On S. Stephen, pt 2

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity (Proper 28), 2020.

We continue today with our reflection on Saint Stephen the hoy Martyr, looking at how his story in Scripture makes more real for us the profession in the Apostles’ Creed “I believe in the Communion of Saints”—a living relationship with the Saints being fundamental to baptismal living. Saint Stephen is such a poignant example of everything it means to be a Saint who gives witness to Christ in the world; witness to Christ to others both in word and in deed. Last Sunday I spoke of how his preaching as a Deacon, not so much liturgically as a sermon during Mass but speaking about the power of Christ in the public square, in the streets, in people’s homes as he served the poor, embodied the wise maidens and how they made sure to have enough oil—oil being a composite symbol of Scripture of giving oneself in sacrifice with prayerful compassion according to Scripture (the primary symbolism of oil being seen in the example of Saint Mary Magdalene).

Summing up also is the term taught by Jesus in that parable of the wise and foolish maidens—His teaching to “watch.” For us to watch is to live baptismally: our living sacrifice, suffering with Christ, and finding Him through prayer gloriously revealed in Scripture as our daily Bread. And we can be sure that St Stephen himself took this to heart, and made his own life by God’s grace over into a life of watching—finding Christ through prayer in Scripture and thereby suffering with Christ (what we mean by having compassion) all as a living sacrifice of his life to Christ, offering and presenting his soul and body unto Christ, as we say in the Mass and as Saint Paul says, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice. As we hear the story of Saint Stephen and take his story into our heart, we partake more and more with Him in the Holy Communion of Christ, and share more and more with Stephen the grace and heavenly benediction, or blessing, of Christ—for Christ blesses all who partake of Him.

The most significant signal that Stephen was full of grace and heavenly benediction is the description of him at the end of Acts 6, that all how sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel. It is an arresting image, particularly because it comes from the hand of Saint Luke, the author of the Gospel account attributed to him but also of the Acts of the Apostles. Angels figure prominently for Luke in the proclamation of the Gospel—the archangel Gabriel’s message first to Zachariah and then to Blessed Mary: the angelic light in Luke’s telling always shines with the heavenly light of Christ. To Zachariah the angel proclaimed Zachariah’s son John Baptist would be great in the sight of the Lord, and would turn many of the children of Israel to Jesus. And to Our Lady, the angel proclaimed “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. Mary herself thereby so shone with the angelic light that her mere voice a short while later to her cousin Elizabeth caused the baby John Baptist to leap in her womb, and to fill her with the Holy Spirit herself. And it is the angelic light that proclaims the Resurrection of Christ—as the two men stood with the holy Women at the tomb, and reminded them of Scripture so as to be able to recognize the living among the dead, and to understand that suffering leads to eternal life.

This is what it means for the council of Jews to see Stephen’s face as the face of an angel. The glory of Christ shined through Stephen—through his eyes, through the disposition of his face, through his voice, through his fragrance. The defense he then gave radiated with angelic energy that revealed Christ through the Old Testament. To become one with Christ is to receive the radiance that shown from Stephen’s face—at that moment, on trial for his faith in Christ, Stephen was beholding God’s face, for the face of an angel is the face that see God, the face that sings to God around the heavenly throne, singing unceasingly “Holy, holy, holy.” The holiness of Stephen took everyone’s breath away, the peace of Stephen made their jaw drop, the love of Stephen began to soften their hardened hearts (especially that of Saul who looked on), and the authority of his presence, the authority of his face, the authority then of his words giving testimony to the living Christ, the Lord Christ, Son of the living God, who gives mercy to all who truly turn to Him—this holiness, this angelic presence, this love so convicted them of their sins that all their demons were scared up from their hidden places in the hearts of the council that they acted as demonic animals and stoned Stephen to death. But no before Stephen would drop his last bit of heavenly dew upon them—saying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin. Do not hold this sin against them”: an echo of Our Lord Jesus Himself on the Cross, again captured by Luke: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Stephen teaches us that the angelic light shines to others in our faces when we ask the Father to forgive our enemies, forgive our persecutors. True forgiveness from the Father is Christ’s light in the world.

On the Angels

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Michaelmas (observed), 2020.

Before we say anything more about angels, let the simplest and most fundamental thing about the angels be said and understood by us all. And the simplest and most fundamental thing about angels to understand is this: angels serve God in heaven and defend us on earth. This is what our Collect affirms. It is also affirmed in the Doxology we sing at the Offertory of the Eucharist: “praise Him above, ye heavenly Host”—affirms the first part, that angels serve God in heaven. An affirmation of the angels in our life is found affirmed in the Sanctus prayer we say as the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins: “therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, “Holy, holy, holy”—angels join us in praise at the Altar in the Eucharist to defend us, that is, support us, as we face the heavenly Light of lights Who is transfigured before our faces on the Altar.

Likewise, their role of defender is affirmed in the Burial liturgy at a funeral, even in the last words said over the body of the deceased in the Commendation as the body leaves the Church for the cemetery or final resting place: “Into paradise may the angels lead you.” Angels defend the soul of the faithful departed against the temptations of the devil. The simplest and most fundamental thing about angels to understand is this: angels serve God in heaven and defend us on earth.

There are two more specific aspects of angels described in Scripture for our reflection on this our observance of the Feast of Michaelmas, itself on our Kalendar for this Tuesday. The first is the war in heaven described in the Revelation to S. John, chap. 12; and the second is the ascending and descending of angels upon the Son of Man described by Jesus according to S. John in his Gospel account. So let us reflect on both of these.

John describes a war that arose in heaven. Michael, one of the archangels and whose name means “Who is like God?” fought with his angels against the dragon and his angels; that is, against the Devil who is also called Satan, who accuses God and deceives the world. The battle happened, and the holy Angels of light defeated the unholy angels of darkness. It is important to see this as light verses dark, day verses night. And the reason it is important because to the Church is was revealed early that John’s description expounds upon the mystery of the first day of creation described in the opening verses of Genesis, chapter 1. These verses: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw the light: it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day; the darkness He called Night; and there was evening and morning, one day.” This is all about the angelic war in heaven described by John in the Revelation; this is not about the creation of perceivable light and darkness as we might think, because light perceivable by the eyes was not created until the fourth day: “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven for illumination to divine day and from night.” Greater light (the sun), lesser light (the moon), the stars—all this is the fourth day, and not the first.

What is described in Genesis as created on the first day is invisible light, not perceivable to the eyes, but only available to us as revelation. Hence John’s description of the war in heaven is one of the keys pieces of scripture that in fact point us to when angels were created. They were created at the very beginning of God’s creation—indeed, the angels are the Light. And the war in heaven was a battle between humility and pride: the holy angels in their humility overpowered the unholy angels burdened by the weight of their pride. Indeed, when we are humble before God, God shines through us as well; and when we are full of pride, we are heavy and weighed down with the darkness of death.

What, then, is meant by Jesus revealing at angels will be seen to be ascending and descending upon the Son of Man? To speak of angels as “ascending then descending” is rather curious, is it not? Usually we might think of it the other way round: that angels first descend to us and then ascend to heaven. But in speaking of angels being seen by the disciples as ascending and then descending upon the Son of Man echoes firstly the vision of Jacob in Genesis chapter 28. For Jacob “dreamed that were was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” And so angels reveal to us Christ lifted up, reveal to us Jesus ascending, and themselves ascend to send to us the good news of His ascension on the Cross, which is the ascension into the heavenly reality.

Jacob goes on to say: “And behold, the Lord stood above the ladder and said, “I am the Lord.” And so Jesus is directly us straightforwardly to regard Him as the ladder: Jesus is the ladder to heaven; and the top of the ladder which is Him is Him, for the voice speaks to Jacob and says, “I am the Lord.” All throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus uses that phrase: “I am”— in John 6, He says, “I am the bread of life.” In John 8, He says, “I am the light of the world.” In John 10, He says, “I am the door.” In John 11, He tells us that He is “the resurrection and the life.” In John 14, He says He is the “the way and the truth and the life,” and in John 15, He says He is “the true vine.” Even in John 8, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Each of these I Am statements in John echoes the I am statement of the Lord to Jacob. And so, angels reveal to us the “I Am-ness” of Jesus: reveal to us His living presence, as Peter proclaimed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Angels ascend to reveal to us Christ ascended and lifted up upon the heavenly cross, and angels descend to reveal to us the real living presence of Christ, His I Am-ness, even to reveal to us the Word made flesh of the Eucharist, dwelling among us—revealing His glory for us to behold, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Thanks be to God.

Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity (Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

There are times in parish life when our sense of living it is fairly simple and straightforward: love God, love neighbor through the threefold pattern of daily Offices, Masses on Sundays and holy days, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity flowing from our Baptism. This is Saint Luke’s account, stemming from the Upper Room, a kind of proto-parish. Yet there are times as well in parish life when our sense of living it is the opposite of all that: complicated, confusing and full of uncertainty—often through divisions within a parish, factions, in-fighting, and the like. This is Saint Paul’s account of the church at Corinth, which we can see also as a proto-parish. Parish life is both simple and complicated. Read more “Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege””

Homily: “On the Seed Parables”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday after Trinity (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

