On Having the Eyes of Saint Joseph

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

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, we are told by Saint Matthew. And then but a few verses later, again an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, now in Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and yet again to decide specifically where to dwell. This means there have been at least four, and probably five, times that Saint Matthew tells us Joseph has had an angel visit him in a dream. Five angel visits, five angel messages—five, we can say, annunciations, just as Blessed Mary experienced her annunciation by the angel Gabriel. This to some may sound rather fanciful legend, the stuff of fantasy literature. But let us remember that at the heart of this part of the Gospel narrative is the infancy of a child. At the birth of any child, the whole family is thrown into a state of wonder and joy. This is especially so for the parents. Holding the baby, hearing the baby, smelling the baby, simply being with the baby—the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas is rooted in this very reality that Christ is born. We spend twelve days savouring the simple fact that unto us a child is born—twelve days, savouring our savior. This Child, Who is in Himself the new Temple of Jerusalem. O come let us adore Him.

I have said before that for such an important person in the gospel narrative, there are so few words ascribed to Joseph. But we know more about him than we might realize. He has been visited by the angel Gabriel five times! So although we do not know what Joseph looked like, or how he spoke, or hardly anything about his life before he took Mary as his wife, except that he was a carpenter of some sort, or what happened to Joseph in the time after Jesus at age twelve was found in the Temple—he died at some point after that, obviously, probably of natural causes of old age—we do know he has been visited five times by an angel to reveal God’s will. So on an existential level, we know quite a bit about Joseph—that he was open to, and well aware of, the supernatural. He was open to, and well aware of, God in His transcendent dimension—open and aware of the invisible reality of God.

And not just open and aware of the invisible reality of God, but ordering his life around the invisible reality of God. He was making crucial life decisions based upon the invisible reality of God revealed to him by the angel. First, to accept the truth that his betrothed had conceived by divine hands—that she was of Child by the Holy Ghost; second, that he, Joseph, was to be a public witness and defender to this divine action—the divine ordering of salvation itself through the Church which is the Body of Jesus, rather than sending Mary away quietly for her protection; third, that he, Joseph, should take the child and His mother to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, undoubtedly possessed by demons, and to wait there; and fourthly, to return to Israel, anf fifthly, eventually to dwell in Nazareth.

What then does all this say about Joseph? How do we interpret him, and his role in God’s plan for salvation through Christ? The first principle we should always use and start with is that we interpret scripture by scripture. Joseph led Mary and Jesus back from Egypt to Israel all by the guidance of God through the angel. Does this sound familiar? It should—it is what Moses did with Israel. Moses led Israel out of bondage to an evil ruler to the promised land of Israel, at all times led by God. And Saint Joseph recapitulates all of it. And if Joseph recapitulates Moses, then Mary and Jesus recapitulate the Ark of the Covenant (the container for God’s holy presence, which is symbolically Mary) and God’s holy presence itself in the cloud and voice (which is Christ). And unlike Israel who were constantly disobedient to God, constantly complaining to Moses, Mary and Jesus were fully obedient to God’s will expressed through Joseph, completely given over to following God’s will without delay. What’s more, just as Moses was able to glimpse the promised land with his own eyes but not reach it before dying, Joseph glimpsed salvation Himself—and was the guardian of the Promised Land-Made-Man in Jesus, for at least twelve years—the protector and dutiful guardian of the revelation of the divine ordering of the Church through Mary and through Jesus, the Son of God.

Saint Paul speaks of God giving us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. He speaks of having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know the hope to which God has called us, and the immeasurable greatness of His power. This is all the spirit and the eyes and the knowledge of Saint Joseph. We know nothing about him except how he gave his life as a sacrifice to God and to be an instrument for God to accomplish salvation through Christ crucified and risen. By the intercession of Saint Joseph, may we do the same.

