On Knowing that Our Redeemer Lives

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

“I know my Redeemer lives,” Job proclaims to his interlocutors. Indeed, he is pleading to them. Immediately preceding this passage, Job says, “Have pity of me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me?” Job has become repulsive to his wine, loathsome to his relatives. All his intimate friends abhor him, and those who once loved him have turned against him. Physically he is a shell of himself, for his bones cleave to his skin and to his flesh. He feels alienated from the world, he feels a profound estrangement. He feels lost—and perhaps some of us have experienced something of this deep alienation, estrangement, and lostness.

There are some commentators on the Book of Job—which if you have never read or have not read recently, would make for excellent reading and prayer during Advent—who detect throughout the book a semi-obscured sense of creeping Pride on the part of Job, such that because of his Pride, if indeed he displays it in the story, would be occasion for God’s wrath upon him. But there is far from consensus among interpreters on this point. By my lights, Job is how he was described by God himself: a servant of God, none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil. And so what befalls him is simply a test from God. God allows these difficulties to occur, even invites Satan in the opening sequences of the book to have at it, try to turn Job from me. I do not think you will succeed, but do not believe me, God is saying, see for yourself.

Why does God allow Satan to make life difficult for Job? It is because God trusts Job to be able to handle the burdens and remain faithful to God. And so why does God allow difficulties to come upon us in our life? It is for the same reason: He trusts us that we can handle the burdens, and no matter how onerous and challenging our circumstances, that we are capable of remaining faithful. God, our loving God Almighty, made us in His image and likeness. Because of our tendency toward selfishness portrayed in the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, our active likeness to God—that is our virtuous life of faith, hope, and charity—is disfigured and distorted and without God’s grace is lost to us. But we have never lost God’s image in us. Despite our sinfulness, we are God’s image. The Greek word for image is “icon.” So we are the icon of God.

And because of that, God trusts that we can endure. God trusts that when we fall, we will turn to Him and by His grace stand up again. God believes that, when we find ourselves in such a bad place that we wonder will I ever get out of this? Is this as good as it gets?—that His love for us will overcome our darkness; that His love for us will be a light leading us from the dead end; that His love for us will give us the sense of direction that leads us back to Him.

And why? Because our God is not God of the dead, but of the living, as our Lord Jesus taught the Sadducees. All live to Him, He taught. The impulse to live to God is part of the image He gave us that we can never lose. The spark to hunger and thirst for righteousness—that is, hunger and thirst for right relationship with God—is part of the image He gave us that we can never lose. God, our God, our wonderful God, knows that His love wins, because His love must win—His love is heavenly. His love is mercy. His love is true healing. His love is true nourishment. His love is true peace and unity of the heavenly city where the triune God lives and reigns.

God knows that if we want to live, we will find Him, either in this life or the next life to come. Being His image—being His icon—by His grace we will seek to be reformed back into His likeness: that, we He shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom.

On the Communion of Saints

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints, 2019.

If the Saints were not central to the Christian faith, and if active and living communion with them not obligatory upon all Christians, then we would not, in the baptismal creed of the Church called the “Apostles’ Creed,” proclaim a belief in the Communion of the Saints. But the fact of the matter is that we do proclaim our belief in the Communion of the Saints at our baptism. And the Church professes her belief in the Communion of the Saints every morning in Matins and every evening in Evensong. Any feast day that shows up in the creeds of the Church, or can be found by thinking about the creeds, is by definition a major feast. In the creeds we can easily find Christmas, Holy Week and Easter, Ascension, Christ the King, Pentecost—and we find All Saints.

This should not be surprising, because it was through a communion of Saints that the Church of Jesus Christ was born. One hundred and twenty Saints were gathered in the Upper Room, told to go there by Jesus Christ to await the promise of the Father, the Coming of the Holy Ghost. This was the first Church. Gathered in the Upper Room for nine days were Blessed Mary, whom the Church quickly saw as Mother of the Church, along with other holy women, Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha, Mary the wife of Cleopas, perhaps Peter’s mother-in-law; along of course with the Eleven men singled out by Jesus for a particular task, soon joined by Matthias taking over for Judas. It was from and through this communion of Saints, this gathering of Saints, this fellowship of Saints—all of whom were apostles because “apostle” means someone sent and each Saint in the Upper Room was sent there by Christ to wait for the Holy Ghost, and in a more general sense sent by Christ to proclaim to the nations the Truth that can only be found in Him; it was through this all-star communion of Saints: their daily prayer, their breaking of bread, and their fellowship and teaching, that the Church came to be by God’s action through them. God acts through His Saints. God reveals Himself through His Saints. God brings about that which is new through His Saints. God transforms the world through His Saints.

How does this happen? It happens because the Saints are those people who, in the words of Saint Paul, have the eyes of their hearts enlightened by God. “The eyes of their hearts enlightened”—Paul teaches—so that persons who receive such grace know what is the hope to which God has called us, according to His great might which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His Right Hand in the heavenly places. It starts with the enlightenment of the eyes of the heart. God accomplishes His mission through those heart has enlightened eyes. Not eyes that do not see God in the world, but rather eyes that see God in the world through all things good, beautiful, and true. Not eyes that are impatient with the world, but eyes of patience and humility that look for Him even when He might be hard to find. Not eyes that do nothing but judge others for their sins and inadequacies, but eyes that see Jesus in the face of every person they meet. Not eyes of suspicious, but eyes of love—indeed, enlightened eyes of the heart means the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of His sacred humanity. Eyes of compassion and mercy, eyes that forgive—eyes through which grace in its fullness can be found, because such eyes of the heart is Christ in us.

Brothers and sisters, all of this is biblical Christianity, and this is why churches such as ours who seek to participate in historic, sacramental Christianity usually take a Saint as a patron of the parish—in our case, Saint Paul, and in our sister congregation, all the Saints. And, likewise, this is why God has led our Parish to see Saint Teresa of Calcutta as our patron of our Mission in Tazewell County. She is a powerful example for us of how to embody the Gospel as we encounter others in our day to day lives. “We are to be Christ to the world, and to every person we meet,” she teaches us. “The greatest disease in the West today is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for,” she teaches us. “Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you,” she teaches us. That teaching is the Gospel. Through that teaching, Christ acts. Through that teaching by this Saint, God reveals Himself. Through that teaching God brings about that which is new. And through that teaching by this Saint, who in her words captures what’s fundamental about Christ’s teaching to His Church, through that teaching God transforms the world. Let us be led, brothers and sisters, by this teaching—led in our mission in Tazewell County.

On Being the Tax Collector

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

Let us be clear—to fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that we get are not at all bad things. In this season when we reflect on stewardship and reflect on our giving of ourselves to the Church in terms of our time, our talent, and our treasure, fasting is a good and holy practice, for it supports the deepening of prayer: prayer and fasting together is one of the primary ways we give our time to Church, and tithing (that is to say, giving 10% of our earnings to the Church) is the primary way of offering our treasure to the Church. The Pharisee is held up as the example of what not to do in prayer. That is clear: yet let us not regard necessarily the activities he lists as in and of themselves negative examples as well. For that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So, then, what is the bathwater? Saint Luke makes it clear that the bath water is the tendency we have to trust in ourselves and despise others. That is, to think we are uniquely held in God’s favor—to think “I, I am special”—and at the same time to be judgmental towards others as a result of our personal specialness. The bathwater is this whole attitude. This attitude moves God lower that He is. Rather than exalting God, this attitude exalts the self. Every one, Our Lord says, who exalts himself will be humbled. Every one who exalts himself will have a hard and difficult road. And not only individuals, but perhaps moreso parish communities. Saint Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians demonstrate this unrelentingly. Because the church at Corinith is not living in humble recognition of the Cross, is not living in humble embodiment of the gift of baptism, is not living in humble holy fear of the Sacraments—because they are not being stewards of God’s holy mysteries, the Sacraments including the Sacrament of the Cross—things are not going well for their parish, their parish is not healthy, their parish is not growing. Saint Paul’s whole teaching in the two epistles to the Corinthians can be understood as him trying to teach them to be more like the tax collector, and stop acting like the showy Pharisee.

What does it mean to be more like the tax collector? It begins in the recognition heard in Jeremiah, the words: “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.” Righteousness means right-relationship, and these words from Jeremiah express right relationship. God is in the midst of us. God, the maker of all things, maker of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, is in the midst of us. And the baptismal and eucharistic mystery is that He is in our bodies, and our bodies are in Him. Our baptized bodies are God’s temples. He is closer to us than our own breath. God is always watching us, God knows our thoughts, God knows our desires, God already knows our faults and sins. He sees us when we are sleeping; He knows when we are awake; He knows when we’ve been bad or good. He is in the midst of us.

And we are called by His Name. We are called to Him; He calls us into existence, and desires to call us continually into His love. He, through the work especially of the heavenly host of angels including our guardian angel, guides us, protects us, forms our conscience. Indeed He allows us to screw up; He allows us to fall so that in falling, we are reminded that we must turn to God to properly stand up and walk again in newness of life.

And why? Because He is God, and He is a jealous God Who craves our trust in Him. Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord, we recited. And it is the biblical faith to entirely trust God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind. Because in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, He upholds the universe by his word of power. And by His word only do we enjoy His mercy. By His word only are we healed.

On Trusting the Lord and Doing Good

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Our Lord’s response to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” tells us these apostles had little or no active faith, at least at this point in the narrative from Saint Luke. They were certainly filled with an active and robust faith after the event of Our Lord’s Pascal Mystery—His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension—so much so that from the first day of the Church, the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost and the nature of Prayer was revealed—one of the dimensions of Christian Prayer from the first was holding steadfastly to the apostles teaching and fellowship, along with breaking bread and daily Office services. So knowing that the apostles were, by the end, so robust in their faith that they offered their lives to Christ, embodying Saint Paul’s teaching of being a living sacrifice—offering their souls and bodies, an example so strong that it entered into our liturgy at the Altar—we can give clear witness and our open, loving hearts to not the end of the story of the apostles’ and their journey into faith, but here in the middle—when their faith was smaller than the small seed of the mustard bush.

How does our Lord respond to this situation? He certainly does not sugar-coat His message—“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed (not even the whole seed, but a portion of it), you could say to this sycamine tree (which is a kind of mulberry bush), ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Quite a teaching! He believes in them, despite their little faith. He knows they are capable of great and wondrous things through His grace, despite their little faith at present. So his teaching is direct, yet filled with love and hope. There is in the teaching a seed of empowerment that would germinate after Pentecost when the apostolic Church remembered these and other teachings of Jesus, and saw them in the full light of the revelation of Christ.

And why, at this moment in the narrative, are they of little faith? We are not told directly, but the strong hint is that they were feeling deflated, and unable to live up to the high calling of following in the example of Jesus, unable to be as forgiving to others as Jesus would have them be. This is because directly preceding our Lesson is the teaching by Jesus that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is to that high calling that the apostles cry out, “Increase our faith!” And who can blame them?

Later in our Lesson Jesus teaches them, in effect the words of our Psalm: they need to put their trust in the Lord and do good—they need to be more humble and be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And while the Christian life that seeks to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways is rich and varied—for Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve; and furthermore Jesus will later teach to these same disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”—nonetheless within this rich and varied life of discipleship, there is a place for being a good soldier. There is a place for simply doing what we are told. There is a place for carrying our the orders of our Mission General, Jesus of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is teaching us that we will know Him in our humility. He is teaching us that we will know Him as we forgive those who trespass against us—indeed that when we forgive the sins of others, we will know forgiveness of our sins. We will know the relief of the removal of separation between ourselves and God’s mercy and peace. It takes faith to forgive trespasses against us. And yet, the more we forgive, the Church teaches us, the more our faith grows.

On Speaking about God Present in Our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2019.

The episode we heard from the prophet Isaiah—”the call of the prophet to prophesy”—is part of the prayer I say silently just before I proclaim the Gospel passage of the day. The prayer is this: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, who didst purge the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a live coal: and of thy gracious mercy, vouchsafe so to purify me, that I may worthily proclaim thy holy Gospel.” Isaiah’s experience was a profound one: he heard two angels singing to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” We sing this truth as well at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer. Just as we are taken to the source and summit of reality in the Eucharist, where the door opens to heaven, Isaiah had a mountaintop experience. And as when we approach the Light of Christ we see our shadows, Isaiah saw his. And he confessed his sins: that he had unclean lips, and therefore had become lost. One of the seraphim brought a live coal to his mouth, and thereby absolved Isaiah of his sin. And being made clean, he was able to respond to God’s call to go into the world and prophesy. “Here am I! Send me,” he said. And we Christians have savored his words for nearly two thousand years: words spoken six hundred years before the Incarnation of Jesus yet describe Jesus is wondrous detail.

On this Trinity Sunday, the final of the traditional eight days of Pentecost (also called the Octave of Pentecost) it is fitting to reflect on what it means to prophecy. It is fitting because being prophetic is something that Saint Peter preached about on the Day of Pentecost, and it is captured in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Quoting from the prophet Joel, from whom we heard last Sunday on the Feast itself, Peter said these words: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Prophesying, then, is something that all will do—all who are caught up in the Spirit’s out-pouring. Prophesying is for everyone. It is not reserved for the few or the spiritually elite. Sons and daughters, young and old, menservants and maidservants—all shall prophesy. It is in fact a kind of command: “shall prophesy,” not “might prophesy.” I want us, then, to ask the immediate question: Are we prophesying in our parish?

This might sound like an odd question to ask, but it is not at all. Or at least, it should not be. The reason I say that is because Saint Paul taught the very same thing to the parish church in Corinith. In the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” So as it was for Saint Peter, it is for Saint Paul: prophesying is for everyone. “But,” you may have in your mind right now, “I thought prophecy has to do with predicting the future, like Isaiah did.” But that is not right. It is true that Isaiah’s words predicted a great deal, but that is not what made what he did an act of prophesying. What made his words prophesying was simply that he, Isaiah, spoke about how God was present in his life. God is present in our lives in unique ways—for Isaiah, to describe God’s presence meant to describe the words God was telling him. We do not all need to be speaking like Isaiah literally to be prophesying. But we do need to imitate Isaiah at the deeper level: to speak to others about how God is present in our lives—that is what it means to prophesy, and that is what Saint Paul was teaching the Corinthian parish to do.

And why is it important to prophesy? For Saint Paul, when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, we are taught and encouraged by their words. Why? Because when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, God becomes present in our lives in the hearing. And as wonderful and nourishing as that it, there is still more for Saint Paul. He taught them that a parish church whose members are comfortable talking about how God is present in their particular lives, such a parish stands the best chance of growing numerically. And he states it plainly: if outsiders or unbelievers enter our church, if they hear the congregation as a whole, as well as individuals, prophesying—speaking genuinely and authentically about how God is present in their lives—the outsiders will be attracted to the community. In Saint Paul’s words, “secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Because nothing in this world is more attractive than the presence of God, and He makes His presence known through the members of His Body—through us.

Brothers and sisters of the Parish of Tazewell Count, let us begin this season of Trinitytide with this petition to our loving and merciful God—that the Holy Ghost, Whose very nature is to guide us into all truth, will continue to teach us how to prophesy—that the Holy Ghost, Who always gives to those faithful to Christ the words to speak, continues to teach us how to speak about how God is present in our lives—how He was present in our distant past, how He was present in our life five years ago, how He was present in our life last week, and yesterday. For outsiders to visit us and come away from the experience by saying “God is really among you” is the highest compliment a parish church can receive. And I am sure I am not alone in saying that I want outsiders to say that about us.

Homily: “On Christ Ascended to the Father”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2019

Our focus throughout the season of Easter has been upon our participation in the resurrection of Christ. We have sought to reflect upon the words of our liturgy—“that He may dwell in us, and we in Him”—so that these words become meaningful words. After all, Saint Paul teaches that we are to understand our selves—our deepest identities, our most real identities—as united with Him in a death like His, that likewise we are united with Him in a resurrection like His. Our identity is a “resurrection identity.” The resurrected and glorious Body of Jesus dwells in us, and we dwell in His Body resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. And because we dwell in Christ, and He is with the Father—we dwell in this very moment with the Father Almighty, the maker of all things, seen and unseen, and have since our baptism. This is the message of our gospel today: “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” The power that made all of creation not only made us, but indeed works through us.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “body” is “soma.” And “soma” in the New Testament, including in the letters of Saint Paul, primarily means “a way of being,” or “a way of existing.” In order to teach the Church—the Church of the men and women apostles as well as the Church of today—about our participation in His Body, Our Lord Jesus progressively revealed the nature of His resurrected Body—that is, the nature of His resurrected “way of being”—over the course of the forty days after Saint Mary Magdalene first recognized Him on Easter morning. Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body is first unrecognizable as compared with his mortal body. His voice is unrecognizable until He speaks our name; His face unseen until He breaks open bread to the two disciples in Emmaus; His abundance is not received until our own efforts to help ourselves are spent. He is not perceived without burning inward desire to see Him, a true need to have Him, and He will not be recognized unless one yearns for peace that passes all understanding.

Over the course of the forty days, He revealed Himself in His resurrected Body—His resurrected “way of being”—quite intentionally and perfectly. Why? It was so that in recognizing His “way of being,” He could be imitated, and being imitated by the Church, He—His Body of love, peace, and redemption—then could be shared with the world. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed” He spoke to Saint Thomas after showing him His wounds. Through our prayer and obedience, Jesus forms us to be able to be His Face in the world—that when the world sees our faces, they see Jesus; all so that the Love Jesus shows us, we then show to others.

Homily: “On Receiving Christ Resurrected”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2019

I have had one occasion when a teacher of mine has become a true friend. In all such occasions, the relationship (if we had much of one at all, and of course sometimes we do not, and that is perfectly fine) never moved beyond teacher and student. With many teachers I have had a cordiality, a certain friendliness. But we, with one exception, did not become true friends. And by “true friend,” I mean that in the traditional sense: friendship not of utility (what you do when you both happen to be in the same place for a stretch of time), not of pleasure (based on shared emotions that come but pass away), but of friendship based on deep love for each other, each seeking to bring out the best in the other. This is a selfless kind of friendship, and yet it is also the kind of friendship where you may go long stretches of time between conversations, years even, and yet the moment you both talk again, the bond between the two immediately returns, along with the selflessness.

The what is called the “farewell discourse” of Jesus captured by Saint John in chapters fourteen through seventeen of his Gospel, from which our gospel passage today is extracted, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This is not friendship of utility or pleasure. His friendship to us is of the most profound kind, so profound as to pass our understanding and exceed our desire. He always has our best in mind, He always sees us for our best selves. He sees us even for our heavenly selves; for although we have not yet passed through our chronological existence of time and space, Jesus sees us beyond our time and space selves. And like a true friend would do and give anything to help his or her true friend in time of need, Jesus would do anything to help us toward salvation—and indeed He has, by taking our flesh and giving of Himself on the Cross, to redeem humanity and justify us to be able to receive forgiveness as much as our repentant selves might need to be forgiven.

The recognition of the presence of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified Body was a progressive recognition. Although Jesus is always presence, and we can go nowhere to escape the presence and eyes of God, the purpose of His life and death was not to make Himself present (which He always was, is, and will be) but available—that is, able to be recognized. And being recognized, thereby received. An analogy with the natural world might be helpful: trees and plants need nitrogen in the soil. But pouring liquid nitrogen near a bush will do nothing for its growth, despite the necessity of nitrogen. Nitrogen given to the bush, if it is going to be helpful, is presented in a way that it can be received, through the fertilizer formula. God’s presence is everywhere and in all places, but like a bush, to receive His presence through recognizing it demands careful preparation on the part of the Gardener.

Jesus is our Gardener, as He was to Mary Magdalene, and His life and death on the Cross is the preparation for His friends to be able to receive Him after His death. For three years, He taught them so that they could recognize the invisible: recognize His words; recognize His gestures; recognize the marks of His presence and the great works of His holy Being. The prophet Joel speaks of recognizing God through the wilderness being green, the tree bearing fruit, the fig tree and vine giving full yield—through the early and late rain, and through receiving back what is lost. Our first hymn today, a favorite of many of us, especially us of British descent, speaks of recognizing Him through the little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. He gave us eyes to see them for the greatness of God’s actions through their very being, their existence.

This is the sacramental principle of creation. The lush wilderness, the yielding trees, the rains, the flowers and birds, and all the rest of God’s creatures—because He made them and all things are His creatures. They are visible signs of grace perceived inwardly and spiritually—that is to say, received inwardly and spiritually. And the same holds for the voice that calls our name, the stranger who meets us to discuss God, the woundedness people allow us to see, and the miraculous abundance, whether 153 fish or the birth of a child, we enjoy not of ourselves but from a mysterious source, which of course is God.

The recognition of the early Church in the days after the mighty Resurrection but before the glorious Ascension were days when the Church was gaining new eyes—the eyes of faith—eyes that allowed them to perceive Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body, and begin to be able to see Him—that is perceive Him with the eyes of faith—everywhere and in all places. That fact came firmly with the Ascension—the purpose of the Ascension is to teach His presence is no longer strictly local, but in some sense both local and universal at the same time. But let us see that for Him to dwell in us, and we in Him takes eyes of faith, and a heart that keeps the words of Christ, pondering them like Mary pondered. Let us see that to become not present—because He is always present—but recognizable was the task Jesus had in the days after His resurrection. And let us see as well that Our Lord accomplished His task, because the early Church, first confused and perplexed, because full of joy, became full of grace, because like Mary always was, and did so only through the grace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Easter Day, 2019

It was the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who went into the tomb. The stone was rolled away, but they did not find the body. What they found was new and utterly unfamiliar. And they were perplexed. And why wouldn’t they be? The mystery of their Master, their and our loving Lord Jesus Christ, took yet another turn. Jesus had lived and taught in such mystery—always confronting His followers with their own shadows, yet confronting always with love and presence that to not follow Him felt empty and wrong. It was the women who treasured and kept and abided in the words of Jesus—the women before the men for the most part.

They had been taught, it seems, by Our Lord’s most blessed and chaste Mother: Mary, who was named by the angel full of grace. She too was perplexed when she was confronted by God’s truth: that He had made her the fullness of grace, and that she, who had known no man, would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and would call His name Jesus—He who would reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of Whose kingdom there shall be no end—that she would be the Mother of Son of God. At hearing this she was greatly troubled, we are told by Saint Luke. She too had entered into the new and utterly unfamiliar, a mystery of the same order as the cave on Easter Sunday morning.

Since then the Church has been imprinted with this pattern which we have learned from God: when we are confronted by His presence, He very well might manifest Himself in the new and utterly unfamiliar. In some sense, this should be how we expect God to come to us—expecting, it seems, the unexpected, but also expecting to be perplexed, even troubled, and to have to grapple with something we feel ill-equipped to handle.

What we should never be is scared; because we are always in God’s hand, and He is ever-watching over His flock like the Good Shepherd. Our job is to be faithful as God works the newness of His creation through His Son and through us. Our job is to be faithful: faithful in prayer and worship, in giving of ourselves to God and His Church, in giving of ourselves to others, for God lives in all those who are made in His image—and all people are made in His image, and so we are to give ourselves to whomever God calls us to serve, and do so with the joyful action of love.

God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son—that in giving Him to us on the Cross, we might be taught what true humility looks like: for our loving Lord Jesus is for all times the sacrament of humility, even so in the way we receive Him today in the most ordinary form of bread and wine: ordinary, simple, accessible: so humble as to be vulnerable, for we so easily forget that He is always with us in the Tabernacle. He became so vulnerable in His humility that He allows Himself to be forgotten in the Tabernacle, where He rests all but two days of the year.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue to remember Him as He rests in perfect peace in our Tabernacle, consecrating this space as sacred, heavenly—everywhere there is a Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, there is the holy land, there is the new Jerusalem. Remembering our Lord allows us to be formed by Him. This was the first teaching given to the women early on that first Easter Sunday morning: remember. Remember the words of Jesus, remember what He told you, remember—in other words, keep all the words of Our Lord in our heart, treasuring them, pondering them, like  Blessed Mary taught the early Church to do.

Brothers and sisters, it is a blessed Easter! Our Lord—truth Himself, truth incarnate—has overcome the sharpness of death, and has did open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He opened the tomb not so that He could get out, but so that we might enter in: entering in by faith in Him, abiding in His words, that we might dwell in Him, and He in us. And abiding in us, fill us with hope, with peace, and with direction. He told the women to proclaim the Resurrection to the men. Let us be so emboldened to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our loving actions of accompanying the lonely—that the joy of Christ may be in their hearts. Amen.

On Stations of the Cross in our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, 2019

We have entered today into a contemplation of the mighty acts of God whereby our salvation comes: an experience that we will spend the next 68 days reflecting upon—the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Our Lord’s Passover from life to death, from death to resurrection, from resurrection to ascension, from ascension to the coming of His Holy Ghost, and from the Coming of the Holy Ghost finally to the Eucharist, the primary means of His presence among us today. The portion of the liturgical calendar over those 68 days is today, Palm Sunday, through the feast of Corpus Christi, always on a Thursday, this year on June 20. This is the mystery of God, and within His mystery—a mystery that is transcendent of time and space, transcendent of our categories of thought, transcendent as once for all time, a mystery that being transcendent of time and space, has no beginning or end, but is happening right now and in all moments—all moments of reality have within them the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecostal and eucharistic truth of Christ—all of Christian reality being made sacramental by God’s actions—within this mystery of God is the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of prayer, and the mystery of our spiritual lives.

When we proclaimed at the beginning of our liturgy, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we joined the angels—for this is always their song proclaimed to God as the thousands and ten thousands of them are gathered around the heavenly throne. “Holy, holy, holy,” the angels sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Our liturgy indeed is a divine liturgy of the angels.

And it all begins with Jesus, riding on a colt. It begins with the King of all creation—Who was King of all creation at all moments in His life, the King walking among His creatures, the Light through Whom all creatures are made, the Light among the darkness, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not—the King riding not on a magnificent horse-drawn chariot bedazzled and bespeckled with gems and jewels befitting a secular king, but riding in His humility. He enters in humility into the City that had been the center of His human existence from the beginning, because to Jerusalem His parents brought Him every year at the Passover; He memorably stayed back one year when He was twelve, to teach us all that the sacred house of prayer—for Him, the Temple; for us the Parish church—is where the truth of the Father is made known to us through His Son.

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He taught Mary and Joseph, and through them, us. The mystery of this house, which is the mystery of the Church, is one in which we ask how we are a part of this house, indeed a member of this house, for as baptized people, we are members of His Body, the Church. And as Jesus entered as a horse, so too the beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was brought to the inn on a horse—the wounds of the beaten man were physical and of the flesh: the wounds of Christ spiritual and of the soul, and soon to be physicaland of the flesh, as we. He knew He was entering into His death, by His Father’s will.

Saint Paul teaches us to have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This mystery—which is all fact—this mystery we are always to have in mind among ourselves; when Saint Paul exhorts the parish at Corinth to imitate him in being stewards of the mysteries of God, the Apostle exhorts us as well. Our identity together is not through friendship, kinship, shared hobbies, life pursuits or interest in sports teams. Our identity together is entirely rooted in this man Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross—Who in utter humility reveals transcendent righteousness and our salvation.

Throughout Lent we have prayed the Stations of the Cross at both of our congregations, and many of us in our own homes. At each station Our Lord becomes poorer and poorer, debased and deformed at each station so that by the end, He is unrecognizable. And when Saint Mary Magdalene meets Him at the empty tomb, His unrecognizability is taken yet further: He looks not like Himself but like a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walk the whole way there not recognizing Jesus with them. Our Lord chose for His human likeness to be deformed and removed so that He could be found again after His resurrection—found in many ways, but especially so that He could be found in the poor, the abandoned, the suffering—found in people today who are suffering in loneliness, the worst human disease.

We made our Stations of the Cross, the fourteen of them around our church, not so that when we reach the fourteenth we would stop, but so that we would continue to make our stations of the cross in our lives. There are men and women and children in our county who today are suffering, and in their suffering, Jesus lives His passion. Each lonely person is a Station of the Cross, are we there? And people when they fall, because they stumble in their troubles, that is a station of the Cross—are we there, to help them pick up their cross as Simon of Cyrene was there? And the lonely people we see in our neighborhood—will we be the those who look and do not see? Let us look and see.

And as we make our Stations of the Cross, as Jesus taught His disciples they are to do—to love the least of His brethren—let us always have the joy we share at Jesus entering into Jerusalem—hosanna in the highest. All glory, laud and honor—this is our joy, for the joy that empowers of loving of the lonely is Jesus, and all we do, we do for Him. Because He did everything for us.