On the Angelic Life of Prayer

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021 (Fr Dallman’s last homily)

What contrast we see in our two Lessons today. And it is a contrast between the two homelands of Jesus. In Saint Mark’s account of the Gospel, we have an image of Jesus returning to Nazareth, His homeland in terms of His humanity, born of Blessed Mary and guarded by Saint Joseph. And while His home itself was full of grace, meaning the Holy Family in their domesticity, the homeland of Jesus now, His having returned after His Baptism with His public ministry, shocks Him. Nazareth we learn has little to no active faith in God: “They took offense at Him,” Mark tells us. And although they were astonished at His teaching, Mark adds “He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His Hands upon a few sick people and healed them.” The sick had faith, but no one else. The rest were not listening with faith, but listening with eyebrows raised, and maybe a number of them were dozing off in boredom that results from lack of faith. When we are not full of the Holy Spirit, we instead can become full of unholy slumber (the slumber of no faith being what Paul means by being dead).

The contrast between this scene and the scene described by Saint John in Revelation chapter 4 is could not be more stark. Around Jesus in Nazareth are the spiritually dead, but around the throne of the Lamb are not merely the spiritually alive but indeed the spiritually illumined: the spiritually enflamed. It is an image of angels worshipping at the throne of God in heaven. These are not dead creatures as are in Nazareth, but “living creatures” in John’s description: living creatures giving glory and honor and thanks to Him Who is seated on the Throne, Him Who lives for ever and ever. And we know Who this is, going all the way back to the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that the Child she had conceived in her heart before she had conceived Him in her womb would be called Jesus, and that “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” It is this Kingdom over which Jesus reigns on the throne that John described. Not a community dead like that of Nazareth, but so illumined and alive so as to be able to be seen in prayer by John. The truly disciplined in prayer—daily, sustained, focused, singularly attentive, humble and open hearted—are already participating in the heavenly community through their disciplined prayer; and so while perceiving the heavenly reality directly in this life is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to very few, it is a gift given to those in the Church, especially those, like Saint John, who are likewise given the gift of description, that others through him might be able to taste it.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I present today this contrast between the two communities around Jesus—the spiritually dead Nazareth, the spiritually enflamed around the heavenly throne—in as stark terms as possible for a reason. For these two images, these two icons, illustrate in a helpfully black and white way the choice all Christians are given from the moment of our Baptism in the regenerating waters of the font: do we want to live in Nazareth, or do we want to live in heaven? Being Christian is not saying we believe in the Creed, but living like we believe in the Creed. At Pentecost cost, responding to the question “What shall we do?” Saint Peter told the community to be baptized and then start living in a certain way, and that way was, and is, the way of prayer that began in the Upper Room after the Ascension of Jesus. Belief is important, but how we live is far more important. In Nazareth when Jesus came to give spiritual direction, He found (for the most part) a way of life based on skepticism, people who came to see a performance, not be healed. They are not interested in turning themselves from the crooked generation of the wider world, but being that crooked generation, that wants magic tricks, and not to be taught humility, not to be taught that strength only comes through weakness (which is the mystery of the Cross). And it is this way of life, the Nazareth way, that leads to parishes dying, and parishes closing. Parishes close because enough people stop praying.

As Christians, do we want to live like the Nazarenes? Or do we want to live like the angels? And how do the angels live in heaven? They are in constant prayer. They never cease to sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And they cast their crowns before the throne—meaning, they give up themselves as living sacrifice in pure humility—and sing “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou didst create all things, and by Thy Will they existed and were created.” Now we cannot live like angels in most ways, nor are we supposed to. But we can live angelically in one way: we can live prayerfully, we can live in and through our prayer. And the way to do so is to make Mary’s words our own: Be it unto me according to Thy Word, every day. The way to do so is to make the words of the Tax Collector our own: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. The way to do so is to imitate the Apostle Paul and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. And the way to do so is to, without fail, attend with repentance and faith regularly and without fail the services in the local parish. The Altar here, the Altar at All Saints’ is the same Altar around which the angels gathered in John’s Vision. The same song the Angels sing in John’s vision is the same song they sing around this altar. Which is why, at every Mass, we say: “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name, evermore praising Thee, and say: “Holy, holy, holy.”

Brothers and sisters, the secret both to spiritual health Christian individuals and in spiritual health in Christian parishes is really this simple: imitate not the skeptical Nazarenes; rather, imitate the Blessed Mary, the Tax Collector, the Apostle Paul: imitate the Angels – live angelically – always in our life seeking, and trying, to pray constantly.

