Forgiveness is not Optional

We must make the choice to forgive, but the consequences are dire if we do not make that choice. Generous forgiveness is not an option if we desire eternal life.

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Family Life

It seems like every time Joseph goes to sleep, an angel of the Lord appears to him and give him more work. Joseph, incredibly, appears to have no problem whatsoever with following the commands of God’s messengers. Whether it was to take his wife into his home or to flee with his wife and infant to Egypt, the Bible records no protest from Joseph. When God asked, Joseph simply acted. Joseph was able to act because he trusted God. He had confidence that God would provide, as God always had for his people, and so he did not fear.

This complete and utter trust in the Lord enabled Joseph to lead his family, the Holy Family. If Joseph had not trusted God completely, he would never have been able to complete the task he had been given: to protect his young wife, Mary, and his foster child, Jesus, and to raise up and teach Jesus—he was fully human, after all—in cooperation with Mary. Joseph did so through his example. Scripture records none of his words; only his actions are recorded. His trust and confidence in following the will of God became an example to his family.

We see this trust and confidence in God within Mary and Jesus too. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the miraculous events that surround the Holy Family. Sometimes we forget that Jesus lived with his family, mostly in silence, for the better part of 30 years. Not much has been recorded during those 30 years. It is safe to assume that the Holy Family lived much like any other family, that they experienced the same things any family would experience: living on a budget, working to make ends meet, going to the synagogue to worship God, saying your daily prayers, and raising a child. At some point between the Finding in the Temple and the Baptism of Jesus, Joseph dies: so the Holy Family experienced the loss of loved ones too. Jesus knows the pain of losing a parent. Since we don’t know particular stories about the home life of the Holy Family, and can’t draw examples from them, we must instead look in other places.

The book of Sirach tells us that both a father and mother exercise authority over their children, that children should care for their parents, and that children should honor their father and revere their mother. In other words, Sirach is calling for children to learn filial piety. Fr. Scalia, in his book That Nothing May Be Lost, describes this as simple devotion to one’s family, country, God, and all that bestows and shape’s one’s life. (p. 21) Jesus is a perfect example: he is a devoted son, of his parents, his country, and his Heavenly Father. He begins his ministry at home. Even when he ventures out, he remains in Israel. It can be easy to forget the importance of our home and our roots in our society. Our American way is tragically individualistic. We seek to make a name for ourselves, and convince ourselves that the familiar is our enemy. In the meantime, we lose our sense of community and belonging, things which are vital for us to thrive as humans. (see pp. 22-24)

Paul gives us a lot also, but it can be summarized in one word: love. Husbands and wives must love each other with a sacrificial, self-disinterested love. The husband, in particular, should be willing to lay down his life for his spouse. Their relationship must be rooted in Christ, because only he can give them the grace needed for all of the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness they will need to make a marriage work. Parents should love their children, and children should love and obey their parents.

None of this is easy, but it is not really supposed to be easy. God never promised us easy, and his Son, Jesus, certainly didn’t have it easy. Families are hard. But it is through our families that we learn to love our God, our neighbors, and our fellow human beings. It is through our families that we learn how to interact with God and the world. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. We just have to allow ourselves to trust the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, and do not fear, for God is with us.

Today’s Readings:
December 29, 2019
Holy Family Sunday, Year A
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

acknowledging our lowliness

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/

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.

Today’s Readings:
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

Humility and the Heavenly Banquet

In our Gospel today, Jesus gives what could be perceived as a lesson in social etiquette, but it is so much more than that.

Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C, given at 9AM on September 1, 2019. 

Full homily: https://mattsiegman.com/2019/08/humility-and-the-heavenly-banquet/

Humility and the Heavenly Banquet

Audio recording of homily from 9am on September 1, 2019.

Some weekends, our Holy Mother, the Church, makes the theme tying the readings together very obvious. This is one of those weekends. So, let’s talk about humility!

In our Gospel today, Jesus gives what could be perceived as a lesson in social etiquette, but it is so much more than that. This wedding banquet of which our Lord speaks is not some abstract thing. We are all invited to this wedding banquet: Heaven. In Heaven, our souls will be united with God in a way completely unfathomable by us while we live in this world. While we remain ourselves, we will mystically be united with God in eternal bliss and happiness at this wedding banquet. The eternal wedding banquet in Heaven is that place where God brings all of us back to himself, so that we can share in our Creator’s joy.

