Homily: “On Boasting in the Cross”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

We come upon one of the more poetic and lovely Collects of our Calendar, one that is perfectly situated in time. Grant us, Lord, it begins, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly. And of course, for us, the heavenly is not the far away and remote, but the Kingdom of God which has come near, and has come intimate, through the Cross of Jesus Christ. The heavenly is the deeper dimension of our reality as we live and move and have our being as baptized Christians—very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ, Christ who is Himself in heaven, and we are members of Him Who is in heaven. We ourselves—you all and me, in our actual lives in the here and now—are sacraments of Christ’s presence. We are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. This is nothing to boast about. As Saint Paul’s teaches in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts boast of the Lord.” Perhaps all of us could take this very positive teaching of the Apostle more literally and seriously: a daily remembrance that God has baptized us, and made us part of Him.

We find the twelve disciples of Jesus boasting as well. Read more “Homily: “On Boasting in the Cross””

Homily: “On Emptying Ourselves for Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Our verses from Saint Mark give his account of Saint Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ and then the first teaching in Mark’s Gospel from Jesus about His death and resurrection, which is followed by Our Lord’s memorable description of true discipleship. These verses directly precede the account of our Lord’s Transfiguration on the high and holy mountain, which we reflect upon twice every year: the Sunday directly before Ash Wednesday and Lent, and the feast devoted to the event in August. And then the verses directly following give the Saint Mark’s account of the healing of a boy with a mute spirit, such a debilitating possession that the disciples are unable to cast out, which becomes the occasion for Our Lord’s teaching that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”

I summarize these forty odd verses because these three groups of verses demonstrate a pattern we see throughout Mark’s gospel—his use of what scholars have playfully but usefully called “the Markan sandwich.” Read more “Homily: “On Emptying Ourselves for Jesus””

Homily: “On What Defiles a Person”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Saint Paul exhorts us to take and use the sword of the Spirit because Jesus wields the sword of the Spirit when He cuts us to the heart, piercing our own souls with the truth, that we may grow in maturity to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. This is His work of reforming us in His likeness, and it involves embracing the experiences of life as we encounter them, falling down because of our own frailty, and through God’s grace standing up again. I reflected on this over the past week while my daughters and I watched the Disney version of Pinocchio. And this helps us also to break open Our Lord’s teaching on what defiles a person.

The story of Pinocchio is a rather odd one. Read more “Homily: “On What Defiles a Person””

Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

There are I suppose two main ways to interpret the question that Jesus poses to the Twelve men, “Do you also wish to go away?” It could be that Jesus is gravely disappointed that His message is not catching on—gravely disappointed in what is turning into a kind of failure, even on the verse of weeping and tears. Read in this way there is a poignancy to the question, and Jesus is showing to the Twelve his vulnerability, He shows, so to speak, His cards as if in a game of poker, and lays down His hand, saying, this is what I have, Jesus not knowing whether His cards were strong enough to win the hearts of the Twelve, having apparently lost the hearts of dozens more disciples who we are told drew back at the hard saying and no longer went about with Him. Read more “Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’””

Homily: “On Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Although a number of people know this quite well, I have found that it is not universally known that one of the mandatory steps within the process of being ordained to the Priesthood is to spent a significant amount of time in an internship as a hospital chaplain. In my case, I spent twenty weeks in four hospitals in suburban Chicago, near Hinsdale, La Grange, and other towns. Although you hear clerics often bemoan the experience, and I heard some priests share horror stories as to why their experiences in their estimation were unhelpful towards parish ministry, priests I trusted, including our Bishop, assured me that hospital chaplaincy was for them revelatory and deeply, and permanently, meaningful.

And I must say, it was for me as well. It was never easy, and often unpredictable. My very first overnight duty on-call saw me assist an experienced chaplain whom I was shadowing as we ministered to a large family of over 25 relatives who that night suffered the loss of one of their family members to a kind of brain hemorrhage that, tragically, was inoperable. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having to learn how to swim. Over the twenty weeks, in not only hospital patients and their families, but in the hospital staff, nurses, doctors, and my fellow chaplains, I witnessed so many instances of loss, of tragedy, of suffering and confusion, but also I witnessed joy, love, faith, and remarkable examples of God active in people’s lives, holding them up by His grace. Examples abounded of true sacrifice, and examples abounded of hopeful life.