On Blessed Mary as an Image of Hope

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of S. Mary the Virgin, 2021

Saint John calls the event of Jesus turning water into wine as the first of the signs of Jesus. And so in the Johannine account of the Gospel, Mary plays a central role from the beginning. John wrote his Gospel account presuming the knowledge on the part of the Christian community of his day of the other three Gospel accounts, as well as  many if not most of the New Testament Epistles by Paul, Peter, and others. In Saint John’s account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the whole of the good news Who is Jesus, Mary plays a central role. Not only from the beginning, in this the first of His signs, but also at the end, the climax of the Gospel which is the Cross. For it was there, as Mary kept her station of the Cross, while her Son, her Lord, Our Lord was dying, she heard the Son of God’s final teaching: “Woman, behold your Son,” and then to the beloved disciple John who here represents all of the Church, she heard Him say, “Behold your mother.” The scriptural basis for the title given to Mary as Mother of the Church is right here, at the Cross, in this word of Jesus: “Behold your mother.”

The instruction to John is the instruction to the whole Church, is the instruction therefore to us gathered at the foot of the Cross of Christ. We, too, are to behold our Mother. What happens when we behold our Mother, when we behold Mary as our Mother? The dying words of Jesus surely are to be remembered as among His most powerful, most important, most heavenly of instructions. Behold your mother, He instructs all people who are to be His followers. What happens when we follow Our Lord’s command as He would have us do: follow with humility, without guile, without irony, but with our whole heart, as best as we are able? What happens when we obey Jesus and behold Mary as our Mother?

What happens when people do so is true Christian religion. What happens when people behold Mary as our Mother is the true Church of Jesus Christ. That is what happened in history, as recorded in the New Testament: the disciples obeyed Jesus and beheld Mary as their Mother, as Mother of the Church; she was with them at the Ascension of Jesus; she was with them in the Upper Room over the nine days of prayer together; and she was with them as the promise of the Father was fulfilled, and they received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Just as the Holy Spirit came to Mary through the angel Gabriel by which she conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb, the Holy Spirit came to the Upper Room Church with Mary present as their Mother and they we finally able to imitate her: after witnessing the whole of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, they were able to conceive Jesus in their hearts so that they could proclaim Him publicly as Resurrected, as exalted at the Right Hand of God, as Christ the anointed true Messiah – the words of Peter at Pentecost preached to the people of Jerusalem.

These were words Mary had been treasuring in her own heart for over thirty years. The disciples had to experience their annunciation (which was the nine days in the Upper Room, overflowing into Pentecost) before they could begin to grapple with the staggering truth of Jesus, which Mary had been grappling with since her annunciation, when she heard Gabriel’s message: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And after asking “How shall this be?” she learned: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” All the things the Upper Room Church could finally begin to understand and live with as the basis of their prayer life. And the basis of our prayer life.

Brothers and sisters, behold Mary as our Mother means hope. She embodied hope for the Upper Room Church, because they understood that for thirty or so years all she had was hope in her Son. Mary means hope, and beholding her as our Mother means beholding the image, the icon, of hope in Christ. And this is a particularly necessary thing for us, as we all are embarking upon a new adventure with great uncertainty: you all, soon to be in prayer for your next Priest; and me and my family, soon to be with an entirely new group of parishioners and living in the shark-bite capital of the world (not the state, not the country, but the world). Let us throughout these new adventures do as Christians from the beginning have always done: behold in Mary our Mother. In her lives the hope of the miracles of love performed by her Son, starting with the first of His signs, which Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory; and – His disciples believed in Him. In her lives the hope the Christians have treasured through the tough times faced through the centuries of the Church. And in her lives the hope that our two congregations in the Parish of Tazewell County need to get through the uncertainties of the coming months before your next priest starts, and do so not full of despair and worry, but instead, like Mary, full of grace.

On Being Led by the Spirit of God

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021

“All who are led by God are sons of God,” Paul writes in Romans 8:14. This incredible teaching from the Apostle has been the theme, or point of departure, since Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. It has been the theme because Paul’s teaching, as it so often does, goes to the heart of being a Christian person, goes to the heart of being a follower of Jesus Christ. It is being led by God that marks Christian life; being led by God is one of the key characteristics of being a Christian. The Gospel is that this life is possible—it is not a dream, nor a fanciful idea—this life is possible, only through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and only because of it, we are able to be led by God, and thereby in Paul’s teaching be sons of God.

This is at the heart of being a Christian because if we are not led by God, what are we led by? In absence of our following of God’s leading, we are led by that which is not of God. If we are not led by God, all sorts of false, god-like idols fill in the vacuum. If we are not led by God, what are we led by? Ourselves; or selfish desires; temptations that come from the passing whims of the world. The Church in general refers to these false things as being of the Devil. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. We are either led by all that, or we are led by God. If we are not led by God, then the world rulers of this present darkness have us as slaves. It is stark, even difficult language; but it is the clear witness of the Church both East and West.

It is because of this that the people who heard our Lord Jesus teach in the synagogue were astonished and full of unbelief. They were not leading lives led by God, and so instead of hearing the Father proclaimed through Jesus, they regarded Jesus in strictly worldly terms, and entirely missed His divine message. According to the terms of the world, the Gospel is an offense. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To the world under the slavery of devilish temptations, self-centeredness, and the idols of the world’s savory whims, the Word of the Cross—the Gospel—is folly; it makes no sense; it is, at best, a nice-sounding mythology; at best, to the world, a story that helps unintelligent people live (supposedly) decent lives. That is what people perishing say about the Christian faith; they have said it from the beginning of the Church, they say it today, and it will be said until the End of Days.

But, Paul adds, to us who are being saved the Cross is the power of God. And it is that phrase “being saved” where we might substitute in “being led by the Spirit of God.” To be led by the Spirit of God is to participate in God’s salvation. To us who are being led by the Spirit of God, the Cross is the power of God. This is why we must always face the Cross in our lives as Christians—this is why we must always face the Cross in worship, must always face the Cross in our prayer, must always face the Cross in our hearts. Because if we are not facing the Cross in our hearts, our hearts find something else to face—something of the world, something of our selfish desires, something of idol and illusion.

In facing the Cross, we bring ourselves face to face with Jesus in His power. Jesus shows us what it means to be God in the ways He dies on the Cross as a man. He says to Paul, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Living a life led by the Spirit of God continually bring this image, this icon, of Christ’s power made perfect in weakness on the Cross to our eyes, to our mind, to our heart, and to our prayer. Our hearts are always restless until they rest in Christ—rest in Him, in awe and wonder and thanksgiving resting in His perfect sacrifice for us.

On Being Controlled by Christ’s Love

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021

Saint Paul teaches us today that the love of Christ controls us. And goes on to add: because we are convinced that one has died for all. In teaching us this today, Saint Paul gives us more food for our reflection on what it means to be led by the Spirit of God, our theme for the season after Pentecost and Trinity. The love of Christ controls us—or, put another way, Christ’s love is our control. Christ’s love is our norm—is the norm. Christ’s love is the measuring stick by which we measure all of reality, and all of who are are, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Christ’s love is the pattern of being, the model of existence. The love of Christ—Christ’s love, His outpouring of Himself, His Sacrifice—controls us.

And His love controls us because we are convinced that one has died for all. It is not only that we are convinced that Christ died; we are even more convinced that Christ died for all. He gave Himself up for all, for the sins of all, giving Himself up for all persons, on behalf of all persons. On the Cross Jesus held all the sins of humanity on His holy shoulder. On the Cross Jesus held all the sins of humanity in His most holy Heart. By taking on Himself all our sins, He took upon Himself all separation that is between us and God, for sin means separation, and because of sin our relationship with God is distorted. On the Cross and through the Cross, through His Passion, Crucifixion, and Death, Jesus held in His most Holy Heart our relationship with God, distorted by sin, and as He offered Himself up to the Father on our behalf, He offered up for us our relationship with God.

And because Jesus is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world, God accepted Christ’s offering on our behalf, His vicarious offering of our relationship with God was accepted by God through Christ; and in accepting the offering of the Son, God took our distorted relationship with God, transformed it, and gave it back to us, restored, transformed and made permanently holy through Christ. Just as God take the bread offered at the Altar into Himself, transforms it into His Son, and gives it back to us transformed and holy, God takes our sinful relationship with Him into Himself through Jesus, and gives it back to us transformed—that we might live no longer for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and was raised.

Brothers and sisters, when we live with this fact—the fact of Christ’s offering of Himself for us—this fact becomes what controls our life; this fact becomes that which our life is ordered around. The love of Christ controls us, which is another way of saying that we have in remembrance Christ’s blessed Passion and precious Death; His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. When we live within the fact of Christ’s love for us—an unfathomable love for us, having given His life for us—we are truly in Christ, and we are a new creation. Living with and within the great mystery of this all—living with it, recognizing it, reflecting upon it, making it a fundamental part of our daily thoughts: as we allow the love of Christ to control us, we become by grace a new creation, because in Christ we live and move and have our being.