On the Peace of Christ

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

It was the theme of my sermon for Christmas Eve to focus on the gift of peace God has given us with the birth of Christ. But to properly receive the gift—which means, ultimately, to order our lives around the gift that has been given, which is the Peace of Christ—and furthermore, in a real sense, embody the gift of peace so much so that we can in our lives—our words and deeds, our relationships with close friends as well as passing acquaintances, and with the countless many more with whom we exchange little more than hello and a smile—that we can in our lives that are embodying the Peace of Christ pass the same Peace on to others; that we can to a lonely world exchange the Peace of Christ and warm the hearts of the lonely—because when the Peace of Christ is present, a person (even if alone) is no longer lonely; to properly receive the Gift of Peace, we have to understand what the Christian faith means by Peace. Then we can share it.

When the Peace of Christ is present, in their hearts the previously person sings along with the prophet Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” I do not mean actually says those words, but expresses their meaning in whatever sense their heart is warmed by the presence of Christ’s Peace. The documentary footage, for example, that captured people dying on the streets of Calcutta in India yet who were loved by Saint Teresa—we see in their faces and hear in their voices, despite their dying, sickly bodies, them proclaiming the good news of a great joy: the same good news of a great joy proclaimed by the Angel Gabriel to the shepherds keeping watch over their fields on the night of Christ’s birth. Those persons, the poorest of the poor, exude the peace of Christ, because they have received the peace of Christ through the Outreach ministry of Saint Teresa and her sisters. Saint Teresa and her sisters embody the peace of Christ, and because of that, and only because of that, are they able to pass the gift of Christ’s peace on to those they meet and serve.

But still, what is the Christian meaning of Peace? Some say, it is not the absence of war and strife, but the presence of love. And there is truth to that. But what is this presence of love for Christians? The presence of love for Christian is the presence of love that we read in the Scriptures and in the Gospels that Christ Himself demonstrates. The word “love” for us is better understood as “caritas,” from which our word “charity” derives. It is selfless love of a person, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, voluntarily going to His death for the sins of the whole world. Peace is the presence of this selfless giving of oneself for the world. It is this presence of selflessness that we must have in our hearts if we are to so embody Peace as to give it to others.

And the Nativity of Christ radically illustrates this. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” we hear in Saint John. Let us lift up our hearts to this, brothers and sisters! This Son given to the world is He through Whom all things have been made, this holy Child. This Son given to the world is He Who is the Light that enlightens every man coming into the world, this holy Child. This Son given to the world is He who creates equality of honour between heaven and earth, a way up for all those below to things above. Nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ’s nativity.

And the benefits are found when we meditate upon the festival of Christmas. The benefits are found when we quietly sit in contemplation of God’s mighty acts, beginning with the fact that the Eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Let us meditate on this mystery of the Nativity of Christ, that we may imitate what it contains and obtain what the Angels promise: Peace, good will among men.

On the Nativity of Christ

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2019.

It is glorious to be with you all to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, born of His Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin. He was conceived by Mary in her heart by the message and invitation of the Angel Gabriel—and thereby after conceiving Him first in her heart, she conceived Him in her spotless womb. And the Angel Gabriel greeted the newborn Babe and announced to the shepherds keeping watch by night the very words, Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth. He conceived through an angel, and welcomed into the world through an Angel, who then was surrounded by the whole heavenly host of angels just as our Altar when we celebrate the Eucharist is surrounded by angels, archangels, and furthermore all the company of heaven—the Saints who live in glory and pray for us that we may continue to walk in the ways of Christ along the holy highway prophecied by Isaiah. The whole world, I chanted at the beginning of our Mass—the whole world being at peace. The Lord has given us a sign: As promised in time of old, a Virgin has conceived and has born a Son, and all call His name Emmanuel: which means, God with us. Our prayer can only lift us to heaven when surrounded as we are by such glory.

This is my fourth Christmas as your priest. I look forward as I am sure you all do as well to this holy night, when the stars are brightly shining. A new spirit is in the air, a gentleness enters into our everyday conversations in a noticeable way, does it not? Many of us gather with family during this holy season—a holy season my family, before I was ordained, had to learn as a matter of necessity was twelve days long, because we quickly realized there was no way we could possibly share Christmas with all of our family if “Christmas” meant roughly a 24-hour period. I believe one year we actually tried—we tried visiting four different households on Christmas Eve and Day. Perhaps the whole world was full of peace, but our hearts were not quite sharing in that peace that year.

