The Only News That Really Matters

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass asks us to rejoice. If you ever wondered why we call this Gaudete Sunday, it comes from the Latin version of this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete. […] Dominus prope est.” The Church, during this time of preparation for the Nativity of our Lord, feels it necessary to remind us to rejoice in the Lord. Our reading from Isaiah speaks of the joy that we will experience when we the Lord comes to us: the earth itself will be unable to contain its joy, with even deserts exulting and blooming with flowers.

To me, this little breakout of rejoicing and joy seems like a perfectly human thing to do. When I am preparing for some really amazing event, at some point everything just fades out, and I have to simply sit back and delight in the joyful anticipation of the event. I must admit, I am feeling this way about Christmas right now. I’ve been very conscious of my preparations for Christmas this year, and at this point, that’s all fading away, and I’m just excited for Christmas. When I was praying about the readings this Sunday, I kept thinking about a movie I recently saw… Ford vs. Ferrari. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really good movie. A little bit of language, but nothing really objectionable. I wish more movies were like it.) You may be thinking, “what in the world does a movie about Ford beating Ferrari at Le Mans have to do with Gaudete Sunday?” Well, that’s 100% fair, but I kept thinking about the voice-over at the beginning of the movie, where Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, says, “There’s a point, seven thousand RPM, where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless, it just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. Seven thousand RPM, that’s where you meet it. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”

Seven thousand RPM aside, there is a deep and profound point here. The question at the end, “who are you?,” is a critically important question, but there is even more than that here. When we have focused on something long enough, when we have prepared for it with everything we have, and when we finally find ourselves right in the middle of it: everything else really does fade away. We are left with just two things: ourselves and whatever it is we’re getting ready for. In Advent, we prepare to make present again the memory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, being born in Bethlehem all those years ago. We try to let all of the hustle and bustle of the world, all of the parties, all of the distractions fade into the background as we focus on just that one even: the sudden and completely undeserved appearance of Jesus Christ on this earth, in our hearts, in our lives. It is a moment of profound joy. Elizabeth, at Mary’s visitation, asked, “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” We, ourselves, can pose a similar question as we move closer to Christmas: “why has this happened to me, that my Lord comes to me?”

The simple answer: God loves us too much to leave us. Our love is fickle and fades, but his never does. So, he came to us to save us. In case we wouldn’t take him at his word that he was who he claimed to be and had the power he claimed to have, he worked miracles and incredible signs, so that we might know he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John the Baptist had dedicated his whole life to preparing for the Lord. There was no more credible witness than John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah foretold from the very beginning, the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.

There’s a point, the Third Sunday of Advent, where everything fades. The things of this world become weightless, they just disappear. And all that’s left is that pure and joyful expectation. Third Sunday of Advent, that’s when you meet it. That joy, it creeps up near you, and tells you Good News. The only news that really matters: Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Today’s Readings:
December 15, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:40am)
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

You do not know the day

The prayers and readings of today’s Mass are full of joyful expectation for something incredible. In the collect, we prayed together asking God for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” In our first reading, all nations stream toward Jerusalem, the Lord’s city, which was built on top of a high mountain, saying as the go “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” The psalmist echoes this sentiment, saying “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Even St. Paul is swept up in eager expectation today, writing that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Jesus himself even tells us to “Stay Awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

What are all of these readings pointing toward? They are expecting the coming of the Messiah. It is fitting that in the season of Advent we would be preparing for the Nativity of Jesus, but the prayers and readings today are also pointing beyond that. As we purify ourselves and prepare ourselves to commemorate and memorialize the birth of the Messiah at Christmas, the Church is trying to remind us to look to the future: to the second coming of the Messiah. We spend weeks preparing ourselves and our homes to celebrate Christmas Day; many are already celebrating Christmas: we love to have our Christmas parties during Advent, as opposed to the—admittedly brief—Christmas season. There are probably people out there who’ve already started preparing their Christmas dinners, who’ve purchased a tree already, who’ve put up their lights.

