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. But he didn’t. What happened, and how can we make sure to avoid such a fate in our own lives?

Given for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C on July 27, 2019 at 5:15PM.

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

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

The yoke of Christ

Note: this homily was given on June 30, but not published until July 5. Sorry about the delay.

The readings today present two seemingly opposite ideas to us. St. Paul calls on us to break free of the yoke of slavery; meanwhile, Elijah and Jesus demand an immediate and drastic response to God’s call. It isn’t too much of a mental leap to hear what Jesus and Elijah are calling us to do and thinking that they are asking us to put on a yoke of slavery. Two questions come to mind. The first question is, simply, “which is it? Do we yoke ourselves or not?” The second question that some of us might be asking is, “What in the world is a yoke?!” The second question is a little easier to answer: a yoke is a piece of wood that goes across your neck and shoulders, and it allows you to carry pails and things. On animals such as horses, the yoke is fastened around their necks, and it allows them to pull carts. That first question, though, is the much more important question. The answer is the classic Catholic “both-and.” We must both throw off the yoke of slavery as St. Paul said, and take on the yoke of Christ. This doesn’t make sense until we realize that they are two different yokes.

St. Paul tells us to cast off our yoke of slavery to the flesh. This is St. Paul-speak for a very simple idea: stop sinning! Sin does not come from God, and only in God will we find true freedom. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to truly love God. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to be truly happy. Because we are flesh-and-bone, every time we do something, we become just a little bit better at it. If we do something many times, it slowly develops into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t even think about doing it. The problem is that we can develop bad habits—we call these vices—which can take control of our lives. Addictions live in the realm of vice. Addiction is not just something that users of drugs have to fight. We all have things which we are drawn to despite our will. The internet has made these addictions even easier to feed. This is what St. Paul is calling us to cast off. St. Paul is telling us to cast off these “desires of the flesh,” so that instead of letting addictions and vices and bad habits and temptation and sin rule us, we can rule ourselves.

When Jesus offers us his yoke, he tells us it is light and easy. He is not talking about the yoke of sin, but the yoke of freedom. Christ calls us to follow him immediately and without reserve, because following him means getting out of our slavery to sin and living in the freedom and joy of God. Christ is calling us to live with him, to allow his Spirit to guide us toward him. As we do this, we will train ourselves in new ways to live. We will develop good habits if we follow Christ. We will grow in that wonderful thing called virtue. When we do that, it becomes easy to do the right thing without even thinking. This allows us to grow closer and closer to God. This allows us to love God more and more and to experience his love more and more.

We are creatures made of flesh and of spirit. Because of original sin, the two parts of us are often at war with one another. We get to decide which part of us is driving: the flesh or the spirit. If we let the flesh-blood-and-bone part of us drive, we cannot follow God and grow farther away from him. We will become slaves to our vices and addictions, and ultimately, that route leads to eternal damnation. Nobody wants that. If we let the spirit drive, we can follow God. We can grow closer to him every day and every moment of our lives on this earth. We will become truly free to love God, and ultimately, we will hear God say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy.”

Today’s Readings:
June 30, 2019
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

see, I am doing something new!

We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.

God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.

Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.

The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, taken February 20, 2018.

We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.

As we approach the culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water that bring life back into the world.

Today’s Readings:
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

Fathers and the Seed of Faith

Father recently planted a garden at the rectory. It looked like a lot of work! First, he picked a good spot. It had to get lots of sunlight, and be far enough from the tree to discourage birds and squirrels from stopping by for lunch. Next, he prepared the ground. He cleared the grass and weeds. He tilled the soil, making it loose and fresh for new plants. Then came the planting. That part is pretty straightforward — you put the plants in the ground. Now, though, it’s up to the plants to grow. No human can tell a plant to grow, or even explain how a plant “knows” to grow. They just do. Father can help those plants. He can fertilize them, make sure they’re watered, put in trellises for the tomatoes, but he can’t make them to grow. He just watches them grow, like the man in Jesus’s parable today. Slowly but surely, the plants grow. Now, Father could also hurt the plants’ chances of growing by not watering them, by letting weeds overtake them, or by planting too many plants in the space, but he also can’t make them stop growing. Such a plant could overcome the odds against it and survive.

Paul says to the Corinthians today that “we walk by faith.” This faith is a gift from God. Faith is one of those seeds God plants inside us. It will do its best to grow in us whether we want it to or not, but like a plant in a garden we can nurture it or hinder it throughout our lives. Paul tells us that when we die each of us will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Christ will ask us for the harvest, for the fruits of the faith that he planted inside of us. Our answer decides whether we go to an eternal reward or punishment. Our actions in this earthly life have such an important effect on our eternal life, the stakes are so very high; so, we must do our best to nurture the gifts God gave us. We must let our seed of faith grow into the big mustard plant Jesus talks about, that Ezekiel’s majestic cedars, or into the big ‘ole tomatoes that I hope show up in Father’s garden! To do this, to nurture the seeds of faith in ourselves and let them grow, we must live virtuously and morally; we must pray; and, we must make use the sacraments God gave us. All these things, especially the sacraments, give us grace. Grace is kind of like Miracle-Gro® for the seed of faith that God has planted inside of us.

Nurturing these seeds of faith is a good thing, but nurture is not the only part of gardening. The ground must be made ready. Jesus left these steps out, but he assumes that we will know these things. This leads to some questions. Who prepares us for receiving the first seed of faith? Who clears out the weeds and junk that’s in the way of God planting these seeds in our soul? Who tills the ground in our souls to prepare us for the gifts God wants to give us? Who nurtures our faith when we are too young to do it ourselves, and then teaches us how to nurture it? God certainly plays a part, but these critical activities are entrusted to a couple of very important people in everyone’s life: our parents.

We humans depend on our parents for a long time. Not only do we depend on them for our physical development, but also for our emotional development, for our mental development, and for the development and training of our souls. 1 Our parents teach us not only what is true, but even how to learn. Our parents teach us how to behave properly, to do good things, and how to live in a community. Both our mother and the father have important, but unique, roles in raising us. Each of them contributes in their own special way so that each of us grows to our full potential. Today, though, we celebrate Father’s Day. Since society’s understanding of fatherhood often ignores our fathers’ impact on our faith, I thought that we should take a look at the special ways that our dads contribute to us growing in faith.

Our fathers are providers and protectors, but those are not their only jobs. In nearly every culture that has existed—especially the Roman culture on which western society is based—the father was paterfamilias, the absolute and unquestionable household leader. After two thousand years of Christianity, we’ve figured out that even though our dad is supposed to be a leader, he is not supposed to be an emperor or a dictator. He is supposed to lead as Jesus taught his apostles to lead: with love and kindness, but also firmness and strength. A father’s goal, ultimately, should always be to give life to others, both physically and spiritually. 2 In the oldest stories of the Old Testament, the father was the one who offered sacrifice to God: he was the religious leader. Modern studies have shown that when dad is faithful about coming to Mass and practicing his faith, the rest of the family is much more likely to do so as well. The example of our fathers is powerful, and our dad’s example is one of the most powerful ways that he leads us. In leading us by example, with love, gentleness, and firmness, our fathers teach us. They teach us how to act when the time comes to act. They teach us that force is not the first way to resolve a problem, but they also teach us to be courageous and stand up for ourselves and others. They teach us how to love others. A father teaches his sons how men should treat women, and a father teaches his daughters how they should demand to be treated by men.

A Christian father’s duty to teach is so foundational that it is mentioned in the rite of baptism. At the end of a baptism, the celebrant gives three blessings: one to the mother, one to the father, and another to everyone gathered. The prayer over the father says: “God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The father teaches his children, together with his wife not only with words, but also their example.

All men are called to some sort of fatherhood, either as a biological father or as a spiritual father. Men, do not be afraid of this work. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched” 3 How are our hearts stretched? Fathers are called to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care. Fathers are called to purify their lives from all sin. Today, fathers are called into a fierce battle with the sins against chastity. Fathers are called to be courageous and die to themselves in order to teach, to love, and to bring life to their wives, their children, and to the whole world. Men, we are called to follow the ways of our Lord, our Commander in the battle against evil, and our one true King, Jesus Christ. “[T]he ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 4

Sadly, many of us no longer have our father with us—for any number of tragic reasons. If our human fathers are no longer with us, we need not fear. God, our perfect, heavenly Father is always with us. He loves us so much that He became one of us. He showed us what life looks like without sin. He sent his only Son to us to protect us from our enemies and to teach us how we can purify our hearts and our minds. He sent his Holy Spirit to continuously and gently lead us back to him. He sacrificed himself, and willingly died so that we might learn what true, life-giving love is.

Today, let us thank God for planting the seeds of faith within us. Let us thank our earthly fathers for tilling the soil of our souls and nurturing the seed of faith as it grows in us. Finally, let us make a conscious decision to do everything we can to nurture the seed of faith in our hearts and in the hearts of others by living virtuous lives, virtuous lives in which we seek the will of God and do it.

Note: Into the Breach is an excellent apostolic exhortation written by Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix. I read it in preparation for this homily. While I did not directly quote it, it was influential in the development of this homily.

Today’s Readings:
June 17, 2018
11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B (USA: Father’s Day)
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23