And so Christmas is not only religiously twelve days long, ending with the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6, when we celebrate that the whole world, represented by the Magi, the Wise Men who followed the Star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh both to Jesus the King and to His Mother Mary—but let it be practically twelve days long, as well, as best as we are able to make it so. God is at work in the world, and His power abounds everywhere we go, and everywhere we might travel during this season to see friends and family. Recognize that this power is best experience as peace not only in the season of Christmas, but everywhere and in all places and times. The peace of Christ we exchange with each other during the Liturgy of the Eucharist—that peace of the Eucharist, when all of us, each a member of the Body of Christ, by the grace of the precious Body of Christ on the Altar, seeking unity with the Body of Christ, that is, with the person with whom we exchange the peace.

And how do we really exchange peace in that moment? We can shake hands, or hug, or kiss, or greet a friend anytime. And certainly each time we do those things can be a moment that shares in the peace of Christ. But what is the specifically Christian understanding of what it means to exchange the peace? It is this: we look into the eyes of another person, and in a moment of quiet—whether it is half of a second or a whole minute does not matter—in a moment of quiet, a moment of stillness, we recognize something utterly amazing: that Christ is in that person in whose eyes you are looking, and that they can perceive Christ in you.

This is the peace of Christ. This is the same peace of Christ that passes all understanding. And this is the peace of Christ that the whole world shared with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, a peace we are sharing in this evening, the peace Christ proclaimed to the apostles on the first Easter evening: Christ, crucified and resurrected proclaiming the Upper Room, “Peace be with you.” All the same peace that shines off the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger—the whole world being at peace.

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 Holiness of Eternal Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the First Sunday after Christmas, 2017. In our Collect, we have acknowledged to God and affirmed it to be true that our loving Lord, the God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, has poured upon us the new light of His incarnate Word. And this incarnate Word is Jesus Christ, the newborn King. Upon the announcement of His birth by the archangel Gabriel, the Angels sang triumphantly. Upon the announcement of His birth, the Light of Heaven came into our world of darkness and confusion. Upon the announcement of His birth, all of the world is at peace: the conditions of our time and space are transcended, forever giving us a window to heaven in the embrace of Blessed Mary, Blessed Joseph her most chaste spouse, and the Christ child. For in the embrace of this Holy Family we see love itself dynamic, love itself embodied, love itself pure and holy. It is in this holiness of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we share each Christmastide—the holiness of this eternal Light—as so how fitting our Collect is, that we ask God to grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives. For we are taught by our loving Lord Jesus not to hide our light under a bushel, but to put the light on a stand, that it gives light to all in the house. Read more “Homily: “On the Holiness of Eternal Light””

Homily: “On the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.

It is with joy and thankfulness in my heart that I wish you all a merry Christmas on this most solemn feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And a merry white Christmas, assuming the roads do not get too slippery. This holy night is shining with the brightness of the true Light, and what wonder it is to consider how indeed this Light is for the whole world—how one by one through the time zones of our world, thousands of churches and religious communities gather to sing, to pray, and to celebrate the wonderful and inexpressible mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceiving the Son of God Almighty, bearing in her pure womb the Lord of Heaven, and giving birth to the world’s Redeemer amid the choir of holy Angels filling the air with the hymn of glory. Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. Read more “Homily: “On the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ””

Homily: “On the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2016.

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man.

These words that I chanted before the Mass—what wonder they hold! What mystery they tell! What invitation they extend! Brothers and sisters, we must never weary of giving our deepest contemplation to their meaning. For amid all of the warm memories of Christmastide that we all have with our families and friends, which we recall and live again in this holy season, let us also savor above all else the fundamental reality of this moment: that God has come to earth and Mary is Mother of God.

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Homily: “Even of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2016.

This indeed is a moment of tremendous holiness. For to us a child is born; to us a son is given. And in this birth of a child, on this night when a son given to us, let us not overlook the truth, but celebrate it. Let us not lose focus amid the warm moments of Christmastide—the family feasts, the exchanging of presents, the sugar cookies—but keep our attention firmly on the fundamental reality of Christmas: that God has come to earth and Mary is Mother of God.

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