On Life in the Spirit: The Gift of the Father Through Christ

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after Trinity, 2021

Entering today into the Sundays after Pentecost and Trinity, the overall emphasis in the long season where the liturgical color is green is living the Christian life. From Advent through Pentecost and Trinity, the emphasis is on Christ’s Incarnation—and that Incarnation is the whole of His becoming Man for our salvation, the whole of His becoming Man spans the whole narrative of Him in the world, that is, spans from the Annunciation to His Nativity, through the years growing up, into His Baptism which initiates the period in which He called disciples to Him, an emerging parish of 120 disciples with a focused and rigorous leading of Twelve who were to celebrate and teach His Sacraments—and His Incarnation continuing on through His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension, finally reaching its fruition at Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

The Incarnation of Jesus properly understood begins in the Annunciation to Mary and reaches fruition at Pentecost—Pentecost being the true birth of His Body from the womb of the Upper Room gone boom, and we being His Body are born in Pentecost, and that is the Day of the Lord in which the Church lives until the Second Coming. To regard the Paschal Mystery as merely part of history is a grave misunderstanding, even a heresy. The Day of the Lord knows no calendar time, for it is already nearly two thousand years long. The Day of the Lord which began on Pentecost, it is better to say, in fact includes within it all calendar time, all time as reflected by clocks and watches, includes within it all times and seasons, all revolutions of the sun, moon, and stars.

This is why it is called the Paschal Mystery. It is all incomprehensible. Yet “mystery” in the Church means both incomprehensibility and participation; the Mystery of Christ is always a participation in the incomprehensibility, and a participation in Him that demands humility, reveals hope to us, renews our inner nature, transforms our mind, illumines our hearts, increases love, and invites us to always be listening. These are characteristics of Christian life, and they elaborate upon what Saint Paul directs us in Rom 8:14—to be led by the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—Who leads us into the Mystery of Christ: leads us deeper and deeper as our prayer life grows and as humility pervades our entire being. It is the Spirit of God Who demands humility, reveals hope to us; it is the Spirit of God Who renews our inner nature and transforms our mind; it is the Spirit of God who illumines our hearts, increases love, and invites us to always be listening. It is by the Spirit of God that we throw off living according to the flesh (selfishness, self-centeredness) and learn how to see the world and ourselves with the eyes of spirit and to live with the gift Christ gives us.

The gift Christ gives us, His Body, ultimately is the Father. We are able by Christ to receive the Father. Through the Sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confession, and the rest), and through our meditation with and through Scripture; through our corporate life ordered by the Liturgy, and through our personal devotion rooted in the Jesus Prayer of the Heart and corporal and spiritual acts of mercy toward others—through all of that, we more and more receive the gift of Christ, as revealed by the Holy Spirit: and that we behold all the attributes of the Father in the Son. This is why immediately following the Gospel lesson and the homily, we say together in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Having been taken up in the Mass again as Christ’s Body, and having been blessed as His Body through the transfiguring word of Scripture, we are able to approach the Father (in the power of the Holy Spirit and through Christ), to behold together the Father, Him Who is incomprehensible, the maker of all; yet He Who is made known through the Son, for His dwells in the Son, and the Son dwells in Him. And they dwell in us and abide in us together as we abide in Christ’s Word.

And so all of this begins to outline the tall order which is the real and authentic Christian life. And yet our Lord from the beginning was able to show His disciples that examples already existed; examples who showed how to live the Christian life; that is, how to live one’s life so as to be led by the Holy Spirit. When disciples told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside,” Jesus taught his disciples to imitate His Mother Mary and the close disciples (which is what “brothers” means here). They are owed no special recognition merely because of biology (in the case of Mary) or mere proximity to Jesus. Rather, they are examples because they are following the will of God—they constitute the first emergence of the Communion of Saints—and anyone one who follows the will of God imitates Our Lord’s mother and brothers, and in some sense can be spoken of being like them, or even being them with respect to imitating their humility and obedience to God. And so as imposing as the Christian life may be (and it certainly has never demanded anything less than total conversion of one’s life), the Christian life is never one reserved only for the spiritual elite. It is a life the entrance to which is open to all who desire God, and through that desire, open oneself and one’s heart, choosing of their own free will to listen for His guidance.

