Homilies for September 2023

For September 3, September 10, September 17, and September 24

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 3, 2023

Readings: Jer 20:7–9Ps 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9Rom 12:1–2Mt 16:21–27    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/090323.cfm

Simon, having received his new name “Peter” after his confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi, the “rock on which he will build his Church” (Mt 16:18), almost immediately receives a very different title from Jesus: “Satan.” Jesus, of course, uses this title with its traditional meaning: an “opposer” or “adversary,” telling Simon Peter: “You are a stumbling block (σκάνδαλον) to me, for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (Mt 16:23) The same disciple who five verses prior was named the “rock” on which Christ would build his church has become a “stumbling block.”

Peter’s problem is the problem of nearly every Christian. Peter is unable to understand how the same Jesus who has just been professed as “the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God,” can in the very next breath go on to speak about the necessity of his suffering, and dying, and rising. Peter is unable to enter the “paradox” of Christian discipleship and so becomes a “stumbling block.” His innate human desire to preserve his life not only prevents him from understanding what Jesus could possibly mean when he outlines the cost of discipleship, but even leads him to actively rebuke Jesus when he prophesies his suffering, dying, and rising. Peter is unable to wrap his head around the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah.

G.K. Chesterton once noted that “Paradox has been defined as ‘Truth standing on her head to attract attention,’”1 and Jesus’ teaching about the cost of discipleship — self-denial, taking up one’s cross — certainly attracts Peter’s and indeed every Christian’s attention. How can a man reign through dying, conquer through seeming defeat, obtain glory through humility? And yet as bizarre as it may seem, the Christian is introduced into this “paradox” from the very beginning. Before the baptismal waters even touch our heads, we are claimed “for Christ our Savior by the sign of his Cross” traced on our foreheads (Order of Baptism). We are introduced into this paradox which accompanies us our whole life long: discipleship means self-denial because discipleship for the Christian is sequela Christi: imitating the self-denial and humility of the one who “brought about Redemption through suffering,” and by doing so, has also “raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption.” (SD, 19)

Internalizing this paradox, however, is life’s project as a Christian. In my own life and ministry, it has been explained how the devout person faced with the mystery of suffering and death can question God’s benevolence, while at the same time the once-hardened criminal can face execution with absolute tranquility; how those who face terminal illness can radiate joy and tranquility, while many of those who experience minor inconveniences can curse God under their breath. Our sequela Christi depends on the degree to which we have entered this paradox and plumbed its depths.

It is interesting that the word doxa in Greek, while originally meaning “an opinion, judgment, view,” (hence “paradox,” a “contrary view”) has in the course of Christian history come to mean “glory, exaltation.” The Christian world “view” (doxa), the Christian’s path to “glory” (doxa), is “paradoxical.” It requires us, like Peter, to examine those truths which Christ reveals in the Gospel which run contrary to our innate way of thinking — death leading to life, self-denial leading to the greatest prize, suffering leading to happiness — and to overcome with Simon Peter these “stumbling blocks,” even if we ourselves are the stumbling block. It requires us, like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, to seek out those little sufferings, tiny acts of love, that will prepare us for the greater sufferings, the more demanding acts of love. It requires us to deny ourselves if we are to follow Him.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 10, 2023

Readings: Ez 33:7–9Ps 95:1–2, 6–7, 8–9Rom 13:8–10Mt 18:15–20    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091023.cfm

I was recently at a local barbershop getting my hair cut when one of the barber’s customers immediately identified me as a priest. As often happens, an interesting conversation — or rather an interesting monologue — ensued: thoughts about problems with contemporary America, the state of public education, the effects of technology and social media on Gen Z and Gen Alpha, etc. The conversation eventually led to our different Christian denominations, and something that this other gentleman in the barbershop said stuck with me.  He assured me that one’s particular denomination is of no import, because “God is a God of love.” “Man made religion,” he declared with absolute confidence before correcting himself, “No! The devil made religion!”

While I was immediately struck by the gentleman’s suggestion that the “devil had made religion,” the very virtue whose purpose, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is “to render to God the worship due to Him,” i.e. precisely what the devil was incapable of doing, his comments seemed to me to be indicative of the way many contemporary Christians approach the topic of “religion.” I was immediately reminded, for example, of the viral video from a few years back about being “spiritual” vs. “religious.”

In Matthew’s Gospel today, we begin the fourth of Jesus’ discourses, which some scholars have named the “Discourse on the Church,” and what one notices is that while the virtue of “religion” certainly predates Christianity, for Jesus in particular “spirituality” and “religion” go hand-in-hand. While the specific context of today’s Gospel is the discussion of fraternal correction in the Christian community: first privately admonishing the erring believer, then with one or two others before bringing him before the Church, and if he is still unrepentant, treating him as a “Gentile or tax collector” — contained within it is a teaching on the authoritative role of the apostles. Where earlier in Matthew 16, Jesus had given to Simon Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the authority to “bind and loose,” here in chapter 18, Jesus confers that same authority of “binding and loosing” on the other apostles as well.

In the context of this Gospel on fraternal correction, the authority of “binding and loosing” granted to the apostles (who are the audience of today’s Gospel) becomes clear. The Catechism speaks about this authority as being threefold: “the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church” (CCC 553). Paired with the reading from Ezekiel about the vigilance required of the priest-prophet Ezekiel, the “watchman for the house of Israel,” and his obligation to “warn the wicked,” trying to “turn him from his way,” the important role of the apostles and their proper exercise of authority in the Church (namely for maintaining communion) becomes clear.

The problem with the push against “religion,” the push against authority, advocated for by my new barbershop acquaintance, is obvious in light of today’s Gospel. The promulgation of a Gospel of “love” where all exercise of authority ceases, where fraternal correction is outmoded, and individual interpretation of the Scriptures begets one new congregation after another, makes communion impossible. It is that communion that Jesus has in mind when he gives his apostles today’s teaching on fraternal correction. Fraternal correction — even in the most radical form of excommunication — is always meant to lead to repentance, conversion, and reincorporation into the communion of the Church.

It is no surprise, then, that of the different proposed etymologies of the word “religion,” perhaps the most common is that of a “binding” (“re-ligare”: to bind fast). While there is an innate human desire to seek freedom and resist being bound, exemplified by the gentleman in the barbershop, “religion” is less about having our freedom inhibited and more about being “bound together” in reverence of God and in the communion of the Christian ekklesia built upon the foundation of the apostles whom Jesus sets, as God has set the prophet Ezekiel, as her watchmen and guardians.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 17, 2023

Readings: Sir 27:30—28:7Ps 103:1–2, 3–4, 9–10, 11–12 • Rom 14:7–9Mt 18:21–3    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091723.cfm

In my short time as a priest (I will celebrate my fifth anniversary in December), some of the most powerful moments have been accompanying death row inmates at the Polunsky unit in Livingston, Texas. About a year ago, I was able to celebrate Mass with one such inmate the night before his execution. This inmate, Kosoul Chanthakoummane, had been convicted of the murder of Dallas real estate agent Sarah Walker in July of 2006.

Asked by the district attorney about seeking the death penalty, Sarah’s father Joe, a devout Catholic, responded that he was against the death penalty. Unfortunately, Joe’s insistence did not stop the district attorney from seeking the death penalty anyway. Motivated by his deep Catholic faith, Joe not only wrote to Kosoul forgiving him for his daughter’s murder, but even began praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy for his conversion every day up until the day of his own death.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus concludes his “Discourse on the Church,” with a beautiful teaching on forgiveness. After giving the apostles the authority to forgive sins in his name, Peter raises the question to Jesus: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?” Jesus’ response — however it is translated — suggests that one should forgive continuously.

