If we don’t live the Beatitudes, we put our souls in jeopardy.
Homily for All Saints Day, 2020.
If we don’t live the Beatitudes, we put our souls in jeopardy.
Homily for All Saints Day, 2020.
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 mentioned in Revelation, who have survived the tribulation (2020,anyone?) 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. John tells us that the world does not know him. If we are to become like him, the world will not 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.
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
We must seek God first. Only then can everything we do be through God, with God, and in God.
Homily for the Memorial of St. Martha on July 29th, 2020.
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,John 6:52-55
“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.
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.
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
On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we ponder how God shares his Divine Life with us.
Homily for Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, 2020.
Text of homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2020/06/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.
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
Mercy is more powerful than power and more fertile than fertility. How? Creation is at its core.
Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020.
Truly, Jesus is Risen! Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the Octave Day of Easter. While this is the eighth solar day since Easter Sunday (Romans always included the current day, in case you’re wondering), the Church has considered this simply one long day. We also celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday today. This insight, of God’s steadfast mercy, can assist us as we continue to reflect on the meaning of the Resurrection in our lives, because the Resurrection—and God Himself—has the concept of mercy at its core. For Easter to truly make sense, we need to know why God did what he did. To know why God did what he did, we need to know more about God, namely: who is this God that we worship? To really answer that question, we need to go even further back in time. We need to understand what makes our understanding of God different than the pagan understanding of the gods. To do that, we need to go back to the time of the Exodus, when God revealed himself to the Israelite people. We must go back to this time, because it is when God Himself tells us what differentiates him from the false gods of the pagans.
In the time of the Exodus, there were many, many religions. With these religions, there were many, many false gods. If you look at the patterns amongst all the ancient religions, two deities tend to be the most important. Baal and his consort Asherah, perhaps under other names, tend to be the most worshipped deities in the ancient religions. Baal was the god of power and Asherah was the goddess of fertility. These were the two traits most desired by ancient peoples, because these two traits seemed to lead to earthly prosperity. You needed power to hold on to what you and your people had, and you needed fertility to grow your people.
The Israelites, however, had an entirely different conception of God. Power and fertility were not the defining traits of God: mercy was. If we read the Old Testament with our eyes open to this reality, we see that God constantly reinforced this understanding. This is, perhaps, most obvious in Exodus 34:6-7. In this passage, God passes before Moses and announces himself, saying “The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation!” (NABRE) Don’t get fixated on the last sentence there. The English translation here makes God seem very dark. God is declaring that while he forgives our sins, the effects of sin last well beyond the person and the event of an individual sin—but that’s another homily. Instead, let’s look at the first words God speaks of himself. If we go back to the Hebrew (יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן) (Adonai, Adonai, El raḥūm weḥannūn) and Greek (Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων), a slightly more literal translation would be “LORD, LORD, God merciful and gracious.” God considers himself to be, above all, a merciful God. To us, this is obvious, but we live in a world where the Israelite understanding of God, which is also our Christian understanding of God, is dominant. In those days, where most of the world followed deities of power and fertility, most people would have considered this God of Mercy, to be weak and powerless. This is, perhaps, one reason that the Bible tells us the Israelite peoples had such trouble staying faithful to God. Through time, though, we have seen that mercy does conquer all, and the culmination of mercy was when Jesus conquered death on the Cross for us.
How, though? How does mercy prevail over all else? How is mercy more powerful than power and more fertile than fertility? Think about what happens when God shows us his mercy, about what happens when we show mercy. To show mercy implies that something evil has been done. Evil is nothingness. It cannot create; it can only destroy. Evil is predatory upon the good. But when mercy is shown in the face of evil, we deny the evil its goal. We prevent the destruction which was intended by the evil and we turn it into something creative, even if it is solely creative within us. When God shows mercy, it is even more powerful, because in those cases God can take an evil which has been done and re-create something good. God created all of the universe out of nothing, and when he re-creates something destroyed by evil, we call it mercy. Even now we see examples of this. We can easily see the pain and destruction wrought by the evil effects of the coronavirus, but if we honestly look around us, we see that God is creating in the wake of this destruction: the solidarity of people who join together to support their brothers and sisters, the awakening of ingenuity and creativity of science and industry, the emphasis on the common good and recognition that individuals have a responsibility to contribute to the common good.
God’s triumph of mercy despite suffering is a cause for joy. St. Peter writes, “rejoice, when you share in some measure the sufferings of Christ; so joy will be yours, and triumph, when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13 Knox) God’s mercy is not obvious, and it is strange, but through His mercy, death and sin are conquered. God’s mercy blesses us, so that despite the blindness of our senses, we who have not seen can believe. God’s “great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NABRE) God’s consistent response to evil is mercy. His greeting to the disciples today is, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I have sent you.” (John 20:21) God sent his Jesus Christ on a mission of Divine Mercy to humanity. Today, Christ sends us on that same mission. As we celebrate God’s mercy upon us today, let us strive to imitate his mercy in our lives. Let us strive to see his mercy coursing through all the world. Most of all, let us surrender ourselves to the love of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and compassionate, saying, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
April 19, 2020
Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
By accepting God’s covenant promise, Abraham demonstrated that he had a faith that went deeper than the visible.
Homily for the Fifth Thursday of Lent.
Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. If there were any doubt, this shows us that from the very beginning, God puts himself into solidarity with us.
Also, here the homily from Pope Francis that I mention: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200327_omelia-epidemia.html
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A