The highest example of both sacrifice and life are what Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us. His example to us, being a human example that stretches into the divine, is so profound that it is well past our ability to grasp it completely and finally. This is why we are drawn to continually revisit the accounts of His life given to us by the Evangelists—that by hearing them, by which we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them through their many senses of interpretation, we are drawn deeper into the mystery of Him, which along the way reveals the mystery of ourselves.

“Truly, truly,” Jesus says to us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” This was a teaching, a hard saying, that really weeded out the true disciples from the larger group of Jesus followers. We are told that upon hearing this, many drew back and no longer went about with him. Some of us, even today, might flinch at the image, at both its physicality and its bluntness. Jesus, often winsome and generous in His public ministry, was none the less never above teaching in a direct and even aggressive way. Being poked awake from a cozy, care-free, bourgeois discipleship is a lesson disciples then, and now, constantly need.

And yet the Church, in remembering the words of Jesus, and taking them to heart in prayer in the years and decades after the Ascension of Christ, began to discern within the hard sayings of Jesus—including the teaching about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood—wisdom that echoed profoundly in the Scriptures. We hear an example in our passage from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom, who we learn in the Scriptures was God’s first creation, and who from the beginning of her creation rejoiced daily in God’s activities, invites the simple, meaning those people, like Nathaniel, who are without guile but also yet to some extent naive about life, to into her house: “Come,” she says, “eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” The term “bread” here is a general reference and would include the meat of the beast spoken of as recently slaughtered. And so to connect this to Jesus, the Church saw in His teaching a connection to the long biblical tradition of hospitality—to eat His flesh and drink His blood at least involved an invitation to intimacy with Him.

We see this in the Eucharist, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, an event that itself rings on several levels of meaning and signification. Our nourishment is towards eternal life, and so to eat the consecrated bread is to receive into our souls He that is our life—to receive His sacrifice on the Cross, just as the beast was sacrificed in the house of Wisdom, although Christ’s sacrifice was self-offered once but for all time. And to drink the consecrated wine is to receive Christ’s life, because blood in ancient days was always considered the source of life in animals. And so to drink His blood is to receive that life which is triumphant over death and united to God in heaven. Indeed James and John were correct: they could and did drink from the cup from which Jesus Himself drank, and even pleaded on the night before He died that His Father might take away. If this is all a hard teaching for us, we can trust it was a harder teaching for Jesus Himself to accept, and yet fully accept He did.

Our Collect captures all this when we pray to Almighty God, Who has given His only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life. Let us know that as we celebrate and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life, we are opening ourselves to receive Wisdom, and be received by her. When allow ourselves to participate fully and completely in the Eucharist, we become part of God’s redemptive stream, a river of wisdom, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Kneeling before the heavenly throne, let us be still, and know in the Eucharist is God.

Homily: On Our Lady and the Theology of Woman

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2018.

It is a funny pattern that we humans have whenever a new technology is introduced. New techbomogy is always first understood in the terms of the technology it is replacing. The perfect example is the automobile; when it was introduced, it was spoken of as the “horseless carriage.” Or, as another example, the internet was spoken of as the “information superhighway.” These  are metaphors, yet these give a vivid sense as to what the innovation actually is. The car, yes it is a carriage—but it is a horseless carriage. The internet is for information, but it is not like a library one has to travel to—no, the information is already mobile and on a superhighway-like-thing: it travels to you with the touch of the fingers. In other words, the pattern is that what is being replaced or made obsolete becomes the shell of initial interpretation for what is new.

We see the same thing in the Scriptures. “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus asks His disciples. And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The terms for understanding and interpreting Jesus used widely in Jewish society were not up to date; or, stated differently but in a sense more accurately, God’s revelation in the Incarnation was such a monumental leap forward in the “spiritual technology,” it is perfectly understandable why the terms to interpret Him had not caught up. He was either a prophet, or He was a military revolutionary—both of which were wrong, but those were the categories of serious public figures for first-century Palestine.

All of this—the pattern of interpreting the new in terms of the old—applies to Blessed Mary, the Mother of God—Theotokos­, to use the Greek title ascribed to her officially, meaning God-bearer—but it applies in fascinating ways. Our Lady is properly understood, first and foremost, in terms of what, and who, came before her. As one theologian puts it, “All theology of Mary [her place in the history of salvation, her place within the constellation of Christian worship of Jesus Christ] is fundamentally based upon the Old Testament’s deeply anchored theology of woman” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion, p. 13). This theology is derived from the description in the Sacred Scriptures of the great women of the Old Testament—Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, and Judith. Without these great women, Blessed Mary will not be properly understood.

This biblical theology of woman could be elaborated in long treatises and theological tomes. And yet, we already have that theology captured for us in a remarkably compact presentation. I am referring to Mary’s Magnificat, our Gospel passage, which has been for nearly twenty centuries the Song or Canticle of Mary sung during the evening prayer service by the People of God. (Indeed, in Anglican tradition, it is only during the singing of the Magnificat that incense, the sign of holiness, is burned and brought to the Altar.) Let me bring out of the Magnificat three of the themes that are at the core of the biblical theology of woman:

The first is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This first line is spoken in the first-person—Mary’s soul—yet within the prayer of the Church, Mary articulates the fact that it is primarily in women, not men, where the locus for the revelation of God’s power is found. We see this everywhere in the Old Testament. I recently preached about Judith, and how after she defeating the invading army by cutting off the head of its general through a well-conceived plan of deception, she was spoken of as “the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation!” Similar patterns of God manifesting His will and power—God being magnified in the soul of women—can be seen in the other great figures. The soul of women magnifies the Lord, Mary is saying: more specifically, the faithful women of Israel. And we see this fact in Mark’s Gospel from the first to the last. The first person to imitate Jesus is a woman—Saint Peter’s mother-in-law—and the disciples who listen, learn, and follow Jesus’ teaching the best are women: at His crucifixion, women watch (which was Jesus’ command repeated many times), but the men disperse and are broken, the best example of which, ironically, is the son-in-law of the first to imitate Jesus, that is, Saint Peter. Furthermore, to learn how to be apostles, the Apostles looked to women: to Saint Mary Magdalene, called the apostle to the Apostles because of the resurrection message she brought to them, and to Blessed Mary during the ten days they were gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension and before the Day of Pentecost, when we can reasonably and prayerfully assume that Our Lady shared with the Apostles the wonderful stories of the Annunciation, the Presentation, the Finding of Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, and perhaps domestic miracles likely He performed within the confines of family life with Saint Mary and Saint Joseph. It was these stories that further empowered the Apostles to bust out with their proclamation upon the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

The second: “He has exalted those of low degree.” The significance of this cannot be over-stated. God bends down to the humble, down to the powerless, bends to the rejected. This is the Gospel proclamation! And yet, this was particularly significant in Mary’s day, because in the ancient world, the unmarried and childless were inferior and often excluded from the worshiping community. Infertility was a seen as a curse, and possibly reflective of sin committed. But to Sarah in her old age was given Isaac, to Rachel Joseph, to Hannah Samuel. Their infertility was reversed: the infertile one ultimately turns out to be the truly blessed (ibid., p. 18). In other words, the ability of women to participate not peripherally but as central characters in the divine action had nothing to do with biology. This participation, which is motherhood—true religious motherhood—is not about body parts, but it is about faith, humility, fidelity to God. And as the Church has from its beginning seen Mary as representative of the Church, we are ever taught by her, Our Lady, who in herself summarizes and incorporates into her being the meaning and significance of all of the great women before her: that God acts through His Church only when we are of low degree: humble, poor, patient, yet striving for complete fidelity to God, firm in our faith despite whatever place in society we might have.

Finally, let us ever-remember and cherish these words: “All generations will call me blessed.” Mary’s place in the Church must always be secure, therefore all she represents is likewise secure, in the central treasuries of our faith. And note how this is a direct commission to the Church: all generations will call me blessed—not “might,” or “could,” or “if one happens to have that piety,” or “if one is a Roman Catholic,”—no, no, no. All generations (she might have added, “despite denominational differences”) will call her blessed—meaning, veneration of Mary is not optional but demanded, if we are to rightly worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Rejoicing in Mary, rejoicing in the central importance of women as the anchor or ark of the new Covenant, means we rejoice fully in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Homily: “On the Transfiguration and Falling in Love with Jesus

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018.

We have asked in our Collect that God, wonderfully transfigured in raiment white and glistening, grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in His beauty. It is a Collect that exemplifies the observation, that Collects concentrate an extraordinary amount of theology into a small devotional package, a package that consolidates the biblical revelation into prayer. This is a prayer that by faith we might see the beauty of God. This is beauty at a greater depth and significance that the physical aspects of Jesus. It is this depth of beauty that Saint Mary Magdalene surely perceived Our Lord when she sat at His feet and when she anointed Him with her oil of faith. Is this not why in our lives we choose to be Christians amid other possibilities—for those moments through our worship, our prayer, our service, Christ makes His beautiful Face apparent to us, a Face that turns darkness to light, and sorrow to joy?

