Homily: “On the Sacred Humanity of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Mass of Christian Burial of Nancy Swayne, 21 February 2019 at Saint Paul’s Church.

There was such joy when the first Christians gathered in community in the first church in Jerusalem. This was the Upper Room, where Jesus taught about Eucharist, later instituted the Eucharist and washed the feet of the eleven apostles on the night before He died. It is where Jesus appeared to the apostles in the evening of Easter Sunday, and it is where the early church after the Ascension of Jesus learned how to worship, learned how to live in community around the cross, and learned what it was like to be fully human and share a full humanity with one another—for this is why God became man: that through the gift of Jesus, formed by His outlook upon reality, our fallen humanity (so prone to missteps, misguided behavior) can participate in the sacred humanity of Jesus.

The sacred humanity of Jesus is fundamental to the Gospel of God—fundamental to the Good News that Jesus taught and lived in His life, resonantly echoing the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament. The sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards the world—that all things are not only made by God, but made through Christ: and so it affirms that all creatures both small and great are endowed by God with His gift of existing, and are to be used and beheld for the glory the give to God, the maker of all things visible and invisible.

The sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards people—that Christ in some profound sense is present in all persons, whether Christian or not: and so the sacred humanity of Jesus reveals to us the dignity in all persons, and that all things good, true, and beautiful in all persons are of God, no matter the form, shape, or appearance. To recognize this truth is the deepest meaning of the commandment to love thy neighbor.

And the sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards death, an attitude toward the inevitability of life leading to the end of our earthly, bodily life. It is an attitude awake to sorrow and pain, not avoiding sorrow and pain but embracing it as Jesus embraced sorrow and pain on the Cross—knowing that the power of God overcomes death, overcomes sorrow and pain, and transforms them into new depths of love.

Because our redeemer liveth—and we know this is true because He has been changing hearts of people from one end of the earth to the other for two thousand years, with no end in sight—we know that our lives and our humanity, baptized into His life and His humanity, are already stretched into heaven with Christ. This is the gift of baptism: that we begin to participate in the heavenly realities in the here and now. Death in Christianity does not mean the end of our relationship, but the beginning of a changed relationship with our sister Nancy.

The most important and central truth we proclaim today is found in the first words of our liturgy today, chanted during the procession to the Altar: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” The rest of the liturgy both here and at Prairie Haven simply expands upon that truth, and makes that truth our prayer: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life. Can we doubt that part of the reason for Nancy’s uniquely warm and infectious smile stems from the fact that the spark and light of Christ filled her and she saw that spark and light of Christ in each person she met? And can we doubt that the ability of her smile to fill our hearts in but a moment she now is sharing not only with us but with the dearly departed in paradise—in only the way Nancy can? I not only do not doubt this for a moment, but I firmly believe that it is through her smile that she is singing the praise of Jesus in His house, and will continue to do so in His arms, for ever.

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 Forgiveness, part four”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

The fourth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus echoes about the hearts and minds of faithful Christians as we approach the events of Holy Week. This word from Jesus is plain, and it is unadorned. It is: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was Saint Matthew who recorded these words in his Gospel. Saint Matthew tells us this happened at about the ninth hour of the day. That sort of reckoning of time began at what we would call 6 am, or thereabouts. So the ninth hour of the day would be about 3 pm in the afternoon, and has traditionally in the Church been a holy time each day for prayer and recollection of Our Lord’s crucifixion. Saint Matthew also tells us that in speaking these words, Jesus cried with a loud voice. He wanted this to be heard by all close enough to hear, indeed with ears to hear. He did not want there to be any mistaking what He said. He cried with a loud voice so that what He was saying would be clear.

This fourth of the Seven Last Words is a direct quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22. We will pray with this Psalm at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass as the Altar is stripped bare of all candles, linens and decoration to bring to our minds that Jesus, the Last Supper having been Instituted and given to us in tremendous glory, is now beginning to enter into His humiliation—first in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then to His Passion and death on the Cross. As the Altar is stripped, Psalm 22 will be chanted, so that we share in the feelings that Jesus Himself was experiencing during this unspeakable time. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part four””

Homily: “On ‘To Die is Gain'”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemn Mass of Christian Burial for Terry Young, 2 March 2017.

Jesus actively loves all His creatures completely and absolutely, and upon His creatures Jesus also makes an active demand. He loves and keeps all his creatures—angels, human beings, and all the way down the biological chain of animate and inanimate creatures—because through Him all things were made, and without Him was nothing made that is made. Jesus Christ is the Artist through Him the eternal Father spoke the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the whole universe is His canvas, and every brushstroke on this canvas of reality expresses the love between the Father and the Son. And this means every single detail of creation, the littlest of things in our lives, matter a great deal to God, for all the details express the relationship God has with His creation—a relationship of love, of reconciliation, of stewardship, and of peace.

Jesus, the perfect lover, also makes an active demand on us. One of the many ways this demand upon us finds expression is in what are known as the “Hard sayings of Jesus.” These are verses in the New Testament that confront us, and have confronted the Church for two-thousand years. We cannot avoid them, as much as we might want to. These hard sayings include: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” and “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Another is “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There are many more. Now each of these would require separate homilies to begin to rightly interpret, and I am not going to do that here. And in truth, it is often the case that some of the hard sayings display Jesus of Nazareth with a rather dry but deadly sense of humor. His demands upon us are sometimes made with a subtle smirk and slightly raised eyebrow.

A hard saying from elsewhere in the New Testament, not from Jesus but from Saint Paul, however, I will spend a bit of time on. In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in the first chapter, he writes, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Now, Saint Paul was indeed a mystic; he was a persecutor of the early Church who was knocked to the ground by the blinding light and voice of Jesus confronting him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” So for Paul to say “to me to live is Christ” is not the hard part of this saying, because his whole life turned around, turned toward God, and so he reckoned all aspects of his life to Jesus and found in Jesus a new outlook. The hard part of the saying are the words after that: “to die is gain.” How can we understand these four words? And how can they provide Christian people solace in times of grief?

The key is to understand the nature of God. God is love. His love is infinite, and He made His creatures in His infinite love, so that in seeking Him we might find Him. God is constantly seeking us, constantly inviting us into deeper relationship with Him. This is why Saint John tells us in our Gospel that Jesus desires to lose nothing of what the Father has given Him. The will of God is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life—that everyone who loves Jesus, listens to Jesus, is confronted by Jesus, and offers him or herself in humility to Jesus will begin to share in His feast; will live a life of ever-deepening gladness and rejoicing; will cultivate their courage and strength to face life’s trials and remember to call to Jesus for help, for to us and our trials He offered Himself to us as a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. “Him who comes to me I will not cast out.” There are no exceptions to this teaching, and there does not appear to be any particular nuance to grasp: All who respond to Jesus will be embraced, loved, and held in His arms for ever.

And so while “to die is gain” is a hard saying, a confronting saying, let us not hear it as a condemnation of this life, but a fulfilment of this life. We are created in order that we can begin to understand what true love actually is, so that when we take the next steps of the journey the loving relationships we have experienced on earth are not replaced, nor forgotten, nor trivialized, but fulfilled, remembered, and forever treasured within the company of heaven, the angels, the saints, the faithful departed, and within the company of God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the very nature of Whom is love: a love that shines on us, fills us, purifies us, and remakes us. Amen.