On Saint Joseph and Epiphany

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of The Epiphany, 2019.

This afternoon my family and I drove over to Peoria to visit the Arthur family at Methodist hospital, of course on the occasion of the birth of William Fulton Tanner Arthur. I said to my wife on the drive over, it is like we are the Magi, going to visit the new child and pay homage. I suppose I should add that we did not bow down before young William—such worship is reserved only for our King, Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of the Father. But I did offer him a blessing, to add to the blessing of being born on Epiphany. I will also add that, as is the case in any birth, the glory of the Lord, following Isaiah’s words, was upon us—every baby brings such light, along with the mystery of God’s energies in the world burning particularly brightly.

We are told by Saint Matthew that after meeting Herod, the Magi saw again the leading star—that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. The birth of Christ sent shock waves of joy in every direction for those with ears to hear it. And, we are told, going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His Mother, and the fell down and worshiped Him. It is significant to us that the first vision of the King of the Universe was bound up with that of His Mother. With Jesus comes His Mother who presents Him: and, likewise, with God, comes His Church which presents the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Falling down in worship, the Magi opened their treasures and offered Him gifts—the Magi model how to properly worship: at the feet of Christ on His Throne, we fall to our knees and open the treasure of our heart, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God. When we give God our heart, our offering is greater than all the world’s gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And then notice, brothers and sisters, who is not named as being present during this holy moment. Mary, Jesus, the Magi, even the Star of Bethlehem—these are all named as present. But one important person is not named. Of all people, Joseph! He is not named as being present. Also, to be precise; it is not that he is said to be elsewhere. Matthew does not tell us that Mary and Jesus are receiving the Magi while Joseph is off doing carpentry in Damascus or some such place; we are not told he is off getting groceries or diapers.

It is quite odd to wonder why Joseph is not mentioned at least by Matthew. The passage right before and right after the Magi episode not only have Joseph present but focus on Joseph, and even are about the angelic revelations given to Joseph by Gabriel. Before the Magi episode comes Gabriel’s encouraging words “Do not fear to take Mary your wife,” for Joseph had wondered whether, knowing that Mary’s pregnancy was of divine intervention, to protect her from cultural embarrassment and even shunning, perhaps she ought be sent away quietly. Angel said, “No, she will bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And then after the Magi go home by another way—because any true encounter with God changes the direction of our journey—again it is Gabriel back again, this time to warn Joseph, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” Two major moments of angelic revelation centered on Joseph, and yet why is Joseph not described as being there when the Magi worship?

But what if Joseph was there at the visit by the Magi, and Matthew’s silence about it is to make an important point? It is certainly possible this is the case—again, Matthew does not say Joseph is somewhere else, and the overall tendency of Matthew’s account at this point is for Joseph to be central to God’s activity. So, what if Joseph is there, but does not speak or do anything particularly out of the ordinary? What would be the purpose of Matthew writing this way?

It occurs to me firstly that, interpreted this way, it mirrors or recapitulates the episode of Adam and Eve in the Garden. For recall that although Adam is in the Garden with Eve, of course preceded her in the Garden, while Eve is being tempted by the Serpent, Adam is no where to be found. Did Adam go away, like Joseph go away? Or did Adam buckle under the pressure of the Serpent’s temptation and, scared, delegate dealing with the serpent all to Eve? I prefer that reading because it emphasizes the dignity and fortitude of Eve, and the lameness of Adam, his weakness.

And so consider the Magi episode. Joseph is present while Mary and Joseph receive the Magi. And as they do, Joseph watches silently as the Magi’s gifts become a kind of temptation to Mary to think herself esteemed and special: I mean, frankincense and myrrh: great. But all the gold! In addition to Mary thinking, “We are rich! Joseph, you can retire now!” she might be tempted to think it is all about her; that the Magi worship of the Child means she can boast of herself. And so unlike Adam’s silence, which allows Eve to be tricked by the Serpent, Joseph’s silence pays tribute to Mary and to God, because Joseph knows Mary is too humble, too self-effacing, too focused on sacrifice and praise to God at all times and in all places to give into any of that. All of this fits the portrait of Joseph that we have: caught up in the divine activity of God through Mary, utterly humble towards God and trusting of Mary, and a permanent witness that everything having to do with Jesus is of divine origin, divine plan, and divine ordering: the Church, the seven Sacraments, all ordered not by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. Let us, brothers and sisters, behold along with Saint Joseph, the unfathomable wonder of God, of the Word made flesh for us, for our nourishment, and for our salvation.

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””