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 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 Jesus Coming into Galilee”

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

We continue today with what is now the third Sunday gathering after The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Keeping this naming convention in our mind, it should be noted, is far more than a convention of utility: rather, it reminds us that this is the season for reflecting on all that has happened since the beginning of Advent. The Light of lights, who was prayed and hoped for, not only by Christians today, but by the people of God for centuries and even millennia before the Incarnation—this Light has entered the world in a way that is perceivable and recognizable. The Light of heaven came to us as a child born of a virgin, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Read more “Homily: “On Jesus Coming into Galilee””

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 the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ”


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

“For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.” The words of the wise men, transformed and expanded into the hymn, “We three kings of Orient are,” words proclaimed around our world this evening and tomorrow, and therefore savored by Christian communities the world over—these words are our words as well. For as the wise men were guided by the star which came to rest where the Child was, so have we been guided by the Light of lights that shines in our hearts, a Light that comes to rest as the Incarnate Word that overshadows our souls, enlightens our spirit, and Who by faith we conceive in our hearts and bear in our minds. It is Christ who brings us together, because through Him have we been made and remade, to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Epiphany—that is, manifestation or showing forth—of Our Lord Jesus Christ, showing forth to all nations of the world. There are four dimensions of our celebration this evening of this mystery—four dimensions and then a fifth, which is its invitation to us. Read more “Homily: “On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ””

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

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.

Probably the most common image of Blessed Mary and Jesus Christ together is that of the arrival of the three kings who followed a star, and found the Child and His family, giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Often that bright star is seen depicted over the small gathering. There are countless paintings, icons, and songs—we all have this image deeply ingrained in our imaginations. This image been fueling imaginations for two thousand years. Epiphany comes on the heels of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which completed last night with the Twelfth Night, an image also deeply ingrained in society for many centuries, even so through Shakespeare and other ways, one tradition of which we will celebrate in a small way after this Mass with the traditional King’s Cake.

So what is going on in all this? How do we understand all this through prayer and prayerful reflection? In our Collect, we are asking God to lead us, like the Magi were led. We are asking God to manifest Himself so that through faith we know Him, just as the Magi knew Him as manifested in His physical presence with His Mother—that we may know Him in His glory, and even face to face. “Glory”—that word is used in the Bible to tell us something of which cannot easily be spoken. Glory is always a sign of the presence of God, the presence of divine holiness. That something sacred, something wonderful is taking place. So we see that even simple reflection on the words provided by our liturgy beckons a mystical reflection on this, the Epiphany of Jesus. Read more “Homily: “On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ””