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 Blessed Mary: The Soul of Every Christian

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

With the major exception of none other than Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who is the Eternal Word of God, and Whose Name—Jesus—is the Name above all other names, can there be any doubt that the most significant words ever spoken by a human being in the history of human existence have come from the utterance of Our Lady, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin? Most blessed Mary is the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Church, and Our Lady of the Upper Room—her words, although some may say we have so few of them recorded by the Evangelists, drip with greatness, with sanctity, with humility, with wisdom. She herself who is the beginning in time of Our Lord’s works, was brought forth before mountains were settled, before the hills were made, even when Christ prepared the heavens, she was there—blessed Mary, Our Lady, is the soul of every Christian.

Mary is the soul of every Christian because her greatness consists in her absolute selfless devotion to Jesus her Son and Lord. To her cousin Saint Elizabeth at the Visitation, after her greeting (which made John Baptist in utero leap for joy, along with the heart of his mother, Elizabeth), Mary sang: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” She was wholly devoted to the Lord. To the place of poverty she willingly went at Our Lord’s Nativity; to the place of shame she willingly went at our Lord’s Crucifixion and death; and to the place of promise in the Upper Room she willing went as one of the 120 apostles in the first Christian parish for the Coming of the Holy Spirit of her Son and Lord.

Mary is the soul of every Christian because unto a seemingly impossible vocation, she said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.” Facing the incomprehensible, she said Yes, according to thy will; facing the utterly paradoxical, she said Yes, according to thy will; facing the most tremendous mystery (the mystery of reality Himself), she said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” To the opportunity to be given to the Temple at age three, as her parents Anna and Joachim had promised God, she danced (which is a Yes if there ever was a Yes); to the prospect of leaving the Temple (in which she grew up into her teenage years) into marriage to Joseph the carpenter, she said “Yes.” As she heard announced to her by Simeon at Our Lord’s Presentation “And a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,” in wonderment and courage, she said “Yes.” And to the final words of her Son on the Cross, Jesus telling her to behold her Son—words she heard from her Son, words now about her Son in a radically new way—she said “Be it unto me according to thy word,” and behold in the beloved disciple John not a resemblance to her Son, not a mere likeness to her Son, not a kinship to her Son: indeed, in John, Mary behold Jesus, her Son.

Should it surprise us at all that Mary is the soul of every Christian when within her heart from the first was her Son’s Name; within her heart from the first was the Name Jesus, the Name above all names, the Name which is a fortified tower to which the righteous run and are safe; the Name we will walk in for ever and ever; the Name which saves everyone who calls on it? Just as among the first things known to Blessed Joseph about Mary’s Son was His Name, so was it for Mary: the Angel Gabriel giving both Joseph and Mary not merely knowledge of the Son of God, but the true knowledge of Him which is His Name. Can we doubt that Mary would say His most Holy Name all the days following her most holy Annunciation? Can we doubt that each time she said His holy Name Jesus, her heart pondered the Mystery of all Mysteries, and was filled with the awe from which comes true wisdom? Can we doubt the joy she shared with Blessed Joseph, her most chaste spouse, in the Name of their Son—a joy in His Name they knew was not only theirs, but would be the joy of all creation?

Brothers and sisters, let us be strengthened by the Name of Jesus like Mary and Joseph; let us be emboldened by the Name of Jesus like Mary and Joseph; and let us be obedient and humble to the Name of Jesus, like Mary and Joseph—that with them, we might learn to ponder and watch and keep long silences, thinking of the deep, tender things of Jesus.

On Passion Sunday

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

We have come in the cycle of the Liturgy to the penultimate week before Great Easter, and the week prior to Holy Week, both of which encapsulate and make possible our participation in the most central realities of Christian identity. Here I refer to what the Church anciently has called the “Paschal Mystery”—Our Lord Jesus’s Passover from death to life: His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Entombment, Resurrection, and Ascension. Enfolded into the Paschal Mystery is the Last Supper in the Upper Room and Our Lord’s institution of two Sacraments—the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

But today we are in the penultimate week, which since 1979 and the introduction of the new Prayer Book has called “the Fifth Sunday in Lent,” but which traditionally is called (and in many quarters of the western Church still is) “Passion Sunday.” The traditional Lenten pattern is four Sundays (which culminates in Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) then the fifth (today) which is Passion Sunday, and then Holy Week—that’s Lent, which culminates itself with Easter which begins on Saturday in the Great Vigil and continues both into the Sunday as well as the next forty days until the Ascension, which reaches its culmination at the Coming of the Holy Ghost in Pentecost. Passion Sunday itself serves as a pivot point where our focus turns from our identity as a sinner (that is, our identity as people who are always in need of a savior) which is the first Lenten emphasis, to the second Lenten focus which is Our Lord and specifically His Passion.

