Homily: “On Teaching and Healing”

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

Because our mortal nature is weak, our Collect has it, we can do no good thing without God. That is a truth that we may not think about in such stark terms. — that we can do nothing good without God. Does it confront us, this truth, and cause us to flinch or raise our eyebrows? We can expand that theology and say still more: not only can we not do any good thing without God, but we cannot do any beautiful thing without God, nor can we do a true thing without God. That all that is good, beautiful and true of this world comes from God is an iron-clad law, and happy are they whose delight is in the law of the Lord.

What this truth expresses is the reality of our baptism. In baptism we are buried with Christ in His death, and we are reborn in baptism in Christ’s resurrection. We are born: not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. The grace of God possesses us—we have said yes to God as Mary said yes to Him through Gabriel, and our mortal nature passes away, and our glorious nature, which is Christ in us, takes over—and we become people who are walking in His light, delighting in His ways. When we see this, when we allow this to be our identity, when we conceive in our hearts the very same Christ who Mary conceived in hers, we fall into awe, we tumble into wonder, and we leap for joy as Elizabeth and John the Baptist leapt for joy at the presence of Our Lord through His Mother.

Yet we do not always recognize our true identity with such simple clarity. We sometimes do not see ourselves as a child of God. Rather we see ourselves as troubled, as wounded, as unlucky, as beat down. We see ourselves as far from God, and far from His grace. With full reverence because we tread now on holy ground, let us in this holy space, a space filled with the presence of God in numerous ways, let us allow ourselves to see such self-identifications in the way Saint Luke characterizes those who came out to hear Jesus teach—as troubled with unclean spirits.

Being troubled by unclean spirits is not a rare or uncommon thing for followers of Jesus, but a common and normal condition, and the same is true for us. It is through the meddling of the unclean spirits led by Satan, who is known as the prince of this world, that we forget who we really are. Each of us is a child of God, a member of His Body, who live and move and have our being in Christ’s Resurrection, here and now, and more abundantly to come. Yet we fall prey to temptation to forget this self-identification, to forget this name for ourselves, to forget the grace that at all times empowers us. We forget that the very reason for our being biologically alive and not erased from existence owes entirely to God’s grace. Everyone alive right now, from the most saintly to the most satanic, is only alive by God’s grace. We keep that fundamental truth in mind, and the claim that we can do nothing good without God in our Collect becomes almost obvious.

The pattern Our Lord demonstrates to heal people from the work of the unclean spirits, to cure them of the condition by which they forget their true identity and accept a lesser, false identity, is that He teaches them. This is the next dimension revealed about the Light who is Jesus in Saint Luke’s telling—the close connection between the ministry of exorcism, healing and teaching. When Jesus teaches “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven,” any identity the poor and downtrodden among Him had as poor and downtrodden is transformed—again this is the truth captured in Our Lady’s hymn, Mary’s Magnificat: He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humbled and meek.

By His teaching about Who He is, He teaches about Who those are that follow Him, the identity that have in being a disciple. Finding out who we are—profoundly who we are in our core—that we are like trees planted by the streams of water that flow directly from the holy mountain of God into our roots—this is the Gospel. We can imagine that 120 people gathered in the Upper Room after Christ’s Ascension all finding out together their true identity as children of God living in Christ’s Resurrected Body is part of what blew the doors off the place with the mighty wind of God. Finding out that no matter what our economic or social status might be—into what conditions we have been thrown, no matter what our givens might be—that we each are a child of God already living in heaven and growing into the stature of Christ who is in heaven bleeding gloriously from His cross the blood and water of the Sacraments we receive—that Christ is resurrected and He in part lives His resurrection through us—this and only this is true happiness; this and only this is true goodness; this and only this is true beauty.

Homily: “On the Lord Possessing Us”

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

Through this season that began with The Epiphany and has continued in the Sundays afterward has been revealed the dimensions of the Light of Christ. This is the most obviously didactic portion of our liturgical calendar. It is almost as if each Sunday provides a lesson about how Jesus is the Light, and what it means to understand Him as the Light.  We have been seeing the Light from different sides as it were, and learning about its nature.

At the Epiphany (something like our first “lesson”), the Christ Child was revealed to be a God presented to us by Mary (through her we meet Him), and that He is a universal God, for Gentile and Jew alike—and a God who changes the direction of our lives when we truly encounter Him, because the Magi departed to their own country by another way than they had come. At His Baptism (our “second” lesson) was revealed the public nature of His ministry as well as the essence of God as being Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Through our “third” lesson at the wedding in Cana was revealed a God who works in partnership with His mother, Mary who intercedes on our behalf, and a God whose actions are sacramental: He works with outward and visible signs such as ordinary water and transforms them so as to be vehicles of His inward and spiritual grace. The “fourth” lesson, the conversion of the Apostle Saint Paul, we learned that He manifests Himself as Christ Crucified and Resurrected: in His glorious Body but ever on His cross, that from it may be procured innumerable benefits—and so there become the sense that within the Light that shines gloriously is Christ gloriously on His cross, to convict us and to change the direction of our lives because of it.

And then in the “fifth” lesson, in the synagogue, when Jesus preached on Isaiah’s words about serving the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Christ revealed another fundamental aspect of Himself: that He is not a political, conquering military hero but of the prophetic strand of Jewish religion, indeed the Suffering Servant and Messiah of the Remnant.

So the Light, brother and sisters, has grown ever brighter. The Light we expected would come in Advent came as a delicate and vulnerable Child to the joy of the world, and that Light has grown brighter and brighter—not merely so that we cannot miss it, but that this Light will draw us ever closer to it, as Peter, James, and John were drawn close to the transfiguring Light of Jesus on the mountain.

What, then, of the Light is revealed to us today? Jesus was teaching the people from a boat—bringing to their minds the image of the Noah’s ark, indeed that He is the ark of salvation, and His words calm the turbulent waters, bring peace to the crisis of the storms of our lives, that our anxieties can rest in His presence and know a great calm.

And in teaching from the boat, He told Saint Peter to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. He did this from His divine sense of humor (for He surely knew they had caught no fish the night before), and from His wisdom, for the laws and workings of nature are not abstract and cold but are controlled by God, made by God, and made by God from His love—all the laws and creatures of the world are made aware to us that we may recognize God’s glory in them.

The key aspect is that it is not Jesus who caught the fish, but Peter and James and John (the same three who witnessed the transfiguring Light of Jesus on the mountain). But they were shown a sign—in other words they saw the Light in a particularly penetrating way that convicted them and drew them yet closer to the Light. And it worked: Peter being astonished was driven to humility (perhaps overly so), to contrition, and to adoration of God. He was like Gideon, who heard God say to him, “Peace be to you.” They were moved to adoration, to worship.

And thenceforth, God moved them. In the verses after our first lesson, we learn that God’s spirit took possession of Gideon as he went forth into battle. And He took possession of Peter and the other Apostles, to lead them into becoming fishers of men. We often think of “possession” in negative, evil terms: so and so person is “possessed by the devil,” and the like. But possession has a quite positive aspect as well: we are possessed by God, and there is no greater sense of our being possessed than our baptism, when our bodies become one with His Body. What we must do is recognize that we are possessed by God, and allow our lives to be ordered by this fact.

This is why, brothers and sisters, we face the cross. We come to the Cross naked and honest about our dependence upon God, and our sinful ways despite our desire to love God, love neighbor, and do His will. And on the Cross we meet Jesus, Himself naked and honest, nailed to the Cross out of love for us—that we can hear His words of peace that passeth all understanding, and be possessed by His spirit to have His grace empowering all our works, as He empowered Gideon, as He empowered Peter and the Apostles. We face the Cross so as to be sent from the Cross so possessed by His heavenly peace that we can bring that peace to the lonely among us in Tazewell County, that they can be healed by His peace.

Homily: “On Christ the Messiah for All”

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

Among the prophetic words spoken by Simeon in the Temple when forty-day-old Jesus was presented in the Temple according to Jewish religious law, and also Mary presenting herself for purification in likewise custom, were these: “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles.” The Church continues to chant and pray these words every evening as the light of the day begins to fade, in part as constant reminder that the light of Christ is a light of revelation—the Light in which darkness is no longer darkness, for with Christ the night is as clear as the day. The man Simeon is regarded in ancient Church tradition as being one of the seventy biblical scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek.

The image of this old man beholding baby Jesus and recognizing in Him He through Whom all things have been made—and recognizing in this moment the fulfilment of all that the prophets had told—is too much for words. Better to sing the words daily and allow the image to work on our imaginations like water works on rough rocks making them smooth. By the time of the Ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of the Father, the only person still alive from that event in the Temple thirty-three years prior was Mary, and it is surely her who told of this and many other stories of Jesus to the early Church, helping to fire their imaginations and hearts with the divine, out-pouring spark.

In those words from Simeon is a message that Jesus is universal: that the salvation brought by Christ is a universal salvation, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles—more than for Jews only. (But of course, to their glory.) The early Church needed this teaching because even after the death of Jesus, and probably for decades still after His death, the Church had a hard time letting go of the idea that the Messiah would be a political hero. That expectation had been ingrained within the Jewish religious culture for centuries, and to great extent it was a reasonable expectation when the idea of “messiah” was considered within Jewish political history and reality. If the Temple was going to be fully rebuilt, the occupiers of the Temple (the Romans) would have to be overthrown. And that would take a political revolution. They were not just going to give control of the Temple away. It had to be taken by force.

