Because of the coronavirus, at Blessed Sacrament we’re doing our best to allow people to pray the Mass even if they cannot physically be there. One of the way’s we’re doing that is by streaming as often as possible on our parish Facebook page. I’ve included today’s Mass, which I celebrated, in this post. The Mass begins at time 3:30 in the video.
During Lent, we intensify our efforts to grow closer to God. We fast, pray and give alms, just as Jesus taught us in today’s Gospel. These are things we must do. Humanity has turned away from God. We all have sinned and turned from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Psalm 51 speaks to all of these types of sin. It uses three different Hebrew words: פשׁע (pesha), חטאה (chatta’ah), עוון (‘ă·wōn). Each of these expresses a different type of sin. I wasn’t able to find my notes from 4 years ago, but if I remember correctly: עוון refers to a general condition of sin within humanity, חטאה refers to sin committed unintentionally—sort of a side effect of human nature, and פשׁע refers to sin committed intentionally. (I’m fairly sure the words and the definitions are right, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they line up, but I’m not 100% sure!) These are all different ways we get turned around and separated from God. We need help turning back to God. The prophet Joel tells us all—the children, the elderly, those literally just married, even infants—to cry out, “Spare, O Lord, your people!” If the Lord does not forget the cry of the poor, neither will he forget the cry of his children who, poor in spirit, turn back to him.
Jesus today tells us how to make that turn back to him prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And he tells us how to do each of these things. We are supposed to do all of these things in private, so that others cannot see them. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further: when we fast, we are supposed to anoint our head, wash our face, and no appear to be fasting. It’s as if he wants us to undertake these penances joyfully.
It may seem odd, but there is, actually, a logic to it. Let me explain. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving clear space out of hearts, getting rid of all the cruft that has been building up: attachments to material things, over-concern about our bodies (see Matthew 6:25-34), or things we have allowed to take God’s place. We clear out all those things that get in between us and God. When we empty out that space, though, we need to fill it up with something. If we fill it up with the praise and adulation of those around us, what good would any penance do? What good would all this work do? We’d be no better off than the hypocrites Jesus talks about in the Gospel today. Instead, we do these things in secret, and offer them to God, so that He can fill up our heart. In addition to the great practice of giving things up, we should add additional time for prayer and the Sacraments during Lent, so that we are filling that space we spent all that energy to clear with God. God is the source of all our joy, and if we are full of him, how can we help but be joyful? Fasting, prayer, alms-giving—these things are not easy, but they clean out our hearts and open them to God, they give us more room for God to work in our lives: of course we’ll be more joyful, because God lives within us!
This is, in fact, what we must do to fulfill what God has asked us to do. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We must allow God to appeal to others through us. We must be lights, shining brightly with God’s love and his joy and his mercy. What better way is there to do that then to clear out all the junk from our hearts and let God fill it?
Now is an acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. This Lent, let’s do something a bit hard, to truly open up our hearts to God. The collect today was so excellent, it said “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” (Emphasis is mine.) This is our campaign of Christian service, by which Christ sends us to do battle with evil. We pray, fast, and give alms, so we get everything between us and God out of the way and go forth as joyful witnesses and ambassadors for God.
February 26, 2020
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
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/
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.
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
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/
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.
July 28, 2019
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Note: Sorry for the (very late) posting of this homily.
Nearly every time I read this weekend’s Gospel, I find it incredibly frustrating. Martha is trying to be a good host, but she’s struggling to get everything done. She is obviously frustrated that her sister Mary doesn’t come to help. I feel her pain, as it seems many hosts across the country do. I must admit to you all, I have a subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. When I got tired of reading German theologians arguing about whether “People of God” or “Body of Christ” was a better image of the Church in seminary, (pro tip: it’s both!) I switched to lighter fare like Bon Appétit to give my brain a little break. From this scholarly journal, I’ve learned that hosting a dinner party or the holidays is on the same levels of stress as a root canal. If I remember correctly, the Christmas issue last year had a multi-week plan of attack for how to host a stress-free Christmas party for family.
What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that hosting people who come over to your house is hard. I’ve seen the trouble people go to when they invite us priests over, and it’s truly humbling. If I invited God Himself over for dinner, I can only imagine how perfect I would try to make the menu, how sparkling the appliance would be, how stuffed into closets all my junk would be. Like Abraham in the first reading and Martha in the Gospel, I’d be running around like a crazy person trying to get it all done. I read this passage, and I just want to give Martha big hug and say, “I feel you, Martha.”
