Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. Given September 8, 2019.
Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. Given September 8, 2019.
Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Where but the Book of Wisdom would we find things summarized so succinctly? This line explains what the Gospel has been like to me all week. I had to consult the “big guns”—the Church Fathers—to make any sense of it. Pope St. Gregory the Great came to my rescue.
Let’s start by looking at the middle of the Gospel. I find things are often more fun that way, anyway! Jesus reminds us that if we were to build a great tower, we would first plan the thing out, looking at how much material we need, how we’d put it together, etc. If we just “wing it,” so to speak, Jesus tells us that not only will we end up with a half-built tower, but all our friends will laugh at us too. This is a great story to begin an engineering or architecture class with, but what in the world does it have to do with my faith?
Pope St. Gregory unlocked this Gospel for me by explaining that building the tower is a metaphor for gaining eternal life. Thus, if we wish to attain eternal life, we would do well to take some time and calculate what will be required. We may be required to leave our family and friends behind, either physically or spiritually, if they do not wish to join us in following Jesus. In this way, we could be understood to be hating them, as Jesus said we will have to do. Think of it as an athlete training. They punish themselves in the pursuit of athletic skill and excellence, in a way hating themselves, but only because of this greater goal they have. In this same way, we have a greater good we must pursue, Jesus Christ, and this may entail some sacrifice on our part.
But as we sit and count the costs and sacrifices necessary for us to gain eternal life, we will struggle to grasp and understand everything. These are the things of Heaven, after all, how can we know what we will need? When we recognize that building the tower—gaining eternal life—is something well beyond our grasp, then we can take the most important step of them all: we can ask Jesus Christ, the master builder who created the whole universe, to help us. He can help us see what we need to do to build our tower, to gain eternal life.
In much the same way, the advancing army can be understood to represent that moment of divine judgment at the end of our lives. It would be better to surrender to an opposing army when they are far away from a military standpoint—at least from a 1st century military standpoint. This allowed the inferior army to avoid bloodshed and hopefully gave them better peace terms. This parable is meant to help us understand that it is much better to surrender to God’s will now then later. Luckily for us, he is a merciful God. He does not punish those who surrender to him, as a military commander in the 1st century might. Instead, our God assists us in following him. Instead of being two opposing armies of 10 thousand and 20 thousand, we become one united army of 30 thousand.
Brothers and sisters, today the Gospel calls us to take stock of what we must do to enter Heaven. Today, the Gospel calls us to recognize that the only way we can do this is by surrendering our wills to Jesus Christ and following him every day of our lives. Jesus is making a radical demand for each of us today, but it comes with God’s radical promise of eternal life.
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
September 8, 2019
Wisdom 9:13-18b; Psalm 90; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
In our Gospel today, Jesus gives what could be perceived as a lesson in social etiquette, but it is so much more than that.
Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C, given at 9AM on September 1, 2019.
Some weekends, our Holy Mother, the Church, makes the theme tying the readings together very obvious. This is one of those weekends. So, let’s talk about humility!
In our Gospel today, Jesus gives what could be perceived as a lesson in social etiquette, but it is so much more than that. This wedding banquet of which our Lord speaks is not some abstract thing. We are all invited to this wedding banquet: Heaven. In Heaven, our souls will be united with God in a way completely unfathomable by us while we live in this world. While we remain ourselves, we will mystically be united with God in eternal bliss and happiness at this wedding banquet. The eternal wedding banquet in Heaven is that place where God brings all of us back to himself, so that we can share in our Creator’s joy.
“What does this have to do with humility?” you might ask. Jesus warns us against overestimating our place at this banquet. He wants us to know our place before the host of the wedding banquet. When we look at the bigger picture, Jesus is telling us that it is absolutely critical to know where we stand before God. If we overestimate where we stand in relation to our Lord and God, we run the truly horrifying risk of being asked to move to a different place at the table. When we look at the rest of this story in Luke—we only read about half of Luke’s account of this parable—or consider Matthew’s recounting of this same teaching, we find that there are even worse consequences if we overestimate our standing with God. If we refuse to honor this invitation to the Heavenly banquet or if we come without having attempted to prepare ourselves, we may be thrown out into the streets, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus is telling us that it is much better to underestimate ourselves in relation with God, to not take our relationship with him for granted, to always continue working on that relationship, so that when we do arrive at our eternal judgment and reward, God surprises us by moving us to a higher seat. Humility is not allowing other people to walk all over us. Humility is not saying “yes” to every request made of us. Humility is properly understanding our worth. Our worth comes from two things and only two things: the fact that we are adopted sons and daughters of our God who created us, and our relationship with God. Nothing else matters.