I suppose that’s all fine, as long as we remember that we’re not there yet. Christmas is still 24 days away. We still have time set aside to prepare for that day. Whether or not we’ve decorated yet, whether started planning our dinners and parties, or whether we’ve tuned our radios to one of those “All Christmas All The Time” stations, we still have 24 days to get ready. If keeping all those reminds of what we’re preparing to celebrate helps, then great. But we cannot forget to prepare for the coming of our Lord, because while we memorialize and make Jesus’s birth present again to us on Christmas Day, Jesus is going to come again. As we prepare for Jesus’s first coming, as a little child, we are teaching ourselves how to prepare for his second coming in glory, where he conquers the world and brings us all back to himself.

Today’s readings and prayers tell us all of this as well. Isaiah writes that “From Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.” The psalmist writes that in Jerusalem “are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.” Paul writes, “Let us them throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” Jesus tells us, “you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Let us prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord, our King, and our God. From ages long past until perhaps the late 19th or early 20th century, we would fast during the entirety of Advent. That later turned to abstaining from meat throughout Advent, until very recently when Advent seems to have lost nearly all of its preparatory character. These practices are very similar to Lenten practices that we practiced until very recently. Along those lines of thought, maybe we can give something up for Advent, make a commitment to pray a few extra minutes a day, make special effort to go to Confession, or something like that. By engaging in these time-honored traditions of the Church, we will make Advent more meaningful, and by extension, we will make the celebration of Christmas that much greater. Best of all, we will have begun our preparations for the Second Coming—so that we are prepared when the Son of Man comes again in great glory.

Today’s Readings:
December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

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

God works in little ways

Micah tells us that Bethlehem is too small for anything. It’s a tiny town. The only reason anybody cares about it is because King David was born there. Micah prophesied that a savior would come from this tiny town of Bethlehem. This savior would stand firm and shepherd his people. He would remain with his people forever. He would be peace to the people. By Jesus’s time, the only reason anyone cared about Bethlehem was this prophecy. But we know who came from Bethlehem. The smallest of towns, in God’s hands, turned into the site of the most important event in human history.

God uses small things to change our lives. If we give him a little room to work in our lives, he can make so much of it! This is how all the saints start. They give God a little room to work. Slowly, they grow closer and closer to God, and eventually they become saints! Saint Mother Theresa, for example, started out by helping the poor in Calcutta. She gave God the first couple of hours of her day. In those hours, God transformed her. Her good works transformed her. The entire world—even the non-Catholics—recognized her as a saint. The recognized that God had transformed her. She led a simple, difficult life, but she was full of love and joy.

In addition to the ordinary events of our lives, God comes to us in another “little” way. At Mass, we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist, which looks like simple bread and wine, is so much more. All of God is present in something that looks like a little tiny piece of bread. From this “little” thing, the Eucharist, comes Communion with God Himself. God enters into us in a physical way, and He transforms us each time we receive the Eucharist.

If you think about the Eucharist, the whole idea is mind-boggling! First off, why would God come into our world as a human being in the first place? Then, why would he give us the Eucharist, which is his own Body and Blood? Why would he die for us? Why would he open the gates of Heaven and send the Spirit out to help us to change our lives? Why would God do this for us, when we are so good at turning our backs on Him?

God loves us. In the greatest love story ever, God conceived of each and every one of us here. He created the universe and everything in it so that we might have a place to live. He has adopted each one of us as his son or daughter, and he longs for us—God longs for us—to live with him as one family in Heaven. When we turned away from him, he didn’t stop loving us. What father or mother stop loving their children when they misbehave? God, the perfect Father, loves us and wants us back. He works in our lives so that we can be happy, so that we can one day live with him forever. God knew we can’t save ourselves: We need help. So, God stepped into history. He became one of us. Jesus was born. In just a few days, we make present again this great mystery. We remember that God loves us so much that he became one of us.

Let us be ready for God to come. Let us prepare our souls for Christmas. Let’s take a step back from the busy holiday schedules we’ve made for ourselves and consider what we are celebrating on Christmas. This might mean that we visit the sacrament of Confession. This might mean that we give up some time and do some charitable work. This might mean that we spend a little bit of time with Jesus in Adoration. Let’s find a small way to let God work in our lives.

Today’s Readings:
December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45