we are also separated. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God rushes upon the Body of Christ gathered and tongues of fire came to rest on all of those gathered. At Pentecost, the day on which the Jewish people celebrate God giving us his law, Jeremiah’s prophesy was finally fulfilled. God said, “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33) The Holy Spirit came upon Church and set their hearts on fire. What did he write on their hearts to set them ablaze? Love.3 Immediately after God wrote this gift, this new law, of love for God into their hearts, the Body of Christ proclaimed the Gospel to all present. The power of their proclamation transcended all barriers, even of language. The people were astounded and amazed. Thousands received baptism and became followers of Christ on that day.

Pentecost is one of the most important feast days of the Church. This is the day that the sacrifice Christ began on Good Friday finally comes to completion. This is the day that God bestowed the Holy Spirit upon his adopted children and in doing so united us to his only begotten Son. This is the day the Holy Spirit wrote the love of God into our hearts. This love, brought to us by the Holy Spirit, is the breath of life in the Body of Christ. This love, this breath of life, this loving breath of creation, animates the Church and the Kingdom of God to this day.

Today, the Kingdom of God is here. Let us repent and believe in the Gospel, so that the fire of love God has set in our hearts will not be smothered but allowed to grow.

The Lord is Risen. Alleluia.

Today’s Readings:
Pentecost
May 31, 2020
Readings at the vigil: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Exodus 19:3-8A, 16-20B; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56 or Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Joel 3:1-5; Psalm 104:1-2, 24 & 35, 27-28, 29-30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39
Readings on the day: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; Veni Sancte Spiritus (Sequence); John 20:19-23

The Glorious Ascension into Heaven

From our human perspective, the Ascension might not seem very important. For many years, I remember thinking something like, “What’s the big deal? Jesus is leaving and going to be in Heaven. Would’ve been nice if he’d stuck around.” But the Church seems to think it is important, which usually means that it is. With 2000 years of experience in such matters, I’m willing to extend to her the benefit of the doubt. The Church says that today, God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord. Why is this such a big deal, and how does it impact my life?

St. Paul answers the first question for us. In his letter to the Ephesians, which is one of the few letters where he isn’t writing to correct some error within a community, St. Paul tells us that [I]n accord with the exercise of his great might, // which he worked in Christ, // [the Father raised] him from the dead // and seat[ed] him at his right hand in the heavens. This is a very straightforward reference to the Ascension. After his glorious victory over sin, evil, and death, Jesus Christ entered into Heaven and took his rightful place at seat of power at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Just to make sure we understand to breadth and depth of the power which the Father gives to the Son as a result of the great Sacrifice he made on behalf of humanity, St. Paul continues, that this seat is far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, // and every name that is named // not only in this age but also in the one to come. Not just Jews, but all the other peoples of the time would recognize in this statement that St. Paul is declaring Jesus Christ to rule over all the creatures of Heaven and Earth, i.e. angelic beings, human beings, animals, and inanimate objects alike, and for all eternity. When time ends, Jesus Christ remains on the throne of power, and St. Paul wants to make sure we know that.

St. Paul’s then tells us that he put all things beneath his feet // and gave him as head over all things to the church, // which is his body, // the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. Did you catch that? St. Paul is telling us that God the Son is head over all things to the church, which is his body. This statement is important, because it tells us both why the Ascension is a big deal, and what it means for us. At the Ascension, Jesus Christ is given power over all things, but that is not all. The Church is grafted onto him: the same Church which we all entered at our baptism, the same Church we gather as today, right here, right now. The Church, mystically unified with Jesus Christ, is already in Heaven while still here on Earth. When we assemble as a Church, or as an ἐκκλησία (ekklésia) if you want to sound fancy and say things in Greek, to worship Jesus Christ, we worship him not just here on Earth, but also in Heaven. At the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass in particular, Heaven and Earth meet; eternity and time meet. We enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem, offer God our prayers and intentions in union with the offering of his beloved Son, and enter into a true Communion with one another all the Saints who have gone before us. The Ascension is when the Head of the Body of Christ, the Church, entered the Heavenly Jerusalem and brought us all with him.

As it turns out, younger me was very, very wrong. The Ascension is vitally important. Jesus knew this. After his Resurrection, he gave the final instruction to his apostles. He taught them about the kingdom of God. He instructed them that they would bear witness, starting in Jerusalem, moving further and further out as time went on. He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them. His parting words, given in today’s Gospel, summarize the mission that Jesus gave the disciples—the disciples who would become the Church after the transformative events of the Ascension, the election of Matthias, and the Pentecost, but more on that next week. Jesus left us with these words: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. // Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, // baptizing them in the name of the Father, // and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, // teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. // And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20) This mission is given to all of us as members of the Church and Body of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples—followers—of Jesus Christ. We are to bring them to baptism, so that they too can become part of the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. We are to teach them to observe Jesus’s commandments: to love God above all things, to love our neighbor, and to follow Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. This mission seems daunting, but it is possible, because Jesus promises to always be with us and never to abandon us. Christ assumes this power at his Ascension, when he mounted his throne with shouts of joy and trumpet blasts.