To illustrate this teaching on forgiveness, Jesus uses the “Parable of the Merciless Servant.” The “much smaller amount” (100 denarii) the fellow servant owes, and for which the merciless servant has him imprisoned, pales in comparison to the “huge amount” (10,000 talents) for which he himself has been forgiven — an amount he would never, in truth, be able to repay.

Each Sunday, if not every day, we pray these words that should be as haunting as they are routine to us as Christians: “Forgive us our trespasses,” or “Forgive us our debts,” “as we forgive . . .” We could rephrase this: “Forgive us in the same manner we forgive,” “Forgive us to the same degree we forgive . . .” Sirach in today’s first reading even takes it a step further, raising the question: “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, [and] seek pardon for his own sins?” So likewise the master at the end of the parable tells the merciless servant, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”

Joe Walker told a reporter, “If you are going to expect mercy from the Lord, you must show mercy,” echoing the words of Jesus: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” Joe’s living the message of Divine Mercy, praying each and every day for the conversion of his daughter’s murderer, did eventually lead to Kosoul Chanthakoummane’s conversion.

Such forgiveness can seem impossible for us to wrap our minds around, and yet it is the same forgiveness the psalmist speaks of in today’s responsorial psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

Kosoul died by lethal injection on August 16th, 2022 thanking the Lord Jesus Christ and those who, like Joe, had “aided him on his journey.” Not a single member of Sarah’s family watched from the viewing chamber.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 24, 2023

Readings: Is 55:6–9Ps 145:2–3, 8–9, 17–18 • Phil 1:20c–24, 27aMt 20:1–16a    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/092423.cfm

One of the chores that my little brother and I were given as children by our dad was mowing the lawn. The agreed-upon rate at the time was a whopping $1 each time we mowed the lawn. After several weeks we would have enough money to buy a pack of trading cards at the store.

There came a certain point in my adolescence when I realized that many of my friends at school were making twenty times my measly $1 for cutting the lawn, and so I went to my dad in protest. In typical fatherly fashion, Dad recounted how when he was young, the only money he and his younger brother made cutting grass was from cutting the neighbors’ yards; cutting their own yard was, to quote my grandmother, “the rent for living in her house.” For all the other chores we were expected to do around the house, when we would approach Dad expecting some type of repayment, he would simply quote to us the Gospel: “Your reward will be great in heaven.” “Some reward that was!” I would think as I’d storm back to my room.

The day laborers in today’s Gospel are likewise incapable of understanding the seeming injustice of the master of the vineyard. Some have labored all day (6am–6pm), and others have been recruited by the master of the vineyard at the “eleventh hour” (an hour before sunset), and yet each receives the agreed-upon wage: one denarius. It seems obvious that those who have labored in the sun all day (it’s currently 110˚ here in Texas) would be upset. I can imagine them walking back to their homes fuming just as I marched back to my room with my measly $1 in tote.

The seeming unfairness as the master of the vineyard distributes the day’s wages is meant to draw our attention. It’s that part of the parable that makes it a parable, rather than a mere illustration. The logic of the kingdom, “God’s ways” as Isaiah would put it, are very different from our ideas of justice. Whereas we would see everyone at least make the “minimum hourly wage,” in the kingdom of God there is but one wage, represented by the denarius: eternal life. While some spend many hours (many years) laboring, others are found by the master of the vineyard at the eleventh hour, but the wage is the same: one denarius.

And yet in the kingdom of heaven this is the only wage that matters: eternal life with God in heaven.

  1. G.K. Chesterton, The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, ch. 3, Project Gutenberg Australia, accessed August 18, 2023: gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500421h.html.
Fr. Joseph Sigur About Fr. Joseph Sigur

Ordained a priest in December 2018, Fr. Joseph Sigur completed his License in Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in 2020. After serving 5 rural churches in deep East Texas, he was named pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Port Arthur, a once-small neighborhood parish which in recent decades has welcomed thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants. In addition to his parish ministry, Fr. Joseph is also active as a chaplain in both state and federal prisons.


  1. Avatar Alexius Dkhar says:

    Thanks for the homily

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