Jesus often taught that He was no such messiah, and it was always a message poorly received by His Jewish audiences. Such is what we hear in our lesson from Saint Luke. What kind of Messiah is He? It is to be a prophetic messiah—“Today this scripture (which was from Isaiah) has been fulfilled in your hearing,” He preached. Jesus is situating Himself and His ministry in the prophetic line. This is directly after proclaiming these words from Isaiah: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Not a political hero, but a Messiah who announces good news to the poor, blind, captive, oppressed—and, lonely.

And then Jesus brings to his audience’s mind the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Their healing ministry, Jesus reminded everyone, was not to the Jews in need but to the Gentiles, and even a small group. His ministry was universal salvation, offered freely to Gentiles. This was the first time in Luke’s Gospel that this aspect of Christ’s mission was revealed, and it was nothing short of scandal. That He was for all, not just for them. And after Christ’s Ascension, I have little doubt that such scandal lingered in people’s imagination. It took Blessed Mary again being a Mother to the Church and telling them that her Son’s ministry has been universal and for all since the beginning. God revealed this to Simeon, she would have told them. Yes, He is our King, for Gabriel told me that “the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” He is our King, she assured them, but He is also their King, the King of all, the King of kings and Light of lights.

Brothers and sisters, let us be heartened by our universal God, as the Magi themselves acknowledged when they came to pay Him homage. Let us not keep our loving and gracious God to ourselves, but follow the star of Christ as He leads us to the poor, the lonely, the dispirited, of Tazewell County. Through our ministry called by God, the hearts of the lonely will be warmed. God’s presence has made us holy—through His word, through His most Precious Body and Blood—not so that we can hold onto Him only for ourselves, but that lonely people in Tazewell County can find Him through us.

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2019.

It is not always recognized that after Saint Paul saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round him and those who journeyed with him; after he had fallen to the ground and heard a voice saying to him in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And after Paul learned that this was the voice of Jesus speaking—Jesus whom Paul was persecuting—and then heard Jesus bestow upon Paul his true vocation—to be one who opens the people’s eyes, that they may turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus—it is not always recognized that Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert trying to get a handle upon what just happened.

It must have been hard to say! Like Blessed Mary’s annunciation from Gabriel, this was an annunciation to Paul—the power of the Most High also overshadowing Paul. Mary pondered in her heart the meaning of her Son, and the meaning of her vocation. Likewise Paul spent three years in the desert—three years, we can reasonably say, in a wilderness of prayer, a wilderness of mystery, a wilderness of what must have been profound existential crisis. To say that Paul’s whole world was flipped upside down does not begin to describe his situation. As he said, he who once persecuted the Church is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. And then uncertainty of what to do next. How could he possibly know?

One of the open secrets upon praying with the Bible, and especially with the New Testament, is that when we come upon moments strangely void of description, we are not pass over them, but pray into them—pray with our faculties of imagination, within the fellowship of the living Church and its theological tradition, seeking to penetrate the mystery, to find life revealed amid the silence. Such is the case with the life of Jesus, completely undescribed from day 40 of His life through age 12, and then from age 12 to approximately age 30 at His baptism in the River Jordan. Such also is the case with the life of Mary, of whom the biblical writers of the New Testament report quite little. Another is the hours of prayer spent by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Bits are described, but what was His prayer like between the few words we are told? Another is the nine days in the Upper Room by Mary, the other women, the Apostles and disciples totally 120 people. We are told they with one accord devoted themselves to prayer. What did this prayer look like?

With Paul’s initial conversion moment, we have another such moment. Paul himself prayed into the silence and mystery of it for three years, and indeed the rest of his life. Perhaps the primary mystery is this voice he heard. Who is this voice? Paul himself immediately wondered. He identifies the voice as that of Lord, of someone he must respect. It is a voice that first identifies Himself through the question, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This Lord is a persecuted Lord, one actively being persecuted. And the voice answers Paul’s question, “Who are you, Lord?” by saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

Now the human mind attaches images to invisible things. What image would Paul attach to this voice of Jesus being persecuted? It is not clear that Paul ever saw Jesus in person, whether in Our Lord’s public ministry or as He hung, nailed upon the Cross. He would have heard of Jesus’ crucifixion, at the very least from the testimony of Saint Stephen before his stoning. He certainly heard enough from other sources to decide to actively persecute the early Church.

Yet the image that most likely came to Paul’s mind, whether in the moment or over the course of the subsequent three years, was Jesus on His Cross. The image of Jesus crucified, when He was most persecuted. And this fits as well when one considers the whole of Paul’s writing. There are two primary emphases in his writing as a body: take Baptism and the other Sacraments seriously (so much so that he teaches that healthy parish life is built upon stewardship of God’s sacraments; what the voice of Jesus means by “sanctified by faith in me”), and in all things face the cross. Face the cross—as a parish church in worship; face the cross—as a community in mission; face the cross—as a person seeking to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (that is, with adoration and humility).

