Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In Lent we pray, fast, and give alms so that we can destroy our self-centeredness and become worthy to join our Heavenly Father at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Homily for Ash Wednesday, 2021.

Our Secret Lenten Campaign

In the collect, sometimes called the opening prayer, we asked God that today “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.” Shortly, as we prepare the gifts before the Eucharistic Prayer, during which they will become the Body and Blood of Christ, and then will be sacrificed and offered to God the Father, we pray that we might undertake this campaign of purification, penance, and charity so that, “cleansed from our sins, [we] may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of [Jesus Christ].

These prayers tell us everything we need to know about the holy season of Lent which we begin today. they tells us why we engage in Lenten practices: so that we become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord. We celebrate our Lord’s Passion every time we participate in the Mass, but this is all a shadow of the true celebration to which we are invited at the end of our lives: the Heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb. To celebrate this eternal banquet well and devoutly, we must engage in a campaign of Christian service on this earth. The point of this service is to eradicate evil from our lives: evil cannot coexist with our God, whom we will join in Heaven.

To engage in this campaign of Christianity, we utilize the weapons of self-restraint. As the prophet Joel teaches us, we must rend our hearts and not our garments. In plain English, he is telling us that what is inside our hearts is much more consequential than what is outside. Christ tells us how to rend our hearts in the Gospel today: pray, fast, and give alms. Our Lenten practices should incorporate all of these. For example: perhaps instead of buying a coffee and bagel in the morning, we could save that money up and donate it to the Lord’s Diner at the end of the month. We could make a daily effort to pray for those poor people on this earth who are alone, lost, and who have nobody to pray for them. Instead of giving up meat on Fridays alone, we could give it up on Wednesdays as well. These practices of self-denial and mortification “break us in order to raise us up and open our hearts” by destroying our “obsessive concentration on self caused by sin.” (Louis Bouyer as quoted in Magnificat, February 2021, p. 270)

Perhaps the most important aspect of these ascetic practice urged by Christ is one we often overlook: we should do them without drawing attention to ourselves. By engaging in these practices and not seeking worldly recognition, we allow our Father, who Christ repeatedly tells us sees the secrets of our hearts, to give us that recognition when we meet him at the Heavenly Banquet where we hope to join him. Humble prayer, fasting and almsgiving done in secret is a defining trait of Christian asceticism.

This year, we are given an extra chance at humility. Because of the pandemic, the Vatican has changed the distribution of ashes in many countries. Instead of receiving a cross on your forehead, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of your head. This is an ancient practice, which we find in the Bible centuries before Christ. While new to us, in many countries, such as Italy, this is what they always do.

Unless you are lucky enough to have a beautiful bald head like mine, nobody will be able to tell you are fasting today. Nobody will be able to tell that you went to Mass today. Nobody will be able to tell that you began your Lenten campaign today. Nobody will be able to tell that you are rending your hearts to become worthy to celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ today. But that’s OK. Because your Heavenly Father, who sees what is hidden, will repay you with everlasting life.

Today’s Readings:
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

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

The Wedding Garment

Parable of the Great Banquet - Brunswick Monogrammist

The king says, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” The man doesn’t make an excuse. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t even claim he shouldn’t have to wear such ridiculous garb after being brought in from the street. He doesn’t do anything. He is reduced to silence. Like the king in the parable, our Heavenly King—God—demands a response from us every day of our lives. We can respond in one of three ways: we can follow God; we can turn away from God; or, we can simply not respond to God.

The wedding garment in the parable doesn’t necessarily refer to something special the man had to put on to attend the party. It is entirely possible that it means, simply, that the guests were expected to wear clean clothes to the party. The man came into the wedding party in dirty clothes. He didn’t bother to put on clean clothes. This discourtesy was an insult to the king. The king may have invited people in from the street, but he still had standards! Thus, the king asked the man, “why he did you come in dirty clothes?”

Imagine if someone had shown up in torn up jeans and a t-shirt to a wedding you are attending. If someone had shown up to my sister’s wedding like that, I would have had some questions for that person too! “Did you intend to come dressed like that? Are you in the right place? Do you need some help?”

The man didn’t respond to the king, and so he was cast out.

The results of following God and turning away from God are clear, but not responding to God is just as bad as turning away from him. We are all wounded by sin, and we all approach God unworthily. Using the language of the parable, none of us have a clean wedding garment. God knows this, yet he still invites us to his wedding feast. God knows we need help. We must not be speechless! Instead, we must ask our merciful Lord for help! “I’m trying, please help me!” “Lord, I don’t even know where to begin!” “Lord, I thought I was doing the right thing, but everything just went so wrong!” “I’m sorry, God. Help. Please.”

Through our daily work to accept God’s invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb—to Heaven—, we slowly wash clean our soul. Eventually, we will come closer and closer to having a clean wedding garment—a clean soul. By responding to God, even in our weakness, we allow God to scrub, slowly, the stains of sin out of our soul. Our king is so generous that he will give us all the mercy and all the grace that we will need to cleanse our lives. What fantastic news!

What is this daily work we must do in order to enter into the wedding feast of Heaven? We must cut out those things in our lives that take us away from God. We must cut out those things in our lives that prevent us from responding to God.

We cannot say yes to God when we regularly engage in mortal sin. We cannot hear God when our lives are filled with constant noise and distraction. We cannot hear God when we assault our bodies with substances that intoxicate us and divorce us from our ability to think.

We must live lives of purity, chastity, and goodness.

We must live lives of stillness, making time to listen for God in the silence.

We must live lives of sobriety and good choices.

We must live lives so that when we die we can say:

“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!

Today’s Readings:
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

Reflection for the Second Saturday of Lent

Today we hear two readings about repentance and mercy. The prophet Micah wonders at God’s mercy, marveling that he casts into the sea all our sins. In the ancient world, the sea often stood in place for a place of terror and death. In effect, what Micah is stunned by is that God, in some way, kills our sins. Our sins are washed away, and God showers compassion upon us.

This is exactly what happens in the story of the Prodigal Son, which we hear in today’s Gospel passage. We all know this story. What I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that the son who abandoned his family and his father recognized that he had sinned, then was willing to make repentance for it. He returned to his father, begging to be forgiven. His father could not contain his joy at seeing the son return. This is what happens in Confession. God is delighted to see us come back to him; however, we must make the turn back to God. We cannot expect God to forgive us if we aren’t willing to ask for his forgiveness. He wants to forgive us. He desires that we come back to him, and He is ready to welcome us with open arms.

We do not know the day or the hour in which our lives will come to an end, so let us make the turn toward God now, before it is too late! Let us run to God with all our strength, so that when we come home he may great us with open arms to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!

Today’s Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32