We hear today the second and third of the three Seed Parables. These are relayed to us by Saint Mark all in chapter four of his Gospel, almost in a direct sequence. The Parable of the Sower of course comes first, with its presentation of a kind of bleak-sounding predestination—the growth of the seed entirely depends upon the soil: good soil means growth, poor soil means the seed does not grow. The second seed parable presents the completely opposite scenario whereby the quality of the soil is irrelevant because the seed grows by itself, automatically. And the third Seed Parable, of the mustard seed, tells us that what grows of the seed is ordinary, for the shrubs described would be no more than eight feet tall. Read more “Homily: “On the Seed Parables””

Homily: “On Having No Guile”

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

While we have something of a dramatic shift of liturgical color from white to green, the prayer of the Church as guided by the appointed Scripture passages continues in the same general flow that began even back in Advent. That is, the epiphany of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: the showing forth of Jesus to the world, showing forth who He is, showing forth how we are to understand Him as God, and even more so, a showing forth of how our restless hearts can only find true rest in God, our restless eyes can only find rest in the true Light that enlightens every man and woman and child—a showing forth that invites us to boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and embrace the Holy Spirit of God which dwells in our body, our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit within us. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them as light shined. To us a child has been born, to use a son is given—and He is Mighty God, he is Prince of Peace.

All through this long stretch of celebrating the mystery of how God has shown forth Himself to the world, we have seen that the revelation is not have an intellectual system, not a collection of doctrines, and not a treatise of moral values. The Christian revelation is rather an encounter. Read more “Homily: “On Having No Guile””

Homily: “On Mary’s Joy”

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

In the traditional Anglican liturgy for churches that keep the Catholic tradition of liturgical expression, today’s service for the Fourth Sunday in Advent would begin, as all Sundays, with what is known as an “Introit.” That is the Latin word for “Entrance.” Rather than having an opening hymn, or often after the opening hymn while the altar was being incensed, there would be a Cantor who says—usually chants—the Introit. It consists of an antiphon verse, then a psalm verse, and finally the Glory Be, with the antiphon being repeated again. In my own efforts to expose our Parish to a wide offering of liturgical expression, this is what I follow whenever there is a Mass in All Souls’ Chapel, such as there was this morning for the Lady Mass and as there will be on  Christmas Day on Monday morning, 10 am.

I mention all this by way of background so that I can read before you now the beginning of the traditional Introit for this Mass, and then offer a reflection. Here it is: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and bring forth a Savior.” Although initially obscure seeming, there is real poetry even in this one sentence, which is the antiphon, through its three images. Read more “Homily: “On Mary’s Joy””

Homily: “On the Angels”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, 2017.

The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels has historically in English tradition been an occasion for great celebration and revelry. Coming as it does in the heart of the harvest season, food always played a significant role in the popular piety surrounding this feast. This explains in part why the nickname for this feast in English tradition is “Michaelmas.” There is a play on words in there, because while “Michael” in this pronunciation refers of course to the Archangel Michael, or more traditionally, “Mick-aye-el,” it also refers to a now archaic word in the English language, “mickle,” which means “much” or “large amount.” There is no more efficient way to a person’s heart than through the stomach, and so the culinary plenitude associated with this feast, along with the linguistic playfulness of “mickle”-mas are two reasons why it has been disproportionately celebrated in English Christianity, particularly in the Medieval centuries. Is it any wonder, then, why God has guided us to our post-Mass celebration we today christen as the first annual “Tazewell Parish Pie-Luck”? Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals . . .” and pies both savory and sweet, I am sure the compilers of our Prayer Book thought to include.

We celebrate today the Holy Angels, who always serve and worship God in heaven, and help and defend us mortals here on earth. Read more “Homily: “On the Angels””

Homily: “Religion and Angels”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels, 2016.

We come in the liturgical year to the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. This feast day enjoyed great popularity in medieval England, and the wider British lands of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as well. So much so that it came to be known as “Michaelmas,”—“Michael’s Mass”—with the same shortened treatment that Christmas, or “Christ’s Mass,” received in popular piety. It was also important because it was a turning point in the English economy each Autumn, for it was seen as the official end of the harvest season, and hence new servants were hired, debts paid. Also, the universities began their terms after this day. One of my seminaries, Nashotah House, still calls its fall semester, “Michaelmas Term.”

Michaelmas showed up, as Church festivals often did (and still do), on the dinner table. It was customary to eat goose on Michaelmas Day; there was a kind of bread called “St Michael’s Bannock” that is a relative of the scone; and Michaelmas, according to English folklore, was “last day that blackberries should be picked. It is said that on this day, when Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush. He then cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, spat and stamped on them and made them unfit for consumption! And so the Irish proverb goes: ‘On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries.’” There is even a “Michaelmas Daisy,” a kind of Aster whose color ranges from deep pink to light purple. With the Weiner Roast last evening outside the vicarage at All Saints’ as part of our Michaelmas revelry, we participated in an age-old festival and added—with hot dogs and s’mores and the rest—a particularly American spin. Read more “Homily: “Religion and Angels””