The Cross for Paul is an inexhaustible image, the central icon of Christian life. For Paul, all leads to the Cross (as it did in his own life from birth to the road to Damascus), all come forth from the Cross (as he famously taught, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and again, “We preach Christ Crucified”). Life for Paul is always a cross-shaped life.

And so how do we know that we are truly being taught by Paul? It is when we find ourselves through the Liturgy and through our prayer life, drawn into the mystery of the Cross—its horror, and its glory. That’s its horror humbles us, and its glory throws us into adoration, into praise, and into thankfulness.

Homily: “On the Wedding at Cana”

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

For those of you who have made wine in the home, or known friends or family who have, you know as I do that it is a rewarding process that requires not much talent but a great deal of patience. Patience, I mean, from the very beginning: in allowing the yeast to start bubbling, and then patience to basically do nothing for months at a time as some mysterious process called fermentation does its magic. Probably this is why the German theologian Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Beer is made by men; wine by God.” One is supposed to wait at least three years before drinking the wine; as winemaker, however, it is expected that you sample along the way. Quality control. But there really is something to waiting. The taste of a three year old wine is in fact quite different than it was at the beginning, but at the same time, over those three years, the true taste of the wine does progressively show itself, little by little.

Jesus has shown Himself to be the Light of the world through a series of showings, little by little, we might say reverently: first to a small group of people and then to increasingly more and more people in larger groups. If we may go back into the Sacred Hebrew Scriptures, He first showed Himself to the Patriarchs and Prophets—showing Himself as a voice Who spoke of a messiah coming to be, and for Isaiah, a suffering servant. To blessed Mary, He showed Himself through an Angel, and then to Elizabeth and John the Baptist in her womb, He showed Himself through the voice of Mary, and it was both through her voice and an Angel in a dream that He showed Himself to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. Then it was to a group of shepherds in the fields through one and then many angels singing “Glory be to God on high.” Then it was to Magi and their train of people from the East through a star, and then Simeon and Anna in the Temple (which we celebrate in two weeks at Candlemas), to Herod and all Jerusalem through the voice of the Magi as well as the Temple religious authorities, the chief priests and scribes interpreting the Scriptures, then to the rabbis in the Temple when He was twelve-years ago, then at His Baptism in the River Jordan, revealing at the same time the identity of God as Holy Trinity. Jesus had always been the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, by Whom all things were made. But it was only in the fullness of time that He allowed Himself to become known, little by little, to those who were prepared.

The marriage feast at Cana is another showing forth of the Light, a manifestation of His glory. Specifically the whole event is a sign, a sign of mystery to invite reflection upon that mystery which leads to an encounter with His divinity; the first of His truly public signs, and it enkindled the faith of the disciples of Jesus. It is a kind of preamble to His public life. Cana was a small village, not far from Nazareth, and tradition has it that Cana abounded in flowers, thereby having a pleasant, rural beauty. It is a sign performed before a larger gathering lasting a week or more.

The Mother of Jesus noticed that the wine would not suffice for the duration of the wedding feast. Wine was the heart of such a banquet, and in the Sacred Scripture, win is a symbol of exuberance and intoxication of the divine life. With disarming simplicity and natural spontaneity, she turns to Him and says, “They have no wine.” Mary is the one person at the feast who realizes who Jesus is, and a very large quantity of wine would be needed: in other words, nothing short of a miraculous intervention was needed. She intercedes on behalf of the whole gathering, indeed represents them before the Lord, bringing their needs to Him. And of course He listens.

“O woman, what have you to do with me?” Too many people hear that as Him being critical or even harsh. Jesus is being none of that. Rather His expression is idiomatic for His day for something along the lines of “Okay, let’s do it.” And given their entire 30 years of intimate communion together, Mother and Son, filled with great moments of sublimity, reverence, and probably domestic miracles within the home of Mary and Joseph—there is a tenderness, a playfulness, even humorousness to this moment—“What have you to do with me?” can only be answered by saying, “Why everything, my Son: for You are my Lord and my God, and an Angel first told me about You!” “O woman, what have you to do with me?”, brothers and sisters, is one of the most hilariously ironic moments in Scripture. She has everything to do with Him, and they both know it.

For us, the way to interpret this event at Cana is twofold: both literally and spiritually. Literally, we have a miracle performed by Jesus stemming from Mary’s motherly care for two young spouses: for Mary not know intercedes for them before God, but also teaches them: “Do whatever He tells you,” words she has taught the Church ever since. And spiritually, the wedding at Cana signifies the marriage between the Eternal Word and humanity in Mary and through Mary, changing the ordinary into something immeasurably more exciting. And our Lord works His signs here, and always, not by changing the containers, but leaving them as they were. Whether it is through His miracles with bread and wine, or with the Old Testament and the Psalms, or with us in our Baptism: the container remains the same, but by His grace we are given treasure that reaches into heaven.

Homily: “On the Baptism of Jesus”

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

In many aspects of our society, we commonly use the expression, “heir apparent.” It is a way of speaking about a person, whether man, woman or even child, and how to understand their calling, their identity. Professional sports and politics perhaps most commonly demonstrate this way of speaking. For example, some observers suggest that the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar—for many, the three best basketball players ever to play the game—might be someone like Lebron James. In professional soccer, many wonder what player may be the heir apparent to Mia Hamm. In politics, many Democratic observers spoke of President Barack Obama as the heir apparent of President John F. Kennedy; and on the Republican side we see hopes continue that a politician might follow in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan, as his heir apparent. The “heir apparent” means more than imitation: it means capturing the imagination of the wider world—indeed being a captivating and charismatic figure through whom progress is made, within whom all that came before is recapitulated, upon whom the hopes of all rest.

The significance of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan is seen in this way. Saint Luke tells us the people were in expectation—they were looking for the Messiah, the heir apparent. Saint John Baptist insisted that despite the appearances by which is seemed he might fit the bill, it in fact was not him. And so God manifested the heir apparent in a dramatic revelation at the River Jordan. For when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.”

The Evangelists capture this moment in similar fashion, which is to evoke for us the Creation narrative of Genesis. The overtones are clear: the Spirit hovering over the waters, the showing forth out of waters, and the creative words of the Father. And Luke describes the heavens as being opened—such as they were opened at the death of Jesus when the veil of the Temple was torn above to below. The imagery and symbolism invites our imagination to stretch, and even explode—such as old wine skins would explode, unable to contain the new wine, because its fermenting demands a container that can stretch. In this season of the Star of Wonder, Luke wants us not to receive the revelation of Jesus being the heir apparent as information, but rather as a mystery we allow to form us, shape us, and call us to prayer.

Luke wants us to regard Jesus, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, as the “heir of all things.” And we can trace that in Scripture through the Father’s words, “Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.” The Prophets had been telling such a one was to come. In Isaiah we hear verses among the most preached upon in Jewish religion: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” In the other of Isaiah’s so-called “servant songs,” the Messiah is described as quiet, restrained, and not a conquering hero or political leader. And this echoes the second Psalm: “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.”

And commonly through Scripture, we hear of God speaking of a “Son” as vicarious representative of all of Israel. In Exodus, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh: “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” In Deuteronomy, we hear “how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child.” In Jeremiah: “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in?” In Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I call my son.” And of course we have God telling Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” In Jewish tradition, Isaac was a mature man who chose to make himself be a sacrifice to God (before God spoke with Abraham) and so in Jewish tradition Isaac came to represent all of Israel, and the promised Messiah, therefore, the new Isaac.

And so in the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, let us hear this symphony of biblical symbolism, all coming together in focused concentration upon Jesus: the creation of existence, the revelation of the triune nature of God (Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit), His crucifixion, the prophetic strand of Hebrew spirituality involving the suffering servant who is God’s anointed and chosen representative of all people, who as high priest atones for their sins through His free-will offering of Himself and His life for the sins of all—He is the paschal Lamb of God. At his Baptism, as in the Eucharist, let us behold Him. And let us wonder at His star, His shining Light, as the first disciples did when they heard the words of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Homily: “On Epiphany and Mission”

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

The Epiphany of Our Lord presents to us a most singular moment for our reflection. Its alternate name in our tradition is The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. That word, “epiphany,” means manifestation, the showing forth, the making evident, the becoming accessible. Christ had always been God; had always been the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Christ was always the only-begotten Son of God; the eternal Word of the Father, by Whom all things were made. So Our Lord’s Epiphany was not the making new of something that had not been present. Christ is always present to us, irrespective of whether we are aware of Him, or not.

And Christ was always present to the Magi, the wise men from the East. How was He always present? He was present as the guiding Hand, His anonymous Holy Spirit, amid their searches for wisdom and truth. As in the science of our day, the science of their day can always be understood as the search for truth, a seeking after the mind of God, a process to understand creation: to understand the workings of God, for He has made all things. To understand how He has worked in creation is to understand something important of Him. All that is good, all that is beautiful, and all that is true comes from God. And we always do well in our prayer life to remember that.

And yet Christ was made accessible to the Magi in this moment, captured only in Saint Matthew. And He made Himself accessible to them for a singular purpose: that not only religious Jews, but Gentiles as well, would learn who is the source of all beauty, goodness, and truth—indeed, He who is beauty, goodness, and truth incarnate—that they, according to their own free will, might worship Him. That in following their scientific method to the source, they would freely fall to their knees in adoration. And let us also take to heart how Jesus chose to manifest Himself to the Gentile Magi: “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary, His Mother.” To the Magi is presented the inseparability of Mary and Jesus. There is no mention of Saint Joseph, which would have caused scandal in ancient Jewish society. St Matthew’s intent is clear: where is Jesus—the Star of stars, the Light of light, Truth incarnate—where is Jesus to be found but in the arms of His mother?

Let us allow Jesus to be our light. Let Him be our lamp upon the spiritual realities, the inexhaustible Truth of our invisible God. Let us be assured that God comes to those who call upon Him in humility. He Himself came to us in great humility—a helpless Child wrapped in swaddling linen, the same linen He would be wrapped in in His tomb—as a permanent reminder to us of the need for humility, of vulnerability, of weakness—that by these God may embolden us, strengthen us, and lift us up.

Let us allow Jesus to be our light as He was the light for Moses through the Burning Bush. As he was the light for the Centurion at the foot of the Cross, a Gentile to whom Christ’s divinity was also made accessible and manifest: for when he saw that Jesus thus breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”—his heart filled with unspeakable light. As Saint Paul was so filled at His conversion: the thunder and light of Christ on His cross speaking to Paul: “Why are you persecuting me?”

In our communion hymn, the first and final verse contains this petition to God: “Star of the East, the horizon adorning, guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.” For a missionary Parish such as ours—our Mission of proclamation of Christ’s resurrection through adoring Him on His Cross—let us open ourselves in humility and vulnerability to be led by Christ’s Star to where our infant Redeemer is laid. We ourselves, like Blessed Mary, have through the message of an Angel conceived the holy Jesus in our hearts.

But a Parish with a sense of Mission does not stop there. We thank God that we are bearing Him in our hearts and mind, yet we must know that to fully grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ is to go to Him in the new places He is being born and reborn—to go to Him as He grows in the hearts of those Who need His love, strength and presence—a missionary Parish seeks to be guided by God to be with people who are not yet able to be guided by the same star as the Magi, because their hearts are heavy with loneliness.

Let us, then, be Christian Magi—men, women, and children wise in the ways of Christ—who allow ourselves to be guided to where Christ sets His star, where ever that might be. And when we come to Him in the lonely among us in Tazewell County—let us also like the Magi fall to our knees in adoration and offer our gifts. And what gifts are these? In the words of a beloved hymn:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Homily: “On ‘In the beginning'”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after Christmas Day, 2018.

Saint John begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning.” Saint Mark began in a similar way, with the shared purpose of immediately evoking the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. That is what we might call a “narrative translation,” like any story might begin. Yet the Greek can also be translated in a more philosophical way, something like, “at the root of existence.” If we were to creatively stick those two together, the narrative with the philosophical, we would have something like “at the root of the beginning of being.”

Saint John intends both translations to be in the mind of his hearers. Why? He intends this in order to heighten our prayer: so that as we are caught up in the joy and wonder of the shepherds who heard the first Christmas Carol, sung by the angels, and then beheld the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes born to a woman, Blessed Mary, after a journey to Bethlehem, we are similarly pushed toward the spiritual and inward meaning, pushed toward mystery, for that is where even more profound meaning is seen—that is, pushed to imitate Mary’s own response to hearing of the shepherd’s experience that night out in the fields tending their flock by night: the response of keeping these things, pondering them in her heart.

Indeed, the whole purpose of the first two verses of his Gospel—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without Him was not anything made that was made—is to throw us into adoration, to induce our imitation of Mary: because adoration, that is being like Mary, is the key to spiritual maturity. Adoration is the beginning of wisdom.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we heard Mary proclaim to her cousin Saint Elizabeth: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior.” Her Magnificat, or in the words of one Anglican priest, “Our Lady’s Hymn” Mary’s hymn (which for two thousand years has been said, sung, or chanted at the end of the daylight hours as part of Evening Prayer and is beloved within Anglicanism) is a collage of praise and adoration texts from the Old Testament. Mary recapitulates all of the great women of the Old Testament, as we have seen; and she recapitulates Israel herself in being “Daughter Zion.” She assembled the verses of her Hymn from words of her forefathers, the seed of Abraham.

We see one of them in our lesson from Isaiah, the first verse, in our translation: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God.” This not only tells us that Mary knew well her Bible, and that she had meditated on the book of Isaiah, but something yet more profound. This whole passage is speaking of the New Jerusalem, the Jerusalem coming to be with the coming of the Messiah: and so the profound thing is this: Mary herself symbolizes the new Jerusalem. She symbolizes the City of God, for in the City of God dwells God; in the City of God is His garden; in the City of God is His throne, and on that throne sits God Almighty. On the lap of Mary, sits Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

“And the Word because flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Let us ruminate upon this verse. God took on the flesh of His mother, as all babies take their flesh from their mother. And here we can recognize a yet more startling fact: when we speak of the Body and Blood of Christ, that Body and Blood came from Mary, and her body and blood came from Anne, and all the way back in the line of mothers!