“What does this have to do with humility?” you might ask. Jesus warns us against overestimating our place at this banquet. He wants us to know our place before the host of the wedding banquet. When we look at the bigger picture, Jesus is telling us that it is absolutely critical to know where we stand before God. If we overestimate where we stand in relation to our Lord and God, we run the truly horrifying risk of being asked to move to a different place at the table. When we look at the rest of this story in Luke—we only read about half of Luke’s account of this parable—or consider Matthew’s recounting of this same teaching, we find that there are even worse consequences if we overestimate our standing with God. If we refuse to honor this invitation to the Heavenly banquet or if we come without having attempted to prepare ourselves, we may be thrown out into the streets, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus is telling us that it is much better to underestimate ourselves in relation with God, to not take our relationship with him for granted, to always continue working on that relationship, so that when we do arrive at our eternal judgment and reward, God surprises us by moving us to a higher seat. Humility is not allowing other people to walk all over us. Humility is not saying “yes” to every request made of us. Humility is properly understanding our worth. Our worth comes from two things and only two things: the fact that we are adopted sons and daughters of our God who created us, and our relationship with God. Nothing else matters.

Jesus gives us a fascinating example to help us understand humility today. He tells us that when we hold a banquet, we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, because these people cannot repay us. At one level, Jesus is being straightforward and telling us exactly what to do here. Caring for these people is something we all must do, but Jesus never speaks on just one level. As I prayed with this passage, God revealed, perhaps, the most humbling aspect of this Gospel passage. Jesus is asking us to do exactly what God does with us. God has invited all of us to his heavenly banquet, knowing that we cannot ever repay him. We are all the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We are poor in our faith. We are all crippled by original sin. We are lame, unable to walk without much difficulty on the path God asks us to follow. We are all blind to the spiritual reality all around us every day.

Fresco of the Heavenly Jerusalem from 1580.
Fresco of the Heavenly Jerusalem, depicting Heaven as a great banquet. Painted in 1580 at Annunciation Cathedral, Russia.

Despite all of this, God invites us to his wedding banquet. To our wedding banquet with Him. Will we accept his invitation? Will we prepare ourselves for the eternal wedding banquet by cleansing ourselves of the grime of sin and putting on the garments of faith and good works? Will we pray to God and ask him to grow our faith and hope in him so that we have the courage to walk the narrow path which leads to this great banquet? Will we take an honest look at ourselves and our relationship with God and allow him to show us those areas where we need to grow closer to him?

May we all ask God for true humility, in hopes that one day we might join him in eternal bliss at the Heavenly banquet.

Today’s Readings:
22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
September 1, 2019
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14

Reflection for the Eighth Tuesday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 35:1-12; Ps 50:5-6, 7-8, 14 & 23; Mk 10:28-31

The readings today speak of sacrifices made to God and how he responds to them. I have two brief notes over these readings.

First: God accepts the sacrifice of the just one. It “enriches the altar” and “is most pleasing.” What is it that makes us just in God’s eyes? This is what the readings have been discussing recently, in fact. We should ponder how we behave and show our love for God, in whom love and justice are one. By our authentic and loving sacrifices of time, talent and treasure, we act justly toward God. We must also be just when we offer our sacrifice to God (which is done most perfectly by active participation in the Holy Mass) in order for him to look upon our sacrifices with gladness. One way to do this is to put our sufferings and desires, troubles and successes on the altar (in spirit, we can’t actually put these things on the altar!) every time we go to Mass, and offer them back to God every time we celebrate his Holy Eucharist.

Second: God repays those who offer pleasing sacrifice to him. “Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age’.” And before that, the author of Sirach wrote that “the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.” But God knows the difference between an unjust sacrifice and a just sacrifice—one done to earn benefits from God (“offer no bribes, these he does not accept!”) or one done out of love for God.

Reflection for the Eighth Monday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 17:20-24; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7; Mk 10:17-27

The readings today encourage us to live good lives while on this earth. The author of Sirach tells us to “turn again to the Most High and away from your sin.” While we are in this world, we have the most incredible ability: the ability to use our minds and our consciences to change our lives. Angels have minds but the cannot change. Animals do not have minds and consciences, so any change for them is a result of instinct. They cannot change in the same way that we do, and they don’t have the everlasting consequences that ours do. When we change, we can affect our immortal souls. We move ourselves closer to or further from God, and thus move closer to eternal happiness or eternal punishment.

The importance of changing in this life is reinforced a few lines later. “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High in place of the living who offer their praise? … No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.” Once we die we can no longer change as when we were living. At that point, we have made all of the choices that we will be able to make.

Jesus tells us that living this virtuous life will be a difficult task in today’s Gospel. “For men it is impossible” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, “but not for God.” God will give us the grace that we need, provided that we do our best to love him and to serve him. Jesus tells us that to serve God, we must follow his laws. Not only that, but we must detach ourselves from all worldly things and trust only in God. God will be our treasure.

Let us do our best to love God and to follow his laws, the laws he gave us in order to help us be happy. In doing so, we have our best chance at entering eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.