On the Coming of the Holy Ghost

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Day of Pentecost, 2021

There is a pious tradition in the Church seems over the last several centuries to have been obscured or forgotten, but does not deserve to have been, it seems to me. That pious tradition is that on the road to Emmaus along with Cleophas walked Saint Luke himself; that it was Cleophas (who in Luke 24 is named) and Luke (who is not named) who were accompanied by a stranger along the route, Who opened to them the Scriptures (the books of Moses, the Psalms, the Prophets) and Who revealed Himself as Jesus as He took bread, blessed bread, broke bread, and gave them bread, and Who then revealed Himself as Jesus. This pious tradition, that Luke was the unnamed companion of Cleophas, was affirmed by no less a voice of Holy Tradition than Pope S. Gregory the Great (known in the East as S. Gregory the Dialogist), Gregory being very responsible for the re-planting of Christianity in the English lands in the sixth and seventh centuries, by sending monks led by Saint Augustine of Canterbury along with giving to Augustine extraordinary pastoral guidance through letters that Gregory wrote which we still have, being as they were preserved by the Venerable S. Bede, the great historian of the early English church.

It makes sense, I think, that Saint Luke was the other disciples on the road to Emmaus, because in his gospel account, Luke wrote so intimately of the whole experience, both along the road and in the house where Christ resurrected celebrated the Eucharist. Either there is something to S. Gregory’s suggestion, or it must have been the case that Luke was a phenomenally talented investigative reporter. Intimate details abound in the entire Emmaus story. This includes the important detail from Luke 24:32: “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” And what this speaks to is the transformative power of Liturgy upon the heart; the transformative power of Christ in the Liturgy (of Word and Sacrament) upon the heart (upon our deepest being, upon our mind, upon our soul).

At Emmaus indeed was a Pentecost moment—we might call it a “micro-Pentecost moment”—for it is only in and by the power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Crucified and Risen perceived and recognized. Micro-Pentecost moments abound in the New Testament writings, and even through all of Scripture. Mary Magdalene, for example, at the empty tomb also experienced a micro-Pentecost moment, when in hearing the supposed gardener speak her name, “Mary,” she perceived and recognized Jesus, only possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room later in that first Easter Day, after the Emmaus experience, Jesus came and stood in the midst of the 11 disciples and said “Peace  be with you.” He showed His Hands and His Side, and then said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit,” truly a micro-Pentecost moment. Certainly we can see the moment for Moses at the Burning Bush in a similar light. And preeminent perhaps of all, at the foot of the Cross as experienced by Blessed Mary and Saint John (and as described in his Gospel account), after Jesus had received the sour wine, He said “It is finished!” and gave up the Spirit—that is, in scriptural language, He handed the Spirit down upon Mary and John, a micro-Pentecost moment of unfathomable significance.

How then do we understand the Day of Pentecost given all these micro-Pentecost experiences? The staggering power of the Coming of the Holy Ghost to the 120 disciples who had prayed with one accord for nine days I think begins to be properly grasped if we take all the micro-Pentecost moments—all deeply soaked in Mystery beyond telling—and just not add them together, but multiply them together. These 120 people—Blessed Mary, the Holy Women including Mary Magdalene, Martha, Cleophas’ wife Mary, along with Peter, John, Mathias and the rest of the Twelve ordained Apostles, undoubtedly Saint Luke and perhaps Saint Mark—these 120 people experienced through their Liturgy in the Upper Room a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

An analogy for us to understand what this “sound from heaven” was like is I think a symphony, a heavenly symphony. And in this symphony all the 120 disciples are accompanied by the patriarchs and prophets, accompanied and lifted up by the angelic choir—all the experiences of the 120 disciples coming together, experiences of Our Lord directly, experiences of our Lord mystically, experiences of our Lord as they now knew Him in Scripture opened by Him—experiences direct, mystical, and scriptural that the 120 disciples shared together in the Upper Room, which became over the nine days the womb of the Church. At Pentecost, the womb of the Upper Room indeed went boom. This Upper Room—so small in comparison to the entirety of creation, yet what took place in it now fills all creation—which is even too small for it. To the Upper Room, which is now every parish church, including ours, the Holy Spirit has come. Why? He has come that all of Christ’s Body, His people—you, me, and all of His Church—may rejoice ever more in His holy comfort being in us.

On Christ’s Presence in the Upper Room

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2021.

We are taught today by Saint John the Evangelist (also known Saint John the Theologian) that God hath given us eternal life. And, he adds, this life is in His Son. This is to what Saint Paul is referring when he spoke of seeing God face to face. This is also what was described in the three synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in the Transfiguration of Jesus: the three disciples on the mountain with Jesus saw Him transfigured, which is a heavenly vision of His true reality and identity (both fully man, and fully God; or put another way, completely within our conditions of time and space, and at the same time completely beyond and outside time and space conditions).