“He dwelt among us,” is sometimes translated, in literal fashion, as “He pitched His tent among us,” or as some translations have it, “He tabernacled among us.” Inside the Tabernacle near the Altar is Jesus; inside the womb of Mary is the eternal Word of God. Every tabernacle is an immediate symbol of Mary; and when we worship the Precious Body housed within it, we likewise venerate Our Lady.

“Full of grace and truth.” All of divine reality is disclosed by Jesus, and all of its beauty. Mary was named “full of grace” and after she said Yes to God, she became full not only of grace, but of Truth Himself. And what grace, brothers and sisters! That we have beheld His glory—the glory of reality Himself, revealed in such holiness as few if any words could possibly grasp, save the words of Our Lady harmonizing with Isaiah: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior.”

Brothers and sisters, Christ is the light inside each and every one of us. Each and every person ever born, past, present and future, to be sure—yet He burns still brighter in those reborn in Him: not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but reborn entirely through the action of God in baptism. Let us continue to ask God to help us grow into the stature of Jesus: that as the world continues to receive her King, our hearts, having prepared anew making room for His coming can receive the light of light—that the peace and love we know through Christ and only through Christ can be shared with those in Tazewell County who have never known such peace, never known such love—or if they have, have forgotten what it feels like to experience peace and love.

Homily: “From Darkness to Light”

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

It is a genuine pleasure to be with you all this evening on the great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time so full of grace and love in so many ways, a time with friends and family, a time for singing hymns and carols. The heart of Christmas beats full and alive, and every year the heartbeat of Christmas—tonight, over the next twelve days, and even on through the winter—makes us glad indeed that the joy has indeed come to the world—and as was proclaimed at the beginning of Mass: the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. Hail Mary, full of grace, indeed. And hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

The feast of Christmas finds us this year, as it does every year, trying to walk in the footsteps of Our Lord, Him always being our helper. Indeed the Christian journey as a whole is a path of peace led by Jesus Christ from our world all the way to heaven. And yet in some sense, we the baptized are already there, having been grafted at baptism into His Body, and His Body being at the Right Hand of the Father. Already there, and also not yet there.

Our walking as Christ’s followers in the Parish of Tazewell County and our two church congregations has been, if I may boldly say, quickened by God’s providence, His leading hand over the last year. And that has happened in at least three ways. The first is that we have been led into a liturgical celebration that is unapologetically traditional in orientation and style. We have embarked on a devout experiment with traditional orientation, with both the Priest and the People facing the same direction—the Cross, so that at every liturgy we ask God to allow us at the foot of the Cross, to be taught by Him as He taught Blessed Mary, Saint John the beloved disciple, and others. And our devout experiment involves the use of sacred English within what younger Episcopalians call “Rite I” and what the more seasoned among us call 1928 Prayer Book. The words indeed are rich.

Why we have done so leads into the second way our footsteps have quickened. The ministerial leadership of this Parish—what we call our Parish Council, made currently of 18 members of our Parish—has discerned a clear missionary purpose for our Parish, and this Christmas finds us knee-deep in developing its shape and implementation. That purpose is simply stated: God is calling us in our Parish to serve the lonely among the wider communities of Tazewell County. And we have been inspired by the teaching of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who said that the wealthy countries of our world, despite their material wealth, not only have poverty in their countries, but in her estimation, they have a deeper poverty than anything she found in Calcutta. It is not a poverty with respect to not having money. Rather it is a poverty with respect to loneliness, and not having love. And so I ask you all for your prayers for our Parish ministers, and indeed our whole Parish—that all of us may seek and serve Christ in the lonely around us. We began to face the Cross during our Mass so that we would be emboldened to face Jesus on His cross in the hearts of the lonely people in Tazewell County. That they would know Christian love.

The third way our footsteps have been quickened is through our walking in the season of Advent through the primary themes of Advent: death, judgement, hell, and heaven, what are called the Four Last Things. Thank God for the Light of Christ among us during our walk, as we indeed were a people walking through darkness. Reflecting on death and hell in particular brings us to the knife-edge of our choices, and whether in even our mundane choices in life, as well as how we choose to be in relationship with others, how we choose to act and speak, we are doing so for the glory of God, or for selfish gratification.

And yet, we are a people who walked in darkness but have seen a great light. To us a child is born; to us a Son is given. God has known us from our mother’s womb, knit us together and covered us with His clothing as He did for Adam and Eve. Our lives have always been in His hands, and despite the disobedience of His people, time and time and time again, He has called us into covenant with Him. We have walked through the darkness of Advent so that our actions are not works of darkness but works of light.

