Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 2: Judgment”

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

We reflected last Sunday, the first of Advent, on the fact that there is a certain tension to Advent—the tension of already and not yet. The Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ is already here—Jesus and His kingdom with His Rule, with His saving pattern of life He demands of His disciples has indeed come, has been revealed to us, our baptized bodies within the Body of Christ are temples of His Holy Spirit, and through the saving pattern He taught—daily prayer in the Offices, the Eucharist, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity according to the Bible and the gifts we each are given—the Church perpetuates His mission, perpetuates His kingdom, perpetuates Him. All this is true of the here and now.

And it is true that the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ has not yet reached the end of its manifestation. Jesus, as we say in our Creeds, will come again to judge the quick and the dead. “Will come again” adds a dimension to our whole way of thought: the dimension of time and of God’s action deferred until some point in the future (or, at least, oursense of future, because it appears that to God, past, present, and future are seen by Him in a single glance. So this tension of already and not yet in fact is the air we breathe, the world of God’s action that we inhabit. As baptized people, who by God’s gift of baptism, have died to sin that we rise with Christ Crucified in His resurrection, the baptismal life itself inhabits the tension of Advent, at all times. Advent is the air that the baptized breathe every day.

The preaching of Saint John the Baptist captured the tension of Advent. Through him, the people of God began to breathe Advent air, in this sense of it being ordered to Christ, Who for John the Baptist had both come already (remember, in the womb of his mother, John the Baptist leapt after hearing Blessed Mary speak—the sound of her words, and the words themselves,undoubtedly full of grace with the presence of God Who Himself was in her womb),and Jesus had yet to come. The hymn “Joy to the World” which we sang last week and will sing again next week, is roughly analogous to the overall content of John’s preaching. In the hymn, fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy. For John, “Prepare the way of the Lord . . . Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.” It is the same imagery, it is the same action of God, And it was in Baruch, as well: “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground.” Why? “So that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” So that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. In John the Baptist, in Isaiah, in Baruch: it is the same Gospel, the same Good News. The same action of God.

What is, then, this action? The Christian term for this is judgement. The making low of mountains and hills, the filling up of valleys, the straightening of the crooked, the transformation of the things of our reality—fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, and everything else—from mere objects observed into occasions of God’s transcendent presence which means wonder and joy to the world—this is the action of God’s judgment.

Too often we think of the word “judgement” and think “sentence of condemnation.” We get this from the secular meanings of judgment, whether in a court of law or in the court of public opinion, or the opinion of even a small group of people—who judge a person and pronounce upon that person in a way that reduces their standing, manifests a sense of inferiority, and all in all is a negative thing: “don’t judge me, man,” is the cliché that pulls all of that together neatly.

Now, as is so often the case of vocabulary used both by the secular world and the Christian Church, the Christian understanding of judgement expands upon the secular meanings, not erasing the secular meaning but uncovering a more profound depth of revelation. Yes, in the case of sins committed, particularly sins of malice which are deliberate, premeditated, and committed consciously contrary to God’s will, God’s judgement is severe and unbending—left unconfessed, the consequence of that sin upon a person is a live lived in hell, both in this phase of life and into the next. Perhaps not permanently, but hell nonetheless until his or her examined conscience through the grace of God calls to contrition and confession.

But God’s judgement, in the fullest sense, is much more than this. And the best way I think to understand is through an experiential example. Imagine, in your own main area of interest—say a hobby or activity you do—that you find yourself in the presence of the person or persons whose performance in that activity reaches the highest level of accomplishment. So, if you are a golfer, imagine being in the presence of Arnold Palmer. If you are a painter or artist, imagine being in the presence of Michelangelo. Or even being in the presence of a true and genuine teacher, of music or some other subject, or simple a teacher of life.

When we are in the actual, tangible presence of such mastery, our own weaknesses or lack of skill within that activity are made quite manifest, but it is hardly a completely negative experience. In fact, it can be a very positive—humbling, but positive—experience. Being in the mere presence of greatness, to say nothing if we receive any kind of guidance or advice or teaching from such a master, somehow has the effect of improving our own skills, or if not that, at least opening up new horizons for us, that will time and effort your skills would improve. You might have to practice that tip on putting you heard from Arnold Palmer for years before you get it, but after you do—well, all of this is analogous to God’s judgement. Held up to the light of light, standing before the light that knows no darkness, being Moses on the mountain—yes, we see our shadows the closer we are to the light, but we are also closer to the light—closer to the joy of our salvation, closer to such beauty and such truth that, like Moses, we begin to glow, and become light to the world.

Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 1: Death and Expectation”

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

The action of God Almighty, of Jesus Christ, King of the universe is afoot. Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals Himself in glory. Our Lord teaches that there will be signs in sun and moon, and stars—the roaring of the sea and the waves: heaven itself shaken. The prophet Zechariah spoke of the valley split in two, in such way that reminds of an earthquake. Let earth receive her King, indeed. Let heaven and nature sing: while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. All of these mighty acts of God are acts of Him casting away the works of darkness—because just as every visible thing is under the charge of a holy Angel, the good angels of Light, there lurks close to every perceivable thing—every creature whether animate or inanimate, visible or invisible—there lurks close by an unholy angel of the darkness. The holy angels invite us to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and to regard the creatures of this earth as made by Him with the purpose of each creature to give glory to God. The unholy angels of darkness, on the other hand, seek to tempt us into self-centeredness, tempt us to use the creatures made by God for selfish benefit, not God’s glory: ever-tempting us to pride, not humility. Read more “Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 1: Death and Expectation””

Homily: “On Beholding Our God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Second Sunday of Advent (Year B), 2017.

We have asked Our Lord Jesus Christ in our Collect today to give us grace to heed the warnings of the prophets and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus our Redeemer. That is, the grace to take seriously the words of Isaiah who sings in the highest register, “Behold your God!”; the grace to forsake sin—the separation—between ourselves and God through our daily prayer, a habit that absolves us of the common, low-intensity sins we commit, because daily prayers prepares Him room so that heaven and earth can sing in our hearts; and the grace to greet with joy the God of all creation as He comes into our bodies as the consecrated bread of life and spiritual drink, and still more into our hearts, words, and deeds, for He is speaking peace to His faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to Him.

“Joy to the World” exquisitely captures all the Advent themes of expectation, hope, joy, and acceptance of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Read more “Homily: “On Beholding Our God””

Homily: “On Advent Joy”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the First Sunday of Advent (Year B), 2017.

The season of Advent began to take shape near the end of the fourth century. Its purpose then remains its purpose for us today: to prepare our hearts to receive the boundless significance of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Nativity of the Word of God as a child—to prepare our hearts to receive Our King with joy. As the prophet Isaiah teaches us: God meets him, that joyfully works righteousness. So Advent, not so much a transition but extension of the celebration of Christ the King, is a time of joy. Our Savior reigns, not only our hearts, but He reigns over all of nature, over all creatures.

This is why the Church wants us to hear the teaching of our loving Lord Jesus as captured in the thirteenth chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel. Our Master is coming again into our hearts, but we do not know the hour, the day, the moment when He will come. Read more “Homily: “On Advent Joy””

Homily: “On Resting in God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year A), 2017.

Today’s Lesson from the Book of Zechariah is a perfect example of the kind of Scripture the first Christians of the early Church would have used to understand who Jesus of Nazareth truly was. I have spoken previously about the practice of “mystagogy”—of being led into the mysteries of God, of revisiting our experiences to find in them a still greater depth and significance—and the prophet Zechariah provided the early Church, and provides us, with just that kind of opportunity. To do mystagogy is not merely to look at words on the biblical page, and not merely to think about a superficial reading, but rather mystagogy is to enter into the space evoked by the scriptural words. It is deep listening with all of our human faculties, listening for resonances with other parts of the Bible, with our Liturgy, and with our own experiences. Read more “Homily: “On Resting in God””

Homily: “Advent and Acceptance”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

I hope not too many of you were thrown by the inclusion of our first hymn on this, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. If you were, let me say a couple things. First, it is perfectly understandable to have been thrown. As a child and particularly a teenager, I would have wondered what is going on to sing this obviously Christmas hymn at church before Christmas Eve. Not a theological objection, but an objection along the lines of the “church’s national anthem”—but that’s the way we have always done it.

Secondly, if in singing this hymn you are brought into the spirit of Christmas—well, there are much worse things to be brought into, and with Christmas a week away, I do not suspect this feeling is out of line in the eyes of God. After all, we are surrounded by reminders of Christmas everywhere we look in Tazewell County and elsewhere, everywhere we listen in grocery and department stores.

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Homily: “Advent and Joy”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In my homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, to all of you I said the following words:

“Let us continue to seek harmony with each other through prayer. For when we do so, God will send forth to us His increase. The increase of the harvest is completely up to God—he will send new disciples not when we think we are ready for them, but only when God decides—when He judges—that we are ready to receive new disciples, when we show the fruits of our prayer and harmony.”

I said those words last Sunday, and I repeat them again this morning, and I probably will repeat them again in the future, because they reflect accurately the Gospel as the Church has received it from Jesus Christ. The theology of those words is derived primarily from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, when he appointed the Seventy for mission, “two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” And when he appointed them, Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Jesus sends us out as lambs in the midst of wolves. We are lambs by virtue of our baptism, being incorporated into Him, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are lambs because we hear the voice of our shepherd, we hear Christ’s speech, we hear His voice. And hearing His voice, we are filled with joy—the real joy, against which all other joys are secondary. This joy protects us, it shields us, for it is the shield of faith. This joy is our breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of our salvation, the sword of the Spirit. This joy is true peace.

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Homily: “Advent and Hope”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

What does it mean that God will judge? We hear from Isaiah the words, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Judgment is also described by Saint Matthew from the words of Saint John the Baptist: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What’s more, our Collect from last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, has these words: “He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.” And of course those words are carried into two important and authoritative statements of the Catholic faith, first into the Apostles’ Creed and later, historically speaking, incorporated into the Nicene Creed, and point to, and thereby express, what is called the doctrine of God’s judgement. And so we have yet another layer for our Advent prayer and reflection—the intersection of the Bible and creedal doctrine with liturgical season.

So what are we talking about when we are talking about the doctrine of God’s judgment? And how does the doctrine of God’s judgment  relate, and even enlighten, the themes of the season of Advent — of Expectation in Week 1, Hope in Week 2, Joy in Week 3, and Acceptance in Week 4? And how can we speak of such a doctrine of judgment  — apparently which involves winnowing, clearing, gathering and burning — when our God’s very nature is Charity, whose very nature is to give Himself to His creation completely and genuinely?

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Homily: “Advent and Expectation”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In this first week of Advent, the sense of expectation grows. Although the weather outside can often be frightful, nonetheless this is for the most part a season of warmth, for Christmas and all its wonderful remembrances is just around the corner. We are expecting a visit from Jesus—a particular kind of visit, where he visits us in His humility, as the long proclaimed and hoped for Messiah, as a child. Imagine the feelings, two thousand years ago, of Blessed Mary, now in her eighth month of pregnancy—how she was pondering the real meaning of the words announced to her by the Angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Pondering, and feeling this baby, the Son of God, in all the glory of the eighth month of pregnancy.

And there is a second visit that we expect, but expect in a different way. That is the visit of Christ in His Second Coming in the Last Day—His coming in glory. In this visit he comes to judge both the living and the dead.

And yet in our Collect, we ask God to give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. And so we expect a third coming of Christ—a coming in our hearts—to cast darkness out of our hearts, that the armor of light might shield our hearts. For with our hearts filled with this coming of Jesus, our hearts filled with light and protected with light, all of which comes from God, we are filled with Hope, and we may by His grace rise to the life immortal.

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