The Lord God, Merciful and Compassionate

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.”

Today’s Readings:
April 19, 2020
Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Habakkuk’s Question

Audio recording of homily for 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

We are often told that God is all-merciful, that he is mercy. I can’t argue with that, because, well it’s true. God is also all-just; he is justice. God is mercy, and God is justice. The two cannot be separated in Him. In fact, God’s justice is his mercy, and God’s mercy is his justice. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with this in today’s first reading. He sees wicked people prospering, and he doesn’t understand why God allows them to continue existing. He thinks God needs to punish them now. If you look at the selection of verses we read, you’ll see that we skip quite a few right in the middle. In the section we skip, God replies to Habakkuk, reminding him that the unjust, the unrepentant, the evil will be repaid, eventually. Habakkuk is not satisfied with this answer. He demands to know why wicked people are allowed to destroy—to swallow up—the good, the faithful, the just. God replies again, but He doesn’t give Habakkuk a time line for the destruction of Israel’s enemies. Instead, he promises that time “will come, but in the meantime the righteous must persevere, believing that the salvation, the promise of which is communicated through prophetic revelation, will eventually be theirs (2:2–5).” 1

Habakkuk could very well be prophesying in our own day. It seems that people who are obstinate in their sin, who commit evil acts every day, are allowed to run rampant. We see political leaders commit crimes and atrocities all over the world. We even see evil committed by those who have solemnly sworn before God to lead his people and shepherd his flock. I can’t blame anyone for crying out to God, “How long must we suffer, O Lord?”

While we echo the prophets cry, we must also be attentive to our Lord’s response, which contains two critical components. First, God will give those people who commit evil and sin exactly what is due to them. Hell is a real place. If we do not all repent and strive to follow the Lord, it is very possible to spend our eternity there. Obviously, I would not desire or wish such a fate upon anyone, but it is for that exact reason I must warn you that it is possible. God will never tire of forgiving us when we turn to him, especially in confession; however, he will not be duped. He will not suffer hypocrites who claim to follow him in their words, but through their actions show that they could not care less. The prophets of the Old Testament warn us of this, and throughout the Gospel, Jesus confirms this teaching.

The second component of God’s response to Habakkuk is that we must persevere. The Gospel reminds us today that we are servants of God, and we must “do the work,” so to speak, that he has asked us to do. Jesus reminds us that we must remain strong in our faith. He does not expect us to be able to do this on our own. He has given us many gifts so that we might grow in our faith. He gave us the sacraments so that we may be sanctified, made holy, and grow closer to him. In Baptism, we are welcomed into God’s kingdom and the wound of original sin is removed from our souls. In Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit is deepened within our hearts. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and enter into Communion with Him, all the Saints, and all of our brothers and sisters in the Church. In Confession, the repentant are forgiven of their sins and given the grace and strength to continue following the narrow path the Lord has asked them to walk. In anointing of the sick, our Lord heals the sickness of our souls and sometimes our bodies. In matrimony, couples assist each other to grow in holiness, and they assist God’s church by bringing to life new members. In holy orders, God ensures that his people have ministers to give his people all of these sacraments.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot despair in troubled times. We must remember the gifts that God has given us to persevere in our faith. Paul reminds us to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. Let us remember to call on those gifts of power, love, and self-control, to be strengthened in our faith.

Today’s Readings:
October 6, 2019
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

Habakkuk’s Question

Habakkuk’s question is just as relevant toda as it was thousands of years ago.

Homily given for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C at 5:15PM on October 6, 2019.

Full text of homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/10/habakkuks-question/

​Reflection for Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48