And even more so: we have walked through the darkness of Advent so that having cleared our hearts and made room for His coming, we would be able to find the God who appeared as a Child—a child as small, as vulnerable, as helpless as any child, yet whose whole life was lived for us, and whose first cries for His mother’s breast struck mortal fear among the fallen armies of Satan from one end of the earth to the other. And we walked in the darkness so that dismounting from the high horse of our enlightened reason, our false certainties, our intellectual pride, our selfishness, we might truly find God in Mary’s Child—find Him, like the Shepherds; sing of Him, like the angels; and offer our lives to Him, as His disciples. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous. And may we in these days of Christmas give thanks to His holy Name.

Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 4: Heaven”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2018.

Home is where the heart is. That proverb apparently stems from a Roman author who lived about the time of Jesus: Pliny the Elder, and so it apparently is about two-thousand years old. And it is a proverb that we immediately sense has truth to it. When we are home, we can find rest—literally the rest of sleep, but also mental and emotional rest; or if our lives have anxiety, at least it is being at home where we often can best confront what makes us anxious. When we are at home, things make sense. When we are far away from home, especially after a spell of time, what do we want but to get home. Home is where we rest after our vacations.

One of the often unsettling aspects of the Christian life is that our sense of home is altered radically. Radically, in its literal meaning: at the root, or to the root. It is changed radically, and permanently. And it happens at our baptism. As the waters of baptism dropped down upon us the heavens from above, our sense of ultimate home was relocated from the here and now as can be perceived by our senses to the eternal present of heaven: invisible, spiritual, beyond time and space. In the words of Saint Augustine: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” As I have spoken about the tension of Advent we can also speak about the tension of our own identities as baptized people: we are both already at home being incorporated into the Body of Christ at Baptism, and we are not-yet there. The waters and holy words of Baptism are the voice and tangible presence of God Almighty’s voice which sweeps us up at that moment into permanent relationship which is rightly analogous to marriage.

I will readily admit there is a simplicity to this teaching that for many if not all of us can be difficult to fathom. At Baptism we are grafted into the Body of Christ’s Church, and His Body is in heaven. So baptism stretched us into heaven—but what gets in the way of this simplicity of all this? It is our conscience, not pure in Christ but impure. How do we purify our conscience? A time-tested way is to meditate upon the Four Last Things.

With Death what was said is that we die daily to ourselves as we seek to offer what is most precious to us all to God on His Altar at the foot of the cross—the action of doing so is the baptismal life, and our model is the woman (probably Saint Mary Magdalene) with the alabaster jar and her expensive oil of pure faith. With Judgment what was said is that it is the revelation of truth when we are close enough to the Light of light to see more clearly our shadows—this in some sense is the baptismal life with a greater degree of maturity and sobriety, and a model here is Saint John the Baptist who taught that “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” And then with Hell what was said is that the choice to follow Jesus Christ in His footsteps of peace stem from our openness, when confronted with the judgment of Christ, to have the humility to ask, “What shall we do?”—there is yet a greater degree of baptismal sophistication which is paradoxical because asking such a question seems so elementary, but it is more sophisticated because our works are not done for ourselves but for God—and our model or guide here is Saint James, who taught: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” These, then, are three of the Four Last Things.

Heaven, the fourth of the Last Things, is wrapped up into the other three, and indeed, the Christian conceptions of Death, Judgment, and Hell are all predicated upon Heaven. Heaven is where rest, service, and worship are all one. And we see that in Saint Luke’s account of the Visitation of Blessed Mary to Saint Elizabeth. Mary, always our primary example of how to follow Jesus as His disciple, makes her first action after the  Gabriel’s message quite fruitful: out the door of her home she does on what was probably a five-day journey the purpose of which was evangelization: Mary proclaimed the Gospel to Elizabeth. For those five days, the redemption and salvation of the world was known to Mary and Mary alone. We do not know what the specific words of Mary’s greeting were—probably they were “Peace be with you,” which was customary. Elizabeth heard the greeting of peace from Mary, and the babe (Saint John) leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. These are strong images that suggest that both Elizabeth and John were at this moment baptized—after all, she is filled with the Holy Spirit, which means John too is likewise filled. They both are full of grace.

And Mary’s song—what one Anglican priest called “Our Lady’s Hymn”—proclaims is the immediate presence of heaven through God’s action in her, which she accepted: her “Yes” to God. The whole world has become full of joy, full of grace as it was for Noah and his family after leaving the Ark. Heaven was shining forth through Mary—her voice, her presence, her song.

Heaven, then, is where our heart is. And our heart is truly in heaven when we have by God’s grace, Him always being our helper, we cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light—that having inwardly digested the Sacred Scriptures, as Mary and Elizabeth had, we can embrace and hold fast the pure joy shared by these two women at the news of the advent of their Lord.

Let us pray: O Holy and ever blessed Spirit, who did overshadow the Holy Virgin-Mother of our Lord, and caused her to conceive by a miraculous and mysterious manner; be pleased to overshadow our souls, and enlighten our spirits, that I may conceive the holy Jesus in our hearts, and may bear him in our minds, and may grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ, to be perfect in Christ Jesus. Amen.