Jesus in Saint John’s gospel account so often spoke of Himself using the phrase “I am”—I am the vine; I am the good shepherd; I am way, the truth and the life; I am the bread of life, and so on; in Scripture God also is recorded to have spoken this way, such as when Moses learned that God’s name is “I am whom I am.” The gift of eternal life through Christ, the goal of which is to behold God face to face, transfigured along with Him, our own being within God’s transfigured self: the vision of God is a participation in His I Am-ness, a participation that begins really and actually in this life through the Sacraments liturgically celebrated, and continues into the next, whereby we are invited to continually grow in God’s love and service. Each eucharist we celebrate is like another rung up the ladder to our goal, the divine reality in community with the triune God. Each Eucharist we receive allows us to become what we receive more and more, that we say with Saint Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” “Yet,” he adds, “not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

This is the mystery that the Upper Room church of 120 souls began to live into as they prayed with one accord in the sacred space Jesus appointed them to after His glorious Ascension. We are told that they prayed together with one accord—meaning, with one heart, with one central purpose, with one liturgy—and we are told that they were full of joy, indeed full of grace, for they had all taken on the heart of Mary, and begun to make her heart their heart, her heart becoming the heart of the Church: for Our Lady, Blessed Mary was with the Church in the Upper Room. And as the other 119 began to share together with Mary in the joyful recognition that Jesus is their light, Jesus is their salvation, and that the I Am-ness of Jesus is with them in the Upper Room, with them wherever two or three are gathered, with them in their heart whenever they call upon His most holy Name for mercy, with them in Holy Communion, with them through Scripture and the preaching of their brother and sister apostles (preeminently in the preaching of the Twelve)—as they began to share together in the joyful knowledge that Jesus is the Way, is the Truth, is the Life, every word of Mary (the bearer of God, or in Greek: the Theotokos) that she shared about her Son, especially the profoundly mysterious moments early in the life (the Annunciation, her Visitation with Elizabeth, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the losing and then finding of Jesus in Temple) had transfiguring power—Christ speaking through Mary—because the disciples in the Upper Room had experienced His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. The key for them to eternal life is the key for us: having in daily remembrance of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and ordering our lives—ordering our every day—around Jesus and His most holy Name, for this is how the Church renders unto Jesus most hearty thanks for the innumerably benefits procured unto us by Him.

This unfathomable recognition, indeed the true Mystery of Christ, is summarized by Our Lord’s words in our Gospel account today: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” For us, Christ showed Himself holy, that we might become holy through Him. All of what He revealed to the world during his three or four decades of human life was, and is, for our sakes—that we might be transformed, our hearts illumined and on fire, with true knowledge of Christ’s presence everywhere and in all places that, as Saint Paul taught the Church in Thessalonica, we may rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.

On Our Passing from Death unto Life

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Easter Day, 2021

All of Eastertide have we heard the teachings of Saint John, known in Tradition both as the Evangelist and also as the Theologian, because his writings are so deeply imbued in theological fragrance. Saint John is teaching us today how we know that we have passed from death unto life. In other words, the blessed Evangelist and Theologian is teaching us how we can realize the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6—that if we have been united together in the likeness of Christ’s death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. John is talking about passing from death into life—that is, participating in the Resurrection of Christ in the here and now, imperfectly but truly, as well as in the life to come after we pass through our transitory life into the next phase in Paradise, where as we grow in our love of Christ our participation is perfected.

John the Theologian says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” It is through loving the brethren, the very fact of our loving them, that we can know that we have passed from death unto life—that is, that we are participating in Christ’s resurrected life. His phrase “loving the brethren” means our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, of course, to love all people as well; we are to know that God dwells in them and is fighting for their hearts as he is fighting for ours; and because of this knowledge, we are to seek and serve Christ in the hearts of all people. Yet firstly, as a matter constitutive of the Christian life, we are to love our Christian brothers and sisters, learning to love them as we love ourselves—indeed, because through baptism, they are ourselves, we are members one of another in Christ; all members of the one Body of which Jesus Christ is the head. A primary task of Christians is just this: learning how to love our fellow Christians as ourselves, and this is the parish reality, for a parish whose members do not love each other certainly will not be able to evangelize to their neighbors around town. Whereas a parish whose members are united together in mutual love of Christ in each other will achieve spiritual power that will overflow into the world and pervade the neighborhood. Indeed the more we practice our love for our fellow Christian, the easier it is to love the world ruled by the Prince of Darkness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ echoes all of this when He teaches us “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Because of His resurrection we have life. Now, we are all given life through our mother’s womb; but “life” in the Christian sense has a more specific meaning. Life in the Christian sense means the light of Christ, as John says in the prologue of his Gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” To be alive is to be lit up by Christ—lit up by His presence, lit up by His mercy, lit up by His nearness, lit up by the Mystery of the Cross, which is at the heart of it all. Because of Christ’s resurrection, our hearts can have the light of Christ, thanks be to God. And we allow this light to shine (not that we make it shine, but that we allow the heavenly light to shine) the more we keep Christ’s commandments, meaning, the more we pray with His words, treasure His words, and abide in and live in His words. The power of the Holy Spirit through His words lights us up, lights up our heart, lights up all our being. We receive Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, by inwardly digesting our daily bread of Scripture, to warm our hearts while we are on our life’s journey, as the two disciples were on their journey to Emmaus.

The key to it all, John tells us, is the commandment of Christ. He says, “We should believe on the Name of Jesus Christ, and love one another.” We have reflected already on the necessity of practicing love upon our fellow Christians (which is what “love the brethren” means). Here also we have also the teaching about the holy Name of Jesus. Again it is an emphasis on the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. The Name of Jesus Christ must be central and fundamental to our daily prayer life. And I mean this in the most practical sense: the Name of Jesus must be constantly on our lips, constantly in our mind, constantly in our hearts. We must say with the Tax Collector, with the blind men given sight by Jesus, with Peter, with Paul, and with the other apostles, we must (the Church teaches) say the holy Name of Jesus, the Name above all other names. The apostle Paul affirms this is the way to receive most directly and most simply the Holy Spirit—to say the holy Name Jesus Christ, for in Paul’s teaching, our praying of His Name only happens through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Praying the holy Name of Jesus is how we receive the Comforter, and how we use His presence to give glory of God. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to use the prayer the Church developed for this very purpose, the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart: Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy upon us. It is through this prayer that we most practically and most simply participate in the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

On Christ Destroying the Works of the Devil

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday after Easter Day, 2021

Hope, real hope, is woven into the Easter greeting we so joyously use in this season; the greeting: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus became man in order to give us this hope, this real hope—as opposed to the false hopes that so often are tempted to cling to, as the children of Israel, even as Moses was on top of the holy mountain communing on their behalf with God and receiving the Ten Commandments gave into their temptation toward false hope and fashioned an idol, the molten calf, around which they danced and sang; the people of God are ever tempted to do this very thing, to turn false hope into an idol. The real hope of Jesus Christ is ever-lasting communion with the triune God—that is, communion within the eternal community of Father, Son, and Spirit. Beholding God face to face, in the words of the Apostle Paul; and seeing Him as He is, because we have become like Him, in the teaching of S. John heard today.

The hope of Easter—the hope given only through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who in dying on the Cross for our sake trampled down death by death—the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation. This is what S. John tells us today: “every person that hath this hope in Jesus purifies himself, even as He (Jesus) is pure.” In Jesus, John also adds, is no sin; yet in us is sin: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, John so memorably teaches. This is why the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation.

And this is why Jesus did what He did in becoming Man. For this purpose, John teaches, the Son of God was manifested: that He might destroy the works of the devil. And as the works of the devil are destroyed in our hearts, we are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. The two tests of growth in the spiritual life are a greater desire and capacity to pray, and, even more practically speaking, committing fewer sins. We commit fewer sins (and, of course, our desire and capacity for prayer increases) as the works of the devil are destroyed in our heart. The human heart is God’s chosen battleground to fight the devil, who is the prince of this world. When we commit sin, John reminds us, we are of the devil—dancing with the devil around the molten calf. But for this purpose the Son of God was manifested—for this purpose He showed forth Himself within the economy of God: His incarnation not only in human flesh, but His incarnation in the consecrated bread and wine, His Precious Body and Blood carry on His incarnation as well—that through His death He might destroy the works of the devil, all of which lead to death (whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual): all this is so His incarnation can reach fruition and completion: in our hearts.

And note how directly Saint John ties together destroying the works of the devil with Christ’s incarnation: again the verse: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” For this purpose (destroying the works of the devil) and not others, at least not primarily. The primary or main purpose of the Incarnation, John is teaching, is to engage the battle happening in our hearts: for God’s chosen battleground to fight the works of the devil is the human heart. It is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can live in comfort; it is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can read and write theology; it is not even, primarily, about being good people. Now, all of these might result. But these are by-products, of Christ’s chosen battle (against the works of the devil) in His chosen battleground (the human heart).

