Live the Beatitudes

If we don’t live the Beatitudes, we put our souls in jeopardy.

Homily for All Saints Day, 2020.

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 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.

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

Do You Understand?

We have spent three Sundays with Jesus’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Do we understand all these things?

Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Big Questions. Answers Beyond Words.

When was the last time you pondered the heavy-hitting questions that get right at the meaning of life?

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

John’s Testimony

“He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. ” (John 1:7)

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

He was sent to bear witness to the light

A man appeared, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might learn to believe. He was not the Light; he was sent to bear witness to the light.

John 1:6-8 (Knox Translation)

To whom was John testifying?

I’ve always assumed it is a crowd, but if you look at the verses around today’s Gospel, the crowds were there the day before today’s reading. It doesn’t tell us if the crowd was still there. Maybe there were, but it’s possible they weren’t. Either way, John is testifying. He is possibly testifying to the crowds, but there are two other potential witnesses to his testimony. Before we talk about them, though, let’s talk about that word: testify.

When we hear that word, it evokes the image of a courtroom. Our human system is not always perfect, but let’s imagine how an ideal courtroom would work. Ideally, a courtroom is a place where the truth is discovered. Uncovering the truth is vital in a courtroom, because justice can only be served when the truth is known. To discover the truth, a court asks for—or perhaps compels—witnesses to come forward. The witnesses then recount their experience of an event. There are two things to note about what a witness says. First: they recount an event. An event is something that happened in history. It is an objective fact. The second thing to note: the witness recounts their experience. While the event objectively happened, each person experiences that event differently. Perhaps one witness saw one thing, another witness saw another, and a third witness hear yet another thing. If we want to understand what happened, we must take these statements together, resolve their potential differences, and piece them together into one account. To do this, we have to trust the accounts of the witnesses, because we were not there. We must rely on their testimony; we must trust them. (Remember, this is an ideal courtroom, where we are all seeking the truth, so the witnesses aren’t trying to mislead us!)

So when we talk about testimony, at least in the Bible, we are talking about a person’s experience of an event that happened. In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist gives his testimony of the event that revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God. He testifies that he saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky and rest upon Jesus. This was the event that caused John the Baptist to know the Jesus was the Christ. John then tells us why. John had been told previously by the Lord that one would come, that the Spirit would rest on this person and remain on them, and that this person would baptize with the Spirit. God had appointed John as the watchman for his Son. The job of the watchman was to constantly be looking for any hint of news from afar, and to bring that news to those awaiting it. When John recognized these signs of the Messiah, he could not keep quiet: his life’s entire purpose was to proclaim that the Son of God had come.

And so, John testifies. He gives testimony that the event everyone had been waiting for had happened: God had become Man. The Son of God had come. He told them who it was, how he knew, and why he knew.

Now, back to our original question: to whom was John testifying?

The answer? John testifies to anyone awaiting the news that God has become man and that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. John’s job was to watch for this event and to proclaim it to all once he spotted it. He proclaimed it to anyone with him that day. He proclaimed it to himself, for sometimes even the watchman is startled. He proclaimed it to us, via the evangelists.

We are, in a way, judges of John’s testimony. The judge presides over the trial and determines the action that follows as a result of the trial, the investigation of the truth.  John has testified to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is the light to the nation foretold by Isaiah. Do we judge his testimony to be true? If John’s testimony is true, then what actions must we now take in response to it?

Today’s Readings:
January 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

acknowledging our lowliness

Acknowledging our lowliness and humility before God is one of the most important steps in prayer.

Homily given for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C.

Full homily text: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/10/acknowledging-our-lowliness/

Acknowledging our lowliness

I am so lucky that I’m the tax collector in this story. Every time I read it, I remember how humble, honest, and good-natured I am. What a relief it is to not be like the rest of humanity! like that Pharisee! Oh wait…

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. We love to compare ourselves to one another. We love to think, “I am the best.” Somewhat perversely, we also love noticing how much better others have it—or at least seem to have it. We can’t stop measuring ourselves by others around us. We look at things like a person’s wealth, fashion sense, physical beauty, possessions, or even moral sensibility, and we get it into our heads that they are better or worse than us. This is the poison of comparison. It is exemplified by the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. If we’re really honest with ourselves, I bet we can all find this in ourselves. I certainly catch myself doing it. What can we do to fight this evil that we’re drawn to?