It seems to be a pattern for two persons who fall in love that at some point during the courtship each sees in the other more than the eye can see. The beauty of the person takes on a deeper tone of radiance and of presence. They become, for each other, an everything. And this perception, both subjective but also very real, imprints on each person, and becomes the baseline for how each sees the other as the adventure of love gives way to the ordinary days of marital relationship. And then after the death of one, the surviving spouse maintains that image imprinted so long ago, and it even heightens to become the dominant way that person is remembered. Any photograph will bring that radiant image back immediately. Or even, just hearing the name spoken aloud.

Let this be how we begin to understand the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is described as yet more, yet let this be our baseline. Just as Moses was imprinted by the divine radiance of God shown to him on the mountain as he received the commandments of creation, the commandments of relationship with God, Saints Peter, James and John were imprinted with the glory of heaven, the glory of Jesus Himself, whose true nature is also heavenly. In Him, everything is concentrated, everything is focused. His sacred Heart is the heart of Being, of all of reality. He who had performed miracles of healing and feeding, Himself is the true miracle, indeed the primordial miracle. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses of His majesty, and heard the thunder of the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was the true Isaac, Jesus was the true Lamb, Jesus was the true suffering servant. It is no small detail that in each of the Evangelists’ telling, the Transfiguration only comes after Jesus had described both His coming Passion and the conditions of true discipleship, of taking up of the cross.

The three disciples, then, fell in love with Jesus. The Transfiguration is the moment of transition from the disciples’ acquaintance with the human Jesus to their faith in the same Jesus as the Christ.[1] The depth of this transition did not begin to be realized until Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected to the Right Hand of His Father. But it began here—began as they witnessed firsthand the glory of this human man who teaching them that true love is not basking in the radiance of being, but giving one’s life for others. Jesus could have, one might suppose, chosen to be assumed into heaven at this moment of glistening glory. He could have passed from that mountain to His Father’s presence in the sight of the three disciples. But that would not have been the Christ we worship, if He had sent His disciples down to face something that He Himself would not face.[2]

That prayer on the mountain was not a prayer for escape from pain, but a prayer that brought to His mind and soul and will the complete acceptance of all that was hidden in the dark sea of the Passion. As the Church forever wrestles with the Cross, and tries to make the Cross the center of our reality, let us always thank God that through the devastation of the Cross, through its cloud of suffering, through the crown of thorns shines a Face, a Face that is divine. As we enter into the cloud of Christ’s pain we enter into the light of His love.[3]

[1] cf. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, XII.48.xvi-xvii.
[2] cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Tuesday after Trinity VIII.”
[3] Ibid. And cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Wednesday after Trinity VIII.”

Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, 2018.

On this Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, traditionally one of the most beloved Saints in English/Anglican Christianity, three words come to mind. Those three words are peace, strength and courage. Peace, strength and courage are what we ask God in the Collect after Communion to grant us so that we can love and serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart. Jesus teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And that we are to love our neighbor as our self. And so we ask to be sent into the world in peace with strength and courage, knowing that for us, the baptized who have been nourished with the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, God sends His grace because He knows that to love Him and our neighbor, to be agents of heavenly peace in our world, requires divinely given strength and courage.

Peace born of strength and courage describes Judith perfectly. Read more “Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman””

Homily: “On Failure in Mission”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Failure is part of the every day situation of our lives. Every person experiences failure on a regular basis, sometimes every day. There are things we want to do, things we want to accomplish. There are ways we want to act, things we want to say, ways we want to be known and accepted. We feel that we need these things, we might even feel called to them, and have been preparing for them for some time. Our hopes and dreams may have been deeply embedded in these desires, even financial livelihood or personal accomplishment.

And yet, we fail. Read more “Homily: “On Failure in Mission””

Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Our Collect today invites our prayer to a profound truth, despite its wording being rather commonplace, and even cliche. It begins with these words: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” What this reflects is the fact that knowledge and love are all the same—that, for Christians, love itself is understanding (William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, 57.) What we do, our actions, our behavior, our prayer, must, if it is going to be Christian action, Christian behavior, Christian prayer, live out our beliefs. Our words that profess what we believe throughout the Liturgy of the Church, whether in Mass or daily Offices, have to find expression in our bodily actions—concretely, actually, and palpably. For us, taught by Jesus Christ and learning within the fellowship of the Church, knowledge and love are all the same: Love itself is understanding. Read more “Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding””