Humility, Truth, and Morality

We must have humility to seek the truth. We must use the truth to inform our actions.

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Humble Pursuit of Truth

In Romans today, St. Paul tells us that whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Conversely, if we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, then we will have life. This Spirit is none other than the Holy Spirit. This raises an important question: how do we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us through our love. (Commentary on Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626) Even though we received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and again in Confirmation, we drive the Holy Spirit out of ourselves when we sin. Venial sin damages and mortal sin destroys the relationship of love we have with God. The book of Wisdom tells us that God does not abide iniquity, sin, which logically means that our personal sin drives out the Spirit of God. (Wisdom 1:3, cf. Romans, C. 8, L. 2, n. 626)

Driving sin out of our lives is extremely challenging. It is a life-long endeavor, but it is not something we do alone. God assists us regularly with his grace, and He walks with us through this life. He has also left us with the holy Scriptures. Readings the Scriptures and meditating upon them can allow us to grow closer to God and can allow the fertile ground in our hearts to be readied for the Spirit of God to dwell. Christ teaches us in today’s Gospel that he reveals all these things to little ones. Why does he reveal them to little ones and not to mature adults? I can think of a number of answers to this question; however, the strongest answer, I think, is that children have not lost their sense of wonder about the world, nor have they lost their sense of openness to others. A child is not afraid to look up at the clouds and the stars and to see all sorts of shapes and plants and animals. A child, to the horror of many parents, is not afraid to go talk to someone they don’t know. A child trusts his or her parents, and, generally, anybody multiple feet taller than him or her. A child wants to learn everything and is always seeking out truth in adventures, in friends, and in stories. A child also recognizes that sometimes he or she is wrong. In other words: a child has humility. Zechariah, in today’s first reading, tells us that the Messiah will be humble as well: he will not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, but on a donkey.

These three traits of children, of wonder, openness or docility, and humility, are essential to growing in love. No matter how hard we try to hold on to these virtues, we struggle to maintain them as we age. When was the last time you just looked up at the clouds or stared at the stars? When was the last time you admitted—to yourself—that you might not be the most knowledgeable person about any given thing? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be taught? When was the last time you admitted you were wrong?

Not counting the question about looking at the sky, none of these are “fun” things to do. As hard as the questions themselves are to stomach, it gets worse when I recognize that the answer is, to every single one of them, “it has been longer than it should have been.” We live in a society that proclaims that truth is whatever we make it. This relativism, which started in the realm of morality, has infected every area of our society. If we don’t like a truth, if it makes us feel uncomfortable, society teaches us that it is OK to decide that it is not true for us. Society tells us that this is good. Society tells us that we should be comfortable and that we should never have to experience the trauma of being wrong.

Society is wrong.

There is truth, and it is universal. If something is true, that will not change. If you jump up, you will come down. This is a truth. Just as gravity doesn’t change based on our feelings and what we want it to do, neither do the observable properties of the universe, such as the behavior of air molecules, non-living RNA and water droplets, etc. A newly conceived child is a human being made in the image and likeness of God and therefore has a right to life no matter how we feel about the circumstances in which that child was conceived. No matter what our feelings are about something, no matter what our favorite political leaders tell us, truth does not change, because truth is grounded in God, and God does not change. This has been the teaching of the Church throughout all of time, and has been reiterated over and over again, for example, in the Second Vatican Council Document Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person), then again in  St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), and again by the saint in Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason). Fides et ratio specifically discusses how, as Catholics, we are not only able to, but must use our reason in conjunction with our faith, because our reason is a gift from God. The Catholic Church, despite what some people may say, has always believe that science is a good thing. Through science we learn about creation. When we learn about creation, we learn about its creator, that is, God.

After informing myself on matters like this, I know more about creation than before. I have learned more about the truth. As Catholics, we must take one further step after learning the truth: We must allow the truth to inform our actions. As a result of my study and research this week, I am wearing my mask more. This is neither a mistake, nor is it a fluke. It is intentional. This is not due to government mandating that I wear a mask; however, Christians are, in most cases, bound to follow civil authority. 1 I am wearing my mask more, because I have come to the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. After informing myself with information from sources that make it their business to know these things, doctors and physicists and chemists, I see that the evidence is fairly clear that they help. I didn’t think wearing a mask was important, but I was wrong. Masks are effective, especially when combined with social distancing, at preventing others from catching disease from me. While the research shows that a mask does not protect me, it does protect those around me, that is: the mask protects my neighbor. Is it perfect? No. But it is significantly and scientifically proven to be better than nothing.

I don’t do this (wearing a mask) because I want to: Honestly, I don’t. But what I want and what I feel… it doesn’t matter. God demands that I love my neighbor as myself, always. This is truth, and like the truth, this demand will never change. If I don’t love my neighbor, I cannot love God, because it means my love is messed up. If my love is messed up and I can’t love God, then I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to live in me. God asks us, on a regular basis, to do things we don’t want to do for the good of ourselves and the good of others. This is, in fact, the essence of Christian love: to sacrifice for the sake of my neighbor. This is something every married couple knows: “I don’t always get my way, because I love my spouse.” As a priest, I see the situation a little differently. Daily, priests pray about sacrifice and remember what Jesus did to save us. The crucifixion is simply a part of priestly spirituality. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and crucified for us. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable. I can’t imagine that he really wanted to do it (at least, on the part of his human nature). Most importantly, Jesus did not need to die for himself. He suffered and died purely because he loves us, his neighbor, so that he could eradicate and conquer the most primordial contagion known to plague humanity: sin.

Brothers and sisters, let us always seek the truth with openness and humility, like children do. Let us allow the truth to inform our actions so that we can truly love our neighbor, and in doing so, open our hearts to the life-giving Spirit of God.

Today’s Readings:
July 5, 2020
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Your Mission: Convert the World

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/

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

Reflection for the Fifth Wednesday of Lent

The saying “do as I say and not as I do” has always bothered me. I know that there are some who mean to say, “I am trying to do these things too, but it is very hard,” but I usually can’t see that. It always sounds like hypocrisy to me. It sounds to me like the person is saying, “I can’t be bothered to try and do this, but you should.” I much prefer a different phrase, “actions speak louder than words.”

Jesus encourages us to take this a step further in the Gospel today. After telling the Jews that sin is a type of slavery, he condemns the Jews who want to put him to death. He tells them, “You are doing the works of your father!” They reply that they are children of Abraham and not of sin, but Jesus counters their argument. He says that while they are descendants of Abraham they act in such a way that their true father is revealed to be someone or something else. If they were truly children of God, or of Abraham, they would love Jesus. Their actions against love demonstrate, for all to see, that their true master is sin, in other words: the evil one.

The story of the three young men in Daniel today shows the opposite happening. The three young men told Nebuchadnezzar that he was wasting his breath by trying to get them to worship false gods. Furious, he had a furnace heated seven times more than usual before having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into it. Some of the soldiers died throwing them in because of the heat! But the three young men were not burned. They were spared. They were even joined by an angel. Their love for God burned hotter than any furnace ever could burn. This witness prompted Nebuchadnezzar to promulgate a decree across his entire empire that the God of Israel must be respected.

This is the power of right action. In our broken culture, we cannot even speak to some people without causing more division—no matter what we say. What we can do is provide authentic, Christian witness by living a good, Christian life in the most joyful way possible. As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” But they’ll also know us by our joy. They’ll know us by the different way in which we live.

Actions speak louder than words. Let us be joyful Christians, and work to convert the world through one action at a time.

Today’s Readings: Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Jn 8:31-42

Reflection for the Second Tuesday of Lent

The readings in Lent are a constant drumbeat. They call us repeatedly to look at our lives and to repent of wrong doing. They constantly remind us of the mercy of God when we turn to him. Today is no different. The first reading calls us to cleanse ourselves of sins, and that we will be washed as white as snow. It also contains a warning: if we do not repent, if we “refuse and resist, the sword shall consume [us].” The psalmist reminds us that God does not care about empty sacrifices and recitation of his laws: he wants us to love him, he wants our words of praise to be true. To God, a pleasing sacrifice is one where we offer him true praise, heartfelt thanksgiving, and real repentance. “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that god the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

This is what Jesus addresses in the Gospel today. The scribes and the Pharisees offer empty sacrifice, empty praise. They do not mean what they do and say. They are in it for their own glory. Jesus reminds us that we must be what we say and do. In another place, we are told to “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” This Gospel is calling us to similar behavior. We must love one another. If we truly love one another, we will be willing—glad even—to serve one another.

Today’s Readings: Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 & 23; Mt 23:1-12