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

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

The Tower of Eternal Life

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.

Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/09/the-tower-of-eternal-life/

The Tower of Eternal Life

Homily as recorded on 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.

The Sears Tower under construction.
The Sears Tower while under construction. Photo by Steveboerger, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

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.

Today’s Readings:
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

Humility and the Heavenly Banquet

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. 

Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/08/humility-and-the-heavenly-banquet/

Humility and the Heavenly Banquet

Audio recording of homily from 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.

Fresco of the Heavenly Jerusalem from 1580.
Fresco of the Heavenly Jerusalem, depicting Heaven as a great banquet. Painted in 1580 at Annunciation Cathedral, Russia.

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.

Today’s Readings:
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