Jesus gives us a fascinating example to help us understand humility today. He tells us that when we hold a banquet, we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, because these people cannot repay us. At one level, Jesus is being straightforward and telling us exactly what to do here. Caring for these people is something we all must do, but Jesus never speaks on just one level. As I prayed with this passage, God revealed, perhaps, the most humbling aspect of this Gospel passage. Jesus is asking us to do exactly what God does with us. God has invited all of us to his heavenly banquet, knowing that we cannot ever repay him. We are all the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We are poor in our faith. We are all crippled by original sin. We are lame, unable to walk without much difficulty on the path God asks us to follow. We are all blind to the spiritual reality all around us every day.
Despite all of this, God invites us to his wedding banquet. To our wedding banquet with Him. Will we accept his invitation? Will we prepare ourselves for the eternal wedding banquet by cleansing ourselves of the grime of sin and putting on the garments of faith and good works? Will we pray to God and ask him to grow our faith and hope in him so that we have the courage to walk the narrow path which leads to this great banquet? Will we take an honest look at ourselves and our relationship with God and allow him to show us those areas where we need to grow closer to him?
May we all ask God for true humility, in hopes that one day we might join him in eternal bliss at the Heavenly banquet.
22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
September 1, 2019
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
We cannot enter the wide gate, we must do the hard thing and strive for the narrow gate. We must remember the teaching from Hebrews: whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. This is not because God wants to see us suffer. When we suffer, God suffers with us. So how can we understand suffering?
Homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C, given at 6:30AM on August 25, 2019.
Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/08/gods-discipline/
Today we hear Jesus say, “I have come to set the earth on fire!” How can we respond to this calling?
Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C, given at 9AM on August 18, 2019
Thus says the Lord: “I will send fugitives to the nations […] and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord.” The Lord is telling us through the prophet Isaiah about the New Creation at the end of time, where God will gather all of his children to himself. This hopeful passage tells us that even in the days before Jesus was born, he intended to save all of us. There is something a little odd about it though. He says that he will send fugitives. Why fugitives? What’s that about?
It is as if God’s messengers will not be welcome in the world. It is as if they will have to sneak past the masters of the world to proclaim his Good News to all humanity. If you think about it, the words of the prophet are exactly right. The evil one, Satan, is constantly trying to distract us from God. He is constantly trying to steal our soul from God. He shows us the wide and easy gate through which we might travel, knowing that we must instead strive for the narrow gate. This is not because the devil cares about us and wants us to have an easy life: the devil hates us. If we take his offer and follow the wide, easy gate now, we will pay for it for eternity.
Instead, we must do the hard thing. We must remember the teaching from Hebrews: “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” This is not because God wants to see us suffer. When I was growing up, I remember my parents saying that punishing us hurt them more than us. At the time I thought it was nonsense, but as I’ve grown older, I understand what they were saying. They were being forced to inflict some sort of suffering on this child whom they loved—me, in many cases—in order to help their child learn how to behave and be a normally functioning human being. If that was true for my parents, imagine how true it is for God! God loves us more than any human being is capable of loving. He doesn’t want to see us suffer. It actually hurts God to see us suffer. Let that sink in for a moment. When we suffer, God suffers with us. He wants nothing more than for us to be healed. In fact, He could cure all of our pains and sweep away all of our sufferings in an instant. But he doesn’t. Why?
Now that really is the question, isn’t it? Why does God allow suffering? Why does God allow terrible things to happen to me, to people I care about, or just to people ever? This is the question that has, tragically, led so many to leave our faith, because they don’t get an answer that satisfies them. For many, the only answer is that God must hate us and enjoy watching us suffer. As I just finished explaining, nothing could be further from the truth. God doesn’t want us to suffer, but if he didn’t let us endure these sufferings, we wouldn’t be able to learn. The Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that “all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Brothers and sisters, without enduring some suffering, we cannot grow strong in righteousness. Without that growth, we will not have the strength Jesus tells us that we will need to enter the narrow gate. We stay strong and courageous through our sufferings so that God can “perfect and sustain us” (Prayer after Communion) through these trials. Through these trials, we learn to fix our hearts “on that place where true gladness is found,” (Collect) Heaven.
These trials are where we learn to show courageous strength which allows us to endure trails and persecutions for the Lord. This is what the saints did: St. Monica prayed for over 2 decades before her son Augustine—who would become a doctor of the Church—finally converted; St. Maximilian Kolbe and Fr. Emil Kapaun stared at evil in the face and brought hope to those around them, which saved many from death; St. John Paul II suffered his whole life, first enduring the Nazi occupation of Poland, later from an assassination attempt—after which he had the courage to forgive the man who shot him, and finally through Parkinson’s disease; Saint Mother Teresa, who struggled through spiritual darkness for 40+ years. This is heroic courage. In our prayers let us offer our sufferings to the Lord who suffers right along with us, and let us ask him to give us courage to follow him on the narrow path to eternal life.
Note: Saint Pope John Paul II wrote one of the most profound and moving letters on suffering I have ever read, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. If you have questions or just need something to uplift your soul, I’d encourage you to read it.
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
August 25, 2019
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
August 11, 2019
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
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.
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