But that’s not what Jesus does. Not even close. Instead he tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. She’s too anxious and worried about things, Jesus says. Jesus simply wants to share himself with his friends: the serving can wait. Jesus isn’t concerned with how clean the house is; he isn’t concerned about whether the lasagna is a bit burnt or whether the steak is medium-rare as opposed to medium (although I personally want to believe he does care that it isn’t cooked any more than that…); he isn’t concerned about the toys that the kids left out. Jesus wants us. When Jesus enters under our roof—as he does every moment of our lives, but in a special way at Mass—, Jesus simply wants us. He wants us to open the doors of our hearts to him. He wants us to listen to him. He wants us to follow him. He wants us to leave behind our concerns for the world—even for just a moment—and be with him.
You may have noticed, though, that I said Jesus is with us every moment of our lives. If he wants us to simply be with him when he is with us, and he is always with us, then how could we ever get anything done? Fantastic question. That is why the Church is so concerned about what Catholic do with their lives! In every action we take, Christ is with us. Every action, then, should in some way be oriented toward God. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote that, “there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it […]. There is no other way. Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him.” (as quoted in The Navarre Bible: Standard Edition: Saint Luke’s Gospel, pg. 112)
We cannot avoid being a bit like Martha in our modern times, but the Lord reminds us to remember to imitate Martha’s sister Mary and stay close to Him. This is easy to say and hard to do, but nobody ever said living the Catholic life was easy: Jesus even promised us that it wouldn’t be! Then, though, he revealed to us the richness of his glory and his deep generosity. In return for living our lives as his disciples, Jesus promised us the Kingdom of Heaven, and that promise is worth everything we have, everything we are, and everything we might ever do.
Note: This was written and preached for the weekend of July 20-21, 2019. It was published online on August 14, 2019.
July 21, 2019
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42
Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?
Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!
We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?
We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?
The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3
How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.
Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”
Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!
Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.
Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.
I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.
The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?
I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.
Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.
The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)
When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)
Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.
Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50
When I go out to a restaurant, one of the first things I do is order my food and maybe a beverage. To do this, I could shout my order to kitchen, but it’s much more effective to have the waiter or waitress bring it there for me. Since I don’t like shouting in the middle of restaurants and I like my order to stand a chance of getting cooked, I give my order to a cashier, a waiter, or a waitress. This person takes my request to the kitchen, where another person cooks my food. After my food is cooked, someone will either hand it to me or bring it to me. Often, this is the person with whom I placed my order.
Intercession from the saints functions very similar to this. We begin by saying a prayer, during which we ask for a specific saint to assist us. God will ultimately fulfill our prayer, but the saint has a different mode of access to God. The saints take our prayers and make them more pleasing and acceptable to God, then they present them to him on our behalf. God then responds to our prayer in the most fitting way, often returning his response with the saintly messenger who brought the request to him.
The Gospel today confirms this way of understanding intercession. Jesus is the intercessor for humanity. Only through Jesus will we be able to reach the Father. Even the saints must ask for Jesus to present their prayers to the Father, as no one can go to the Father except through Jesus. Philip had difficulty recognizing this reality. His desire to see the Father was good, but he did not realize that the road to the Father was standing right in front of him. Despite all the miracles that Jesus had done, and all the wisdom that Jesus had taught, Philip still couldn’t connect the dots.
Both Philip and James struggled, at times, to understand the meaning of all the signs and wonders that God worked—even those that God worked through them. Eventually, they figured it out and told everyone around them by spreading the Gospel message: Jesus will lead us to the Father and, God-willing, to our eternal reward, because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. After Philip and James figured it out, amazing things happened. Philip cast out demons and healed the sick. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem and wrote one of the letters of the New Testament. Both were martyred for their faith, but they were happy to do so, because they had put their trust in Jesus to take them with him to the Father, even in death.
Let us all remember that Jesus is the way to the Father, and if we are having a difficult time understanding that Jesus is the way, let us ask the saints to help us in ways we cannot help ourselves.
Today’s Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Ps 19:2-3, 4-5; Jn 14:6-14