As Christ ascended to Heaven and the apostles began to comprehend what had just happened, St. Luke tells us in Acts that they were staring at the sky when suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. // They said, “Men of Galilee, // why are you standing there looking at the sky? // This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven // will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Aside from being a bit comical—let’s be honest, it’s a little funny—these messengers remind the apostles that now it is time to get to work. Our work right now is to worship God in this sacred place and at this sacred time. When we leave this assembly of believers and, following the example of the apostles, go out to the ends of the earth—or perhaps just our neighborhoods—we have our orders from Jesus Christ, to whom [a]ll power in heaven and on earth has been given. After we refresh ourselves at this Heavenly banquet, let us [g]o, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Christ has] commanded [us]. And behold, [Christ is] with [us] always, until the end of the age.

Today’s Readings:
May 24, 2020
Ascension of the Lord, Year A
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

On Fear

Things are starting to return to some new form of normal. This is a good thing. At the same time, these stirrings of our world, as we leave our homes and apartments and, blinking, step into the sun to see that there is more to do than we could do for months, have become a great cause of fear for many people. All week long, it seems that the words between people have become sharper and more punctuated by emotion, specifically by fear. So, let’s talk about it. Ignore our problems and our struggles with one another will not make them go away, nor will the increasingly emotional and heated exchanges help matters. I mean, there are stories in the news about people threatening each other with guns over mask wearing.

Fear happens when we perceive a future evil that is difficult or impossible to overcome. Right now, the cause of this fear is fairly obvious. There is an unusual and new disease running amuck in our world. We do not really know what is going to happen as a result. (Thomas would call this type of fear “stupor”.)1The first fleeting moments of this emotion are not within our control. It is a function of our human nature; however, once we perceive this fear, we have to make a choice: what are we going to do with this fear? Are we going to allow it to control us, or are we going to allow it to inform us?

There are two ways we can allow our fear to control us. We can ignore it and push it deep down and put forth a “macho man” type bravado, or we can succumb to timidity and shrink continually from any possible encounter with the object of our fear. Neither of these responses to fear is appropriate. We are called to the virtues of prudence and of fortitude, which require us to use reason with our action. The “macho” response to disease ignore the counsel of fear which reminds us of our mortality, that our bodies are a gift from God. We are expected to care for our bodies and not to sacrifice or harm them needlessly. God is Lord over life and death, not us. We are not to needlessly endanger ourselves. The timid response is wrong because it allows an evil to be in control of our lives. Remember: fear is a result of an unperceived evil. We must not allow evil to control us.

The other response to fear is to acknowledge that fear and then submit it to our reason. When we submit our emotions to our reason, we can combine the information we have gathered from our emotions with the other information we have learned and formulate an appropriate response. We can look at whether this evil we perceive is a great threat to us, or if it is simply an unusual threat against us. We can look at the likelihood that this evil will have a greater or lesser effect on us. We can look at the potential damage that this evil might inflict upon us. After we probe this emotion and look at the evil that lies behind it, we can formulate the actions we will take to overcome this threat. Perhaps that action is to stay at home until the medical professionals have a better handle on treatments and prevention. Perhaps that action is to go to work so that we can put food on the table or so that we can help those in need. Perhaps I realize that I need to wear a mask when I go out on the chance that I might become an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. Perhaps I do not need to wear a mask, because I have already had the disease and am no longer capable of transmitting it. The action required of each of us is going to be different, because we all have different circumstances in our lives. The key here is that it is not unreasonable for there to be differing responses, and that it is OK for someone to come to a different conclusion than me for their safety during a pandemic.

There is one more component of this fear we have not yet looked at: the moral component. Can fear be a sin? Yes. Fear becomes a sin when we allow it to lead us away from God. Allowing ourselves to become a “macho” or timid slave to our fear, for example, is sinful. Not taking our fear and honestly submitting it to reason is sinful. Perhaps these aren’t mortal sins, but they are sinful.

How then can we resolve fear in our lives? Even if we submit our emotion to reason, that does not, necessarily, cause the fear to go away. This is where the Gospel comes into the picture. Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1) Why not? God has prepared a place for us in Heaven. If we remember our eternal destiny—eternal bliss with God—then the troubles of this world begin to fade. We still must be prudent and work toward our salvation in this world, but we can do so with confidence that God is waiting for us. If we do not know the way to do this, the answer is simple: go to Jesus. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)When we offer ourselves to him in prayer, he will show us exactly what we need to do. Jesus promises this to us. Jesus has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9) When we remember that destiny, we can draw strength and courage from the Lord and place our trust in Him.

Fear is normal, but we must be attentive to our response to fear. Like everything in our life, we must always refer it to our God who loves us, and remember that “Christ is the way that leads us, the truth that strengthens us, and the life that restores us to life in him.”2Christ will lead us out of this crisis, if we let him.

This text was not given as a homily, but was prepared with the readings of the Sixth Sunday of Easter in mind. (Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12)

Understanding the Mass Series

After two weeks of delays (planning took longer than I expected and then filming did too), I’ve finally finished the first episode of my Understanding the Mass series! In the first episode, we go from the beginning of the Mass up to the Liturgy of the Word.

Let me know what you think, I am definitely open to suggestions for the later episodes. Hopefully the writing, planning, filming, and editing go a little more smoothly for them!