To say all of this and to think on it all rather takes one’s breath away. These next weeks present to us one profound mystery after another—mystery upon mystery, mystery within mystery. It is in these next weeks that so many of the events, episodes, actions, and teachings of Jesus are encountered that truly help us to understand Paul’s emphasis that God also hath highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a name which is above every name—the holy Name Jesus, a name that means “saviour.”

Preparing us for the coming whirlwind of revelation is the purpose of Passion Sunday, and we see that even in our Collect: that through it all, we ask God that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found. And where must this be but upon Jesus, His Passion, His Cross? Everything of reality and the proper understanding of reality hinges upon our understanding, our interpretation, of Jesus, His Passion, and His Cross. So much so that Our Lord taught that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. It is so marvelous that Our Lord had such compassion upon us that He would present so profound a mystery in such an ordinary and accessible metaphor: for grains of wheat must die before these can be ground into flour to able to become the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. Our Lord constantly taught His disciples that in order for Him to enter into His glory he must first die: but here He shows us that the glory that comes after His death is a glory we receive in our bodies in the Eucharist, a glory that feeds us, emboldens us, and transforms us.

It was for this purpose that He came to the hour of His Passion—that His Name, the holy and unfathomable Name of Jesus would be glorified as the Name above all names. It was for this purpose that He took upon Him our vesture, our flesh—that His Name would be glorified. It was for this purpose that He gave His life and He would be lifted up from the earth on the Cross—that His Name would be glorified among those drawn to Him, that His glory would be made known each and every time His Holy Name is uttered, spoken, and prayed. And it was for this purpose that He suffered—to show the purpose of suffering to His people, the purpose of which is learning obedience: which means for us, learning how to listen to God in times of suffering, learning how to trust God in times of suffering, and learning how to praise God in times of suffering—and learning through our suffering how Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

On S. Joseph, Guardian of the Church’s Divine Nature

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

Saint Joseph is a powerful Saint. He has a powerful intercession on behalf of us to Jesus. Of this there can be no doubt, for after all, it was part of God’s economy of salvation for Joseph to have the vocation of guardian and protector both of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the economy or plan of God’s salvation through His Son Jesus, there are no accidents, but all is of His loving and infinitely wise providence. This is why we sing of Joseph, whose glory fills the Church with praises: Joseph, the blessed and most chaste spouse of Blessed Mary, is called by God to be the best of protectors. And God chosen Joseph for this vocation, knowing of Joseph’s humility, glad spirit, and adoring nature. God never puts on our shoulders more than we can handle; but He also never puts on less. He put this responsibility upon Joseph’s shoulder because God knew Joseph would be able not only to handle the responsibility, but to exercise his responsibility most competently and always giving glory to God. God has given Joseph grace and honour in ways wondrous to the Church from the beginning, and wondrous to us today who venerate him.

In the ancient images of Joseph, such as we have here, Joseph is painted holding the Son of God, the very same Son of Mary, close to himself, as if Jesus sits on Joseph’s left arm. The intimacy between the two is evident in how Joseph holds Jesus with both hands, a symbol of Joseph’s God-given instinct of protection and strength. And notice too how Our Lord Jesus responds in the icon to Joseph, placing not one but two hands on his. The peace between the two is palpable: the peace of Son and father (and let us not be confused: of course the true and only Father of Jesus is He Who is the maker of all things, visible and invisible; thus Joseph, called even by Mary as the father of Jesus, was father not in terms of parentage but by virtue of his fatherly love and care of Jesus and Mary).

Imagine the heart of Joseph, brothers and sisters. Imagine his heart as he beheld Jesus from birth unto however old Jesus was when Joseph’s earthly life ran its course; beholding Jesus Who so trusted Joseph that Our Lord was to Joseph subject, submissive, and obedient. Imagine the heart of Joseph, quietly and inwardly savoring the love between Jesus and His Mother Mary. Imagine, too, the heart of Joseph as he courageously and decisively protected his family against the coming onslaught of Herod, even as they escaped to Egypt; and likewise the heart of Joseph as he protected Mary and Child on not one but two voyages home: to the first home of Bethlehem (home because of Our Lord’s birth) and to the second home in Nazareth. The strength, the resilience, the perseverance, steadiness, the internal fortitude of Joseph—in all ways the ideal father.

And let us also reflect upon the heart of Joseph found his betrothed spouse Mary to be with child of the Holy Ghost. Now, some may say this reflects a moment of weakness and disbelief on the part of Joseph; they therefore suggest Joseph suspected Mary to have known another man, and thus she is to be put away privily, to save her the humiliation of being known as an adulterer. But none of this is so. Notice that Saint Matthew does not say, Mary was found with child; but he says that Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost; meaning, it was made evident to Joseph from the first of the Child’s divine parentage. Joseph’s struggle, then, was not with Mary’s faithfulness. Rather, Joseph’s struggle was about whether this act of God should be private or public.

It was to this discernment that the angel Gabriel again spoke to Joseph in a dream, confirming that the Son of Mary is the Saviour, He shall save His people from their sins. And to Joseph was revealed the Holy Name, as it had been revealed at the Annuncation to Mary: to Joseph, Gabriel declared: “and thou shalt call His Name Jesus.” To Joseph was shared the Name above all other names, the Name unable to be said without the Holy Spirit.

Along with Mary, Joseph is guardian of the Holy Name, and thereby guardian of the Incarnation. Along with Mary, Joseph guards the truth that the Father of Jesus is divine. And because Jesus is divine, His Body the Church is also divine, with divine parentage. Everything, therefore, of the Church is divinely ordered, divinely arranged, divinely organized—the Scriptures, and the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the way they are because the Sacraments are heavenly and divinely arranged: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation; Matrimony, Unction, and Confession; and of course Holy Orders—all extend the ministry of Jesus; all extend Him; and all are arranged and ordered and organized divinely as Jesus Himself is the Son of the Father in heaven. Just as Joseph did not recoil but held firm as the divine plan of God unfolded through Mary, so Joseph reminds us to not recoil but hold firm to the truth that the traditional, catholic, and orthodox validity of the Sacraments is found only when their divine arrangement and ordering is accepted, cherished, celebrated, and protected.

All of this, and unfathomably more, is Joseph’s witness to the Gospel that we venerate today. Joseph indeed is guardian to the unfathomable, his words forever under the seal of confidentiality in Christ, yet his presence immediately available to us as we reflect upon his witness in silence, prayer, and awe.

Blessed Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and guardian of the divine nature of the Church and her Sacraments: pray for us!

On Repentance

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

Our Lenten journey today reaches its halfway point. We have three Sundays in Lent under our belt, and three more to go before we celebrate Holy Easter, and the eternal life made available to us through the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The word that begins our Mass today is “rejoice,” and this is always the word that traditionally begins the Mass on this the Fourth Sunday in Lent, popularly known in the western Church as “Mothering Sunday.” Rejoice, the verse from Isaiah reads, “all ye that have mourned.” And what are we mourning for but for our sins: the sins that we have committed, we mourn for, wishing we would not have committed them. And indeed we mourn that we commit sins at all, and we mourn that we seem unable to not commit sins. This is captured so poignantly by Saint Paul is last week’s Epistle, when he wrote to us saying “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The reality of this hits us like a ton of bricks. Paul’s lament is our lament. And it seems there is little if anything we can do about it.

The reality is there in fact there is only one thing we can do. And that one thing is, we can repent. This is Jesus’s first teaching in Saint Mark’s Gospel account: Our Lord says, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the first teaching of Jesus after His Baptism in the River Jordan is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” All of which is echoed by Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost, on the day when after nine days of liturgical prayer and fellowship the womb of the Upper Room went Boom, and the Holy Spirit pouring forth from the 120 disciples of Jesus Christ, when his first teaching after his Pentecost sermon was “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” There is almost nothing we human beings can do about the muck of our sinful lives. Yet the good news is that the one thing we can do—repentance—is so powerful that by doing so, God’s grace transforms our mind and emboldens our heart.

The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia.” And it means a transformation of the mind, through which greater clarity and insight are obtained. Before repentance means anything else, it means great understanding. When we repent, we turn our selves around, from facing away from Him to facing toward Him. And the Church was her members to be very clear as to what it means to face toward God, and specifically Who is it that we are facing when we repent. When we repent, we turn to Him who, in the words of the Apostle, is rich in mercy. Him Who out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. When we repent, we face Him Who has raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And when we repent, we face Him Who desires more than anything else to show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.

And when we repent, let us always know, and never forget, that it is not towards us that God’s wrath is directed, but rather towards Satan, who ever presents to us the endless temptations which we so struggle to overcome, and often find ourselves giving in to. His wrath at our sins is towards the Devil; His tough love at our sins is towards us. Tough love—because He knows we are fully capable of growth in His Spirit, and fully capable of progress in the life of the Spirit whereby we commit fewer sins and express our life of prayer with more consistency, clarity, and fullness of heart.

After all, as Paul teaches us, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. And what’s more, He gave Himself for us on the Cross, that we might receive Him in the Sacrament and be fed by Him, that our mind might week by week by transformed by the knowledge of Who our Savior is, what He has done for us, and what He always desire to do for us. Let us rejoice as we repent, brothers and sisters, for the Kingdom of heaven truly is within our heart.

On the Publican’s Prayer of the Heart

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

We hear from Saint Paul an invitation to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Here Paul refers to our discipleship, our journey into deeper relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. A part—in fact a very significant part—of our running with perseverance this race is, as he writes just before that, realizing that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses.” Paul here refers to both senses of the term “saints”: with a lowercase “s” meaning all baptized Christians; and the capital-s, which are the martyrs, confessors, and fully sanctified Christians whose witness to the Gospel of Christ is commemorated over the course of the Kalender (which one such feast in one week’s time: the Feast of Saint Mathias the Apostle).

And this is important because the Christian journey—the Christian race, which like any journey or race demands discipline to complete—is one we never do alone; there is no such thing as a private Christian, and it is impossible to be a Christian alone in an absolute sense. In our baptism, we are made members, one of another through and in Jesus Christ: and just as the foot has a living relationship with the shoulder, each member of Christ’s Body has a living relationship with all of the other members—meaning, we have a truly living relationship with Saint Mathias and all the capital-s Saints; and a living relationship with all the lowercase-s saints, and this relationship is entirely built on God’s grace and is impossible to undo. Our task with the Saints like Mathias, Mary, Joseph, Stephen, Theresa and all the others, is not to create a relationship with them, but to realize the relationship already given unto us—made available to us—in our Baptism. Baptism establishes our living relationship with all the Saints; learning to comprehend the relationship with the Saints we already have is our task: and all of the Saints are as alive to us as anyone alive today.

I mentioned a moment ago that the Christian race, the Christian journey, demands discipline. By “discipline,” the Church firstly means the life of daily prayer. Just as there is no such thing as a truly private Christian, and no such thing as not having a living relationship with the Saints, there is no such thing as a Christian life that only asks of us one hour per week of our time and attention. Paul’s teaching of discipline, and all the teaching of the Church about discipline, establishes very clearly that the Christian life is an every day religion—Sunday mornings, but also Sunday evenings, all the way through the week to Saturday evening (which is traditionally when time is set aside to examine one’s conscience and be aware of any sins committed recently). But that immediately raises the question, in the broad sense: in the life of discipline, where might one begin?

Just such a beginning is described by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We have in Our Lord’s teaching a very clear contrast: the wrong such beginning, and a right such beginning. The wrong beginning is demonstrated by the Pharisee, who in his pitiful attempt at prayer immediately compares himself to other people—embodying the sin of Pride. Not only does he regard himself as better than others, but he things he can thereby order God around because he thinks he can earn righteousness through his works of fasting and tithing. Now, of course, fasting and tithing are holy practices, but they should never be done with any idea that doing them earns us anything. Why do Christians fast and tithe? Most fundamentally, it is to give honor to God, because He is God and is owed everything.

Our Christian discipline should constantly be on the lookout for imitating the Pharisee, because Our Lord is showing He is well aware of a very common temptation in the Christian life. This is why after describing the Pharisee, Jesus contrasts him with the Tax Collector (often called the Publican). The Publican could not be more the opposite of the Pharisee—he looks at no one, stands far off, not even raising his eyes to heaven, meaning a stance of humility. And all he says is: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. It is honest contrition, honest sorrow for sins, and honest petition to God Who always forgives the sins of the humble and contrite.

And brothers and sisters, it is always by the example of the Publican that the life of Christian discipline takes its fundamental root, and it is from the Publican’s example that the life of discipline grows. So much so this is the case that the most ancient prayer of the Church, after the Our Father prayer, is a prayer that includes the most and sometimes all the words of the Publican, along with words from Saint Peter, guided by teaching both of Saint John and Saint Paul. This ancient prayer is called the Prayer of the Heart, and also called the Jesus Prayer. There are variations on the wording, but the basic prayer is this: “Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on me.” Often it ends “…have mercy on me, a sinner,” just like the Publican’s prayer. This prayer—the Prayer of the Heart, the Jesus Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on me—is not only a simple prayer with simple words, but it is the fundamental building block of Christian discipline.

Allow me to be bold: it is my firm view that all Christians should be taught the Prayer of the Heart, and be shown how to be able to say it all day, every day, in moments that allow it to be prayed—said out loud, or said silently, before falling asleep and when first waking up; in quiet and reflective moments whenever these appear. All Christians should say the Prayer of the Heart—this most basic prayer taught by our Lord as the prayer to gain what is most basic and essential to Christian discipleship: humility.

On the Transfiguring Name of Jesus

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Last Sunday after Epiphany (Quinquagesima), 2021

As our prayer moves into the season of Lent, Saint Peter wants us and all the Church to know that the experience of Christ transfigured was for him, James and John truly first-hand. They were eyewitnesses to the majesty of Jesus Christ. Just as during the Eucharist, the priest holds up the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” the Father held up His Son Jesus to these three apostles and said, behold, “This is My beloved Son.” And then to make clear what the Church is always to do, the Father adds, “Listen to Him.”

And we must always listen to Him, for we know that Our Lord need only speak a word, and our soul shall be healed. Just as Peter writes of having a prophetic word made more sure, we have that same prophetic word: and the word is, “Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on us.” This word is our rock; this word is our castle; this word is our guide; this word leads us; this word is our defense against the temptations of the world.

Saint Peter continues his teaching to us by saying, “You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” He means this as to our daily personal devotion, our prayer in private. In our personal prayer, Peter with all apostolic authority advises us that we will do well to pay attention. How often our attention is not on Jesus, Who is Light beyond all light, indeed through Whom all physical light comes into being? Jesus is a lamp, Peter says—a lamp shining in a dark place. Imagine being in a dark place and not using a lamp to make your way? But this is exactly what we do when in going about our lives our attention is not on Jesus and His ineffable glory. When our attention is elsewhere, when we are distracted by the countless things that distract us, we are like a person in a dark place, who turns away from the very light that guides them and gives direction to their journey. When we choose to put our attention elsewhere, we are choosing confusion, we are choosing our suffering, we are choosing to be lost.

Our Lord knows our temptations. He knows the human condition, having Himself become human for our sakes and to truly reveal Himself to us. He knows there is a war in our hearts for our awareness—awareness of God’s presence, and the Devil who uses any means necessary to keep us from looking at the uncreated Light of Christ. The Tempter turns anything he can into enticement to give up our attention to Christ and turn not towards God but away from God. Food, which we need for nourishment and fellowship, can be turned by the Tempter into temptation; means of communication (especially smart phones) which often are necessary means to exchange information that needs to be exchanged with others, can be turned into an endless source of distraction, and even means to give into hate, anger, and lust (which we all know can also come from the television; a smart phone being really a miniature television).

Again, Our Lord knows we face temptations; He allows temptations to exist because overcoming them with the help of His grace makes us stronger in faith, makes us more aware of how totally dependent upon God we are, and how lost we can be without Him, when in our dark place we turn away from the Light. But just as after the overshadowing cloud and the voice of the Father, all that remained for the three apostles on the holy mountain was Jesus only, so also all that remains for us on day to day is the Holy Name of Jesus. Let us this Lent, brothers and sister, renew our commitment to the Holy Name of Jesus. Let us say His Holy Name every day, more and more following the Apostle’s teaching to pray unceasingly.  For with His Holy Name comes His Light and Salvation; with His Holy Name comes His strength; comes His fair beauty; comes His protection; and with His Holy Name comes comfort for our heart—that our heart is not hardened and arrogant, but open and receptive to the Light we need every moment of our life, and in every breath.

On the Fever of the Passions

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Sexagesima), 2021

The healing of Saint Peter’s mother-in-law must have been a pretty big deal to warrant its coming down through the decades of oral tradition after the Passion of Christ all the way to Saint Mark. Many biblical scholars suggest Mark’s gospel dates from the early 60s; some even as late as the year 70. Even at the earlier date, we are talking about 30 years of oral preaching and teaching about a healing of a fever. It seems like a rather mundane problem to have—which is not to diminish how serious a high fever can be from a physical perspective, of course. I mean that, this episode is one of the first healing miracles of Jesus, and it is a healing of a woman, which is significant for a reason I will mention in a moment.

It is a fairly iron-clad rule of the New Testament that what is included in the four Gospel accounts is not mundane or unremarkable, but rather what is included is included for a very specific purpose: that is conveys spiritual knowledge about Jesus Christ and how He is the Messiah and Eternal Word of the Father; and on a practical level this means that what is included in the Gospel accounts of Jesus has spiritual meaning for us that feeds our desire to be transformed by the Holy Spirit—transformed heart, and thereby a transformed life. The Gospel details from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are included to, in the words of our Collect, set us free from the bondage of our sins, that we might receive the liberty of that abundant life which the Father manifested in His Son Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

So, we must ask, given this iron-clad rule, might it be the case that the fever described by Saint Mark might indicate something more than Peter’s wife’s mother having a temperature higher than 98.6 degrees—that the image of her having a fever represents not a physical condition, but one spiritual?

It turns out there is plenty of support for just that interpretation, and it shows up early in the life of the Church (the early Church being generally referred to as the “patristic era”). A great voice of the Church, Saint Jerome, for example, interpreted the fever as intemperance. In traditional moral theology, “intemperance” refers to lack of moderation or restraint, and an excessive indulgence of any passion or appetite. More recently, the term is used to refer to an addiction to intoxicating beverage (that is, to alcohol), but in the Church it means an addiction to anything at all. The Venerable Bede, another great patristic voice, interpreted “fever” in the same way, and also included under its category addiction to sexual gratification. Many other voices could be cited here.

Now, we do not know (because Mark does not specify) which particular form of spiritual malady Peter’s mother-in-law possessed. For Mark, it is not an important detail to include. What is important, however, is that whatever the specifics, Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. And of course, we all are sick, from time to time: spiritually sick. Being unable to exercise restraint over some sort of addiction is something every human being suffers from, at least from time to time. Addiction to television, addiction to cell phones, addiction to gossip, addiction to control, addiction to victimhood; but also addiction more broadly: addition to anxiety, to judging others, even to family (putting family before God), addiction to politics is a prevalent one today, addition to laziness; and, of course, addiction obviously to food, as well as addiction to things we normally speak of as addictive (drugs, alcohol)—these are part of the normal human condition of being fallen, and the Church generally calls these “passions” and what is named in our Psalm as “prison.”

And what spurs our giving into our passions (our addictions) are, in the language of the Church, of course demons. We should note in this passage that Mark uses the word “demons” four times in this passage. When sick, look for demons. Within the Christian faith, being sick has everything to do with our inability to exercise restraint against our common human impulses and human addictions: that is, unable to resist temptation dangled before our eyes like the serpent dangled the fruit of the paradise Tree in front of Adam and Eve. Being sick, in short, results from giving into our passions.

And yet, it is to provide healing from our human weakness that Christ came as the Light that lighteth all human beings. That is what we see right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel: immediately we see Jesus healing, and in our passage today, Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. And again, Mark means “spiritual healing,” and that is indicated by the fact that as the fever left her, after Jesus “lifted her up” (itself a signal of spiritual healing), she served them. Now, it is easy to overlook the significance of this act of serving, but in the Greek the word is of the same root as the term we today use for an ordained Deacon. Older English translations often use, “the fever left her, and she ministered unto them,” which is closer. Ministering is the activity, of course, of Jesus: and the significance I mentioned earlier of this episode involving a woman is that this woman, Peter’s mother in law, after being healed of her spiritual fever, of her spiritual “passion” (meaning addiction), is the first person in Mark’s gospel to imitate Jesus. Jesus came that His disciples would imitate Him. To be healed, which is what salvation means, is not just to receive relief (or absolution) from Jesus from our sinful temptations, but it is to lead a different way of life thereafter—to walk from henceforth in Christ’s holy ways. It is to lead a transformed life with an illumined heart, guided by grace.

Brothers and sisters, as we continue to approach Lent with the knowledge of the new light of Christ shining in our hearts, let us understand that if we say we have no sin (that is, no passions), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins (our giving into passions), the Father is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

On being Possessed by God’s Presence

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

All of the episodes of our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament are memories. This is especially the case for the four accounts of the one Gospel of Jesus Christ recorded by S. Matthew, S. Mark, S. Luke, and S. John. Their accounts were not written down until several years, even several decades, after Our Lord’s Ascension and the Coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. How the episodes got to be in such a place as to be written down, is that the accounts of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s life was proclaimed and preached in worship by the apostles of the Church. The stories and episodes we have of Jesus come down to us as the apostolic preaching of the young Church. It perhaps is characteristic of our modern mindset to downgrade memories, to regard memories as inferior to, what, documentary evidence—today, it seems something did not happen unless it is captured on a cellphone camera and distributed virally on Twitter.

Yet this really is a modern attitude—among the first voices of the young Church to refer to the four Gospel accounts is Saint Justin Martyr, one of the apostolic voices who entered into greater glory in the year of Our Lord 165. Justin Martyr referred to the four gospel accounts as “memoirs.” This is important for us to always keep in mind—the episodes of Our Lord captured authoritatively in Scripture are not equivalent to documentary footage captured by a camera; but rather, they are superior in that these are the definitive accounts of what the Church remembers of Jesus insofar as the episodes recounted have the power to transform our hearts from a heart of sin to a heart of obedience to Christ.

The term a contemporary theologian today uses to describe the Gospel accounts is that the four accounts reflect “scripturally mediated memory.” The episodes of Jesus, including His Presentation in the Temple with the meeting of Simeon and Anna of their, and our, Lord and Saviour, detail how the Church remembered Jesus in a living way as revealed in and through the opening of Scripture as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Day. To the two disciples on that road, and to more of the disciples that evening in the Upper Room, Jesus gave the key to interpreting what we call the Old Testament, Himself being the key because the Scriptures at all points speak of Him, and are spoken by Him. Jesus shows us that it is He who said, “Let there be light,” it was Jesus Who asked Adam, “Where are you?”, it is Jesus of whom Isaiah prophesied would be born of a Virgin, and so on and so forth.

And it was Jesus of Whom the prophet Haggai spoke—indeed, Jesus Whom Haggai heard speak. It was Jesus who told Haggai that He would fill the House of the Father with glory—a glory greater than the former glory that filled the Temple, that filled the Tent of Meeting to Moses. It was in this new Temple, Jesus told Haggai, that peace would be given. The peace, indeed, that passes all understanding; the peace that keeps our hearts and mind in the knowledge and love of God; the peace pronounced and truly given to the ten disciples in the Upper Room which were among the first words spoken by Christ as He appeared in His glorious Resurrection, saying “Peace be with you,” and breathing upon them “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

And it was this peace, told to Haggai, the peace Who is Christ, Who was held in the arms of old man Simeon who had been waiting for the redemption of Israel, and longing for the fulfillment of hopes only on this day did he rightly understand. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word,” said Simeon as he held in his arms the Eternal Word of God. Just as a lesser glory filled the Temple of Solomon, Jesus when presented by Blessed Mother Mary is seen as the fullness of the holy uncreated Light of the Father Who would be the Light to give light to the Gentiles, and the Light to be the glory of Israel.

Simeon, Anna, and us are given possession of this Light presented by Blessed Mary—given in our Baptism whereby our body becomes the Temple of the Holy Ghost—a Temple truly fit for His Presence. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to receive the heavenly Light through our religion: that is, through our daily prayer, our assisting at the eucharistic Mass, and in our devotion to the sacred Humanity of Christ in our relationships and activities day by day. Our religion is to mean to us nothing less than what it meant to old Simeon: salvation by being possessed by the Presence of God.

On Light in the Darkness

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the 4th Sun. after Epiphany (Septuagesima), 2021

The season of Epiphanytide is the season of the uncreated light of God showing forth in, through, and by Jesus Christ, Who therefore is our Lord and Saviour. It is a season of great mystery, and all the episodes that outline this season possess in them this sense of great mystery—the holy Nativity, when Jesus is born of Mary in Bethlehem; the holy Circumcision when Jesus is eight days old; the coming of the Magi from the east bearing gifts that bespeak of the Child’s kingship, holiness, and death; the holy baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan which sanctifies all water and affirms Christ’s solidarity with all human beings. Likewise the feasts during this time speak to the great mystery of the uncreated light of God showing forth in Jesus Christ—the testimony of S. Stephen and his stoning; the holy Innocents, murdered by Herod; S. John the Evangelist and his mystical understanding of Christ; and the Conversion of S. Paul the Apostle, from the chief persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ to her greatest public advocate. Running through all of this is the mystery of God causing a new light to shine in our hearts, a light which can give knowledge of God’s glory in the face of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, if we have the humility to truly seek His face.

We hear today of S. Mark’s account of Jesus’s first exorcism. It happens in a synagogue in Capernaum, after Jesus and His disciples had entered the space, and after Jesus taught the gathering, which included both His disciples as well as other Jews who were probably hearing Him for the first time. The holy Evangelist tells us that Jesus spoke with authority, and not, he tells us, as the scribes. Mark had already recorded the very first teaching of Jesus after His baptism in the River Jordan; that teaching is “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” And Our Saviour adds, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Then Mark records Jesus encountering Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee, and His teaching to them was “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of Men.” But in the synagogue, Mark does not specify Jesus what Jesus taught there. So we can very plausibly assume that His teaching in the synagogue was of the same character. The message is that God is present, to turn to His presence in humility, and by continually turning to Him others can be saved because through us the world knows the kingdom of God.

This is what it means to seek the Face of Christ—that in knowing God is present (in the world, in creatures, but preeminently in our hearts), in humility we turn to Him, with faith that doing so gives the health of salvation to us, and through us to the wider world.

Yet what Mark also records provides us with a very important dimension of seeking the Face of Christ. And that important dimension is seen in the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit; that is, the man who is filled with a demon, is possessed by the Devil. Christ’s presence called out the demon, unclean spirit from the man. This happens for us, as well. Christ’s presence, which includes His presence in the proclamation of the Gospel (what we do in Mass, for all of Mass, including the reading of Scripture, is a proclamation of Christ’s presence right here), calls out the demons in those who hear the proclamation—which of course is the case, because when Light comes into darkness, what is in darkness comes into the Light.

We see this in the testimony of Stephen, for despite seeing his face as angelic and hearing Stephen testify to the presence of Christ, Paul (then Saul) nonetheless was first provoked to sign off on the stoning of Stephen, as well as continue for some time his persecution of Christians, and do so with great zeal. The face of Christ in some sense showing forth in Stephen’s face and the voice of Christ from Stephen’s voice, the Light of Christ shined upon Paul’s heart, a heart possessed by demons, and in the process of being sanctified, firstly came out the unclean, evil spirit.

Brothers and sisters, we must always be prepared for this in our discipleship. In seeking His holy Face, in being committed Christians, we must know that the shadows in the darkness of our hearts at some point will be exposed. Their exposure will bring discomfort, and possibly some degree of emotional pain and tremor—after all, what we have repressed, to use the psychological term, is often wounds of hurt, humiliation, and loss. It is difficult to confront these, yet this process is the same as what it can feel like to examine one’s conscience before making a sacramental Confession. As the light of Christ shines in our hearts—or more accurately, as we let His Light shine, as we open ourselves to Him in humility and surrender—the dark shadows have no where to go but out. But let us also be assured, brothers and sisters, that this is all in the loving hands of the Father, and that as painful as it may seem, not only will Christ’s light truly bring peace to our previously unsettled heart, but that the world will in some sense see in us the effects of purification, this purging of the darkness from us—and that the saving Light of Christ transforming our hearts serves also to draw others to the Gospel, to the Light, to true health in Jesus Christ.