We must take the hard medicine of humility. We must ask God to help us. We have to spend some time in prayer every day, and we must spend a part of that time asking God to help us grow in virtues, such as humility. This isn’t something we can choose to do or not to do. We must pray. We must ask God’s assistance. It is the only way to conquer the rebellious heart, caused by original sin, that lies within each of us. We must approach God in the silence of our hearts with humility, recognizing that He is God, and we are not God. We didn’t create ourselves, this universe or anything: He did. After we acknowledge this fact, then we approach him and ask him to assist us.

This might sound like a lot of extra work compared to our normal prayer. Why must I acknowledge my lowliness before God? Doesn’t he love me? Shouldn’t he answer my prayers either way? Fair questions, but I would point us all to today’s first reading. It is an incredibly hopeful reading for us, so long as we recognize who we are before God.

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. This first sentence reminds us that God will not be fooled. He does not play favorites, but judges each of us on our own actions, not of those around us. Simply calling ourselves a part of his chosen people won’t work. Claiming to belong to his Church will not buy us Heaven if we do not live our faith through our actions, by following God’s law and actively participating in our shared mission to save the world from sin. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. Again, God doesn’t play favorites. Even the poor will be judged on their actions when they meet God; however, those who receive poor treatment in this world do have his ear while they are here. God loves us all, and when he sees us mistreating one of his children, God takes notice.

The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. God also pays special attention to those who are in his service on this world. When we serve God willingly and share in his mission, we can be assured our prayers reach the Heavens. Remember that line in the Our Father? Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. When we serve the Lord willingly, we are implementing God’s will on Earth, and He will surely help us with that task. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay. When we serve the Lord’s mission, when we follow his will, when we recognize who we are in relation to God, we can be assured that nothing will stop our prayer from reaching Heaven. It will reach Heaven, and we are guaranteed that God will answer it. Not only will he answer it, but he will answer it with his justice, which is also his love and his mercy. He will answer it without delay, for God knows the needs of his children. He knows that we are mortals, and our days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16)

The tax collector today recognizes his lowliness before God, and he knows that all he can truthfully and honestly say before God is O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. As we follow Paul’s example and follow God in this race we run towards eternal life, let us acknowledge our lowliness and ask God for his help. By following God and keeping ourselves close to Him through humble prayer, we can rest sure in knowing what Paul knew: The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.

To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Today’s Readings:
October 27, 2019
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Persistence

In the Gospel we learn that if your neighbor won’t help because of your friendship, he will because of your persistence. So, if God doesn’t answer your prayers, that doesn’t mean you should stop praying!

Homily given for the 29th Sunday or Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C.

Persistence

This homily was preached on the weekend of October 20, but not posted online until October 26, 2019. My apologies for the delay.

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? Christ point out to us in the Gospel today that persistence works even with an unjust judge. If that is the case, then God, who is the just judge, cannot fail to provide for us, his beloved children. Christ then wonders though, if he will find faith on earth when he returns. Will we persist in bringing our needs to the Lord? Will we persist even when it seems like God isn’t answering our prayers? Will we persist even when we recognize that we will have to change if we want to truly follow God?

St. Paul urges us to remain faithful to Christ, despite whatever may happen. He reminds us that our faith has its source in God, whom we can always trust. He tells us to equip ourselves with the holy Scriptures to bolster our faith, because it is all inspired by God. All of Holy Scripture is capable of teaching us. Persist, St. Paul tells us, in always proclaiming and teaching the Word of God.

Even Moses shows persistence today. The people of Israel are in a battle, and if they lose, their existence is at stake. Moses kept his hands up in prayer to God, entrusting the people of Israel to Him. When he wavered, his friends surrounded him and helped him to continue uplifting Israel to God.

We see persistence in all the readings today, specifically persistence in prayer and in proclaiming God’s Word. Persistence in these two areas allow us to always grow closer to God. That is not the only message in the readings today, though. Note how when Moses wavered, those around him came to support him. They literally held up his arms. This is, I think, a crucial and overlooked point. We Christians do not believe that we can do this on our own. We depend on the people around us to support us in following Christ. We depend on the Communion of Saints and the Angels of God to assist when we are in need, when assistance from this earth is not enough. Christians must live in community. It is through our Catholic Christian community that we are saved. We are not a Church of one person, we are a communion of people lead by Jesus Christ, who is our head.

To follow the example of our head, we must strive always to live the Gospel values. We must strive to live moral lives. We are called to live simply for God, not to be lovers of money or sensual things. Most of all, we are called to relationship. The most important relationship we have is the relationship we have with God. We grow this relationship by learning about him through Scripture, and by talking to God in prayer. In our persistent attempts to live morally and in our persistence to build our relationship with God, we follow the example of Christ. If we persist, even an unjust judge would grant us what we need. Imagine what God, the just judge, might grant us.

Today’s Readings:
October 20, 2019
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8