My dear brothers and sisters, our primary concern must be allowing Christ to accomplish His mission in our hearts, and asking daily, hourly, even moment to moment, for His mercy upon us. He is the good Shepherd, we are His sheep, and it is for this very reason that He laid down His life for us: that He might destroy the works of the devil in our heart, and thereby in the choices we make, and thereby in all our  lives. With God nothing is impossible, for the power of His Name makes the Devil quiver in fear.

On Our Hope in Christ’s Resurrection

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Easter Day, 2021

A blessed and glorious Easter to you all. And our Easter together is blessed and glorious because as was said at the beginning of Mass in the Introit: I am risen and am present with thee, Our Lord Jesus says to us, and says to His holy Church. He is risen and present: risen, of course because He is always risen, He is the Eternal Word of God, He through Whom all things are made—yes, He is risen; but He is risen and present with us. He is not risen and gone far away; He is risen and is present to us, present with us. He is with us as we carry our cross and follow Him; He is present with us as we stumble and fall. Through His guiding Hand we are able to stand up and carry on in the struggle, and do so with joy: often quiet joy, through the chances and changes of this life, but joy nonetheless. His very Name means “God with us”: Emmanuel. And He spoke to Moses at the Burning Bush and revealed His Name: “I am,” so did Jesus say to Mary Magdalene at the tomb; so did Jesus say to the disciples along the way to Emmaus: He said to them and to us: “I am.” He says this so we can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

And so it is because He is risen, and it is because He is present with us, that we on the Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, are given access to hope. Through Christ and His glorious Resurrection, true Christian hope is attainable: for Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, awaiting day by the day the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God’s purpose in the world. This Christian understanding of hope is the Easter message, as it flows directly from Our Lord’s Resurrection, from Our Lord’s passage through death, going before us—even trampling down death by death; with His death destroying death itself, destroying its power over us, and taking away any need to fear death: for by His rising to life again in our hearts He has won for us everlasting life, and what can give more hope than that?

Christians, from the first, are a practical people. The Easter message is hope given through Christ’s Resurrection, yet the practical question remains: Yes, but how? And the how of Easter hope is shown in the accounts of the Gospel by the holy evangelists, and from their accounts the question “how?” is seen to have three practical answers: the first is Faith, the second is Scripture, and the third is Sacraments. It is through Faith, Scripture, and the Sacraments that the promise of hope through the Resurrection of Jesus is realized.

Faith we see in the early morning of the first Easter, in the example of Saint Mary Magdalene. It is her faith that brings her to the tomb in the first place—faith in the honor and reverence due to the Body of Jesus, which she thinks is still laying the tomb. And because of her faith, she sees the stone rolled away from the tomb: rolled away not so Jesus can escape, but so that we (with Mary Magdalene) might enter in to the Mystery of Jesus. And in her discovery of the empty tomb, and her hearing angels speak of Christ’s Resurrection, and then meeting the Gardener who after speaking Mary’s name is revealed as Jesus Himself, we see Mary’s faith rewarded with the saving presence of Jesus which transforms Mary’s heart and empowers her apostleship. Faith always comes first.

What feeds our faith is exactly what fed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We see faith in them—imperfect faith that was clouded with misunderstanding of Jesus, but still an active relationship with Jesus and a desire for Him. To remedy their imperfect faith, Christ fed them Himself through the Scriptures, expounding unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. It is the Scripture that feeds us, feeds our faith, and corrects our faith—and this is done through the Liturgy day by day in the Office, Sunday by Sunday and Holy Day by Holy Day in the Mass, and then through our personal devotion to Scripture, carrying into our study of Scripture the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

And, likewise, what feeds our scriptural faith are the Sacraments—specifically Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism—as in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey: the life of a Christian is a continual reflection upon the fact of our Baptism; and Eucharist, because Our Lord became Flesh, became the heavenly bread, that in our receiving of Him in Holy Communion, He might dwell among us, dwelling in our heart, and feeding our heart’s transformation.

Brothers and sisters: the Easter message is Hope, only through Christ’s Resurrection: and this message let us receive through our Faith, which yearns and desires deeper relationship with Jesus; and through the opening of Scripture and breaking of bread, which reveals Him as the Crucified and Risen One, the very Jesus Who draws our hearts to Him, that He might burn within our heart.