We Must Set the Earth on Fire!

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

Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/08/we-must-set-the-earth-on-fire/

Your Mission: Convert the World

If God could find even 10 innocent people within Sodom and Gomorrah, he would have let them remain. But he didn’t.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C on July 27, 2019.

Full homily here: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/07/your-mission-convert-the-world/

We Must Set the Earth on Fire!

Audio recording of this homily, from 9AM on August 18, 2019

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.

An image of Jesus depicting his Sacred Heart, the Crown of Thorns, and the marks of the Crucifixion
Notice how Jesus’s Sacred Heart is on fire with love for us, despite his suffering.

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.”

Today’s Readings:
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

Your Mission: Convert the World

Audio Version, recorded at the 5:15PM Mass on Sunday, July 28, 2019 at Blessed Sacrament.

If God could find even 10 innocent people within the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he would have let them remain. I’d encourage you to read the rest of the story if you haven’t. Parents, just a warning, if it were a movie, it would be rated “R.” But as we continue to read the story, we find a few things: how a certain sin got its name, just how bad things were in those cities, and that—even after all Abraham’s pleading—God did destroy the cities. God is incapable of lying: similar to a square circle, it doesn’t even make sense to describe God as a liar—he is the essence of truth. If God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and he did make that promise to Abraham, that means he could not find even 10 people in those cities capable of being saved. “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

Friends, I am concerned about our world today. Our societies seem to be plunging deeper and deeper into sin. There is so much confusion and sin around sexuality, the meaning of life, and simple basic morality that our society has, sadly, grown used to sin. It cannot stay this way. We cannot simply stand by and let it stay this way. As Catholics, as Christians who follow Christ, as human beings who love our neighbors, we cannot stand idly by and allow society to destroy itself. We know that God is infinitely merciful to those who follow him. He saved Lot’s family, the only innocent one in Sodom and Gomorrah; however, that does not mean he is not just. Lot’s wife, after having been warned of the destruction of the cities, why they were being destroy, and the consequences of turning back to the cities, was turned into a pillar of salt for turning away from God. Despite what many of the academic elites, the media, the politicians tell us: there is a God, there are universal truths, and there are universal moral norms by which we are bound. Despite what society would have us believe, every action we take matters. We do not get to start the level over as if life was a game or something like that. We do not have the luxury of getting a second try when we pass on from this life. We have one life, and the actions of this life have eternal consequences for our souls. As a side note, this is one reason that confession is so critically important for our souls—it is, in effect, a reset button for our lives, which allows us to cast off our sins and start back over on our path toward God. Sin is serious business: we must cast it out of our lives.

Brothers and sisters, it is not just our lives at stake. Our Lord called us to be the ones to lead others to him. Each of us was called to make disciples and to teach the faith, because every single person on this planet is in the same, eternally serious situation. If they aren’t Catholic Christians, they might not even recognize the stakes. While God won’t hold what they are incapable of knowing against them, they are capable of knowing universal truths. Everybody must follow those. If they are Christians, they are in a particularly dangerous situation. At our baptisms, we became bound to follow God in a uniquely Christian way. The Church knows the high standards to which God holds us, and those who refuse to follow her are refusing her help in reaching those standards. It is an even more precarious situation for those who have fallen away from their Catholic faith. Frankly, they have turned away from the mercy God is willing to offer, because, for one reason or another, they think the world has offers something better. These poor people have thrown away the “reset” button that God offers us through Confession, and they’ve denied the love God wishes to offer them in the Eucharist at Mass.

So what can we do about it? I know what we can’t do. We cannot sit idly by and allow our society to fall apart. We cannot sit idly by and allow our neighbors—who we are called to love—to turn away from God. We must do something.

We can start by getting our own lives in order. The first step is prayer. The Gospel today teaches us how to pray. In the Lords prayer, Jesus teaches us what we should ask God to give us: freedom from sin and the strength to follow his will. In the following parable, he teaches us how we should pray: persistently. Make time to pray. Included in prayer is the sacraments. Make use of confession, and attend Mass, at a minimum, every Sunday. There is nothing you could possibly be doing that is more important than going to Mass on Sunday. Sleeping in, sports, work—these things must be second in our lives to God. He really is that important.

Just by getting our lives in order, we bear witness to Christ, but we can’t stop there. Our faith must inform our every moment, our every decision. We have to read and learn about our faith so that we can respond to others who ask about it, and so that we can understand it ourselves—especially in those areas where we harbor doubts about Church teaching. The Church is right, and sometimes our emotional attachments to this world—and even to other people—prevent us from comprehending the beauty and consistency of Church teachings. We must stand up for what is good and right, publicly, even—no, especially—if it is hard. As if that weren’t a great enough challenge, we must do all these things with charity. It doesn’t help to beat others over the head with a Bible, but it also doesn’t help if we never bring up God and his teachings.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ and his Church need you. They need you to spread the Gospel, to stand up for the truth, to be beacons of light in a world darkened by sin. It is not just Jesus and his Church who need you. My brother priests and I also need you, because we cannot do this by ourselves. We need your help. You can reach people we can’t. When Jesus ascended, he left us in charge. The Spirit will be with us to help us, but we have been given the task to must teach the world to hallowed God’s name. We must help God’s kingdom come into the world. We must receive our daily sustenance from God. We must forgive others and help them to forgive. We must work to convert the world, teaching everyone around us to live their lives in a way that they are never subjected to the final test.

Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of July 27-28, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.

Today’s Readings:
July 28, 2019
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Preach His Name to All the Nations!

“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)

Christ was crucified for us. He died for us. He was buried for us. He descended into hell for us. He rose from the dead for us. He gave us the promise of eternal life. He also gave us a mission: to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name—starting in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the Earth.

We need repentance because we still must keep the commandments of the Lord and follow his will. Sadly, because of original sin, this is very hard. Repentance is our ability to recognize our failure to follow God and to turn ourselves back toward him. There are many ways which we can define sin, but one of the simplest is, “when we turn away from God.” Repentance, using that terminology, would be, “when we turn back to God.” Repentance is hard work! It is not easy! Paul preaches this to us, when he laments that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak.

Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. As God forgives us our sins, so too must we forgive others. I think that for this teaching to really be understood, that we should try to understand what God is forgiving when he forgives our sins. God is the Infinite Good, who created us from nothing. When we commit an offense against him, we are not simply ignoring some governing official. We are turning away from the God who made us from nothing. We are committing an offense that grieves God.1 Ultimately, all our sins are against God—all of our sins grieve the all-powerful, all-loving, all-giving God. 2

To truly repent of our sins, we must be like God and imitate he does—we are, after all, created in his image and likeness. This process of conversion and forgiveness will cleanse our hearts. It will bring us closer to God.

But we cannot stop with just forgiving those who wrong us! We must preach this message to the ends of the earth! Jesus himself told us that this must happen. The apostles did this, leaving Jerusalem and reaching as far as Spain and India, before they were ultimately martyred. The Churches founded by the apostles continued this work, bringing the faith to every corner of the world—Africa, Asia, Russia, the Americas. We are all called, as members of the Body of Christ, to continue this work.

We must forgive others, but we cannot only speak with our actions. Actions are critical for any sharing of faith, but they are not enough. Paul spoke at any synagogue that would let him. Peter spoke at Pentecost, and with his words influenced thousands We, too, must speak the truth of repentance and forgiveness. We must speak the truth of God’s love and generosity. We establish relationships through our actions. After building a relationship, we can lead people to God with our words, through our preaching.

Only words can explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist. Only the words of a priest, “I absolve you of you sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” can take away sins. 3

Let’s lead lives of repentance and forgiveness. Let’s live our lives following God’s commandments—which will ultimately lead us to happiness. Let’s live lives where we preach the Good News of the Gospel with our actions and our words, so that the Joy of Easter can be shared all around the world!

Today’s Readings:
April 15, 2018
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

Holiness and Devotion

St. Peter tells us that we are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.”

He has just one question for us: “[W]hat sort of persons ought you to be?”

The stakes seem pretty high, so hopefully we get the answer right!

The answer is simple: if we conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, St. Peter tells us, we will “await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Holiness… and devotion…

Well the answer may be simple, but it’s sure not easy!

Growing in holiness requires us to do uncomfortable things. We have to repent of our sins, but we first must acknowledge that we’ve sinned. How often have I turned away from God with my actions? How often have I done something I know to be wrong, simply because I wanted to? Have I educated myself so that I know right from wrong?

The Psalm today teaches us that in Heaven, “[k]indness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” If kindness and truth meet in Heaven, then they cannot oppose each other: to know and understand the truth is a kindness. Part of the truth is knowledge of right and wrong. It is knowing that not only is murder wrong, but so is abortion. It is knowing that prejudice against other races and nationalities wrong. It is knowing that all sex outside of marriage, and that even in marriage, unchaste activity is wrong. It is knowing that contraception violates the dignity of a spouse by holding back a part of the gift of self, given in the marital act. It is knowing that what we look at, what we watch—it matters! When we watch, look at, or even read about sinful behavior, it changes us! It is knowing that all people have value: the young and the old.

It is knowing that when we don’t understand or agree with one of these teachings, we must try to understand why the Church teaches us these things.

This knowledge is a kindness, because it helps us to live better lives. When we live better lives, it becomes easier to communicate to God in our prayer. It becomes easier to form the relationship with God that we so desperately need.

Knowing right from wrong is half the battle. Doing right and avoiding wrong, that’s even harder; however, it is possible. This is where prayer is so helpful, because God will help you if you ask him to help you. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” When we pray, we ask the Lord to enter into our hearts and make the path straight. In prayer, we beg the Lord to help us prepare for Heaven by straightening out our lives, by taking us out of the desert wasteland and allowing us to enter paradise with him. By this prayer to help us rectify our lives, we grow in devotion to God.

Kindness by knowing the truth.

Experiencing justice through the peace of heart that we receive from God in prayer.

Holiness and devotion.

So simple, but so hard.

Today’s Readings:
December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Reflection for September 11, 2017: The Question

Sixteen years ago, men flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. More men failed to reach their target when heroic men and women rebelled against their hijackers. What would bring people to commit such an evil action? How could anyone think that crashing planes full of people into buildings full of people was an OK thing to do? They, like the Pharisees, were following a law that they believed to be from God. They believed that because their imam declared a holy war, they could commit atrocities. The laws of Islam, as the terrorists understood it, permitted this.1

Today Jesus asks all of us, “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

A new person shows up at the parish. They aren’t dressed well, and are acting strangely, but seem to want to talk to someone. Mass starts in 2 minutes, and I don’t really have time to talk, so I find something to do so that I look busy.

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?

I meet some friends for lunch. After the usual pleasantries, we begin discussing what is happening in the neighborhood. It turns into gossip about all the people I don’t like.

How do my actions save life, rather than destroy it?

We do not know the day nor the hour that God will call us to himself. As we mourn the loss of life on and after September 11, let it be a reminder for us to remain ever vigilant about the state of our own souls.

Today’s Readings:
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Col 1:24–2:3; Ps 62:6-7, 9; Lk 6:6-11

Reflection for the Third Wednesday of Lent

“Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you.”

God has strengthened Jerusalem against attack and has blessed those who grow within her walls. What a wonderful image! It becomes even more wonderful when we recognize that we visit the Heavenly Jerusalem each time we participate in the Mass! By our participation in the Mass, we allow God to strengthen us and to help us grow closer to him.

One of the ways that God helps us to grow is through his law. The law given to the Israelite people in Deuteronomy was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The reading today tells us that nations marveled at the intelligence and wisdom of Israel. No other kingdom had a law so just. God had designed the law to help Israel flourish. Sadly, the Israelites could never fully keep the law; therefore, they only partially experienced its wonder.

The law and the prophets—an ancient saying referring to all the Old Testament—were not abolished by Jesus. Jesus even says that not one iota—basically the dot on an ‘i’—of the law would pass away. The sacrificial elements of the old law are fulfilled through Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, so they no longer bind us. The moral elements of the law, however, were expanded and refined by Jesus in his ministry. Today’s Gospel, fittingly, comes from the Sermon on the Mount, where the moral code for all who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is, all the baptized, is given. This is the updated and refined law.

The antiphons we proclaim today are a perfect fit. At Communion, we said “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, O Lord.” (cf. Ps 16:11) God has indeed shown us the path of life: the new law, which we find most plainly in the Gospels. This path, the law, will lead us to great joy if we follow it. Let us remember to pray often to God, asking him as we did at the beginning of Mass today, to “Let my steps be guided by your promise; may evil never rule me.”

Today’s Readings: Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Mt 5:17-19

Reflection for the First Friday of Lent

The reading from Ezekiel today reminds us that we are responsible for our own actions, and that every action matters. The good person who commits a bad action is not “off the hook” because he’s a generally good person. That person still must answer for the bad act. Similarly, the bad person who committed a good act should be commended for having done a good thing. God wants us all to be good and to do good things. What we often forget is that the way to become a good person is to do good things—even small things—over and over again. The way to become a bad person is to repeatedly do bad things—even small ones—over and over again. There is a lot of truth in the saying “fake it until you make it.” If we do good things, even though they feel unnatural or like we are just faking it, eventually we become the type of person who does good things. This goes both ways, so we must always be careful to make sure we aren’t going to wrong direction.

Jesus in the Gospel today reminds us that the small things do matter. The little decisions which make up our day turn us into the person who we are. Maybe we do not kill, but we often can be angry. Jesus is telling us to resolve this anger. We should focus on the little things in our lives before they become big things.

We don’t need to do amazing feats of charity if we aren’t able to. It is in the little things of our day-to-day living where we become the person we desire to be. If we make poor decisions and do bad things, that eventually is reflected in our lives, often as pain, suffering and strife. If we make good decisions and do good things, that too is reflected in our lives, often as joy, peace and happiness.

Today’s Readings: Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8; Mt 5:20-26