Homily: “On the Wedding at Cana”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 2019.

For those of you who have made wine in the home, or known friends or family who have, you know as I do that it is a rewarding process that requires not much talent but a great deal of patience. Patience, I mean, from the very beginning: in allowing the yeast to start bubbling, and then patience to basically do nothing for months at a time as some mysterious process called fermentation does its magic. Probably this is why the German theologian Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Beer is made by men; wine by God.” One is supposed to wait at least three years before drinking the wine; as winemaker, however, it is expected that you sample along the way. Quality control. But there really is something to waiting. The taste of a three year old wine is in fact quite different than it was at the beginning, but at the same time, over those three years, the true taste of the wine does progressively show itself, little by little.

Jesus has shown Himself to be the Light of the world through a series of showings, little by little, we might say reverently: first to a small group of people and then to increasingly more and more people in larger groups. If we may go back into the Sacred Hebrew Scriptures, He first showed Himself to the Patriarchs and Prophets—showing Himself as a voice Who spoke of a messiah coming to be, and for Isaiah, a suffering servant. To blessed Mary, He showed Himself through an Angel, and then to Elizabeth and John the Baptist in her womb, He showed Himself through the voice of Mary, and it was both through her voice and an Angel in a dream that He showed Himself to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. Then it was to a group of shepherds in the fields through one and then many angels singing “Glory be to God on high.” Then it was to Magi and their train of people from the East through a star, and then Simeon and Anna in the Temple (which we celebrate in two weeks at Candlemas), to Herod and all Jerusalem through the voice of the Magi as well as the Temple religious authorities, the chief priests and scribes interpreting the Scriptures, then to the rabbis in the Temple when He was twelve-years ago, then at His Baptism in the River Jordan, revealing at the same time the identity of God as Holy Trinity. Jesus had always been the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, by Whom all things were made. But it was only in the fullness of time that He allowed Himself to become known, little by little, to those who were prepared.

The marriage feast at Cana is another showing forth of the Light, a manifestation of His glory. Specifically the whole event is a sign, a sign of mystery to invite reflection upon that mystery which leads to an encounter with His divinity; the first of His truly public signs, and it enkindled the faith of the disciples of Jesus. It is a kind of preamble to His public life. Cana was a small village, not far from Nazareth, and tradition has it that Cana abounded in flowers, thereby having a pleasant, rural beauty. It is a sign performed before a larger gathering lasting a week or more.

The Mother of Jesus noticed that the wine would not suffice for the duration of the wedding feast. Wine was the heart of such a banquet, and in the Sacred Scripture, win is a symbol of exuberance and intoxication of the divine life. With disarming simplicity and natural spontaneity, she turns to Him and says, “They have no wine.” Mary is the one person at the feast who realizes who Jesus is, and a very large quantity of wine would be needed: in other words, nothing short of a miraculous intervention was needed. She intercedes on behalf of the whole gathering, indeed represents them before the Lord, bringing their needs to Him. And of course He listens.

“O woman, what have you to do with me?” Too many people hear that as Him being critical or even harsh. Jesus is being none of that. Rather His expression is idiomatic for His day for something along the lines of “Okay, let’s do it.” And given their entire 30 years of intimate communion together, Mother and Son, filled with great moments of sublimity, reverence, and probably domestic miracles within the home of Mary and Joseph—there is a tenderness, a playfulness, even humorousness to this moment—“What have you to do with me?” can only be answered by saying, “Why everything, my Son: for You are my Lord and my God, and an Angel first told me about You!” “O woman, what have you to do with me?”, brothers and sisters, is one of the most hilariously ironic moments in Scripture. She has everything to do with Him, and they both know it.

For us, the way to interpret this event at Cana is twofold: both literally and spiritually. Literally, we have a miracle performed by Jesus stemming from Mary’s motherly care for two young spouses: for Mary not know intercedes for them before God, but also teaches them: “Do whatever He tells you,” words she has taught the Church ever since. And spiritually, the wedding at Cana signifies the marriage between the Eternal Word and humanity in Mary and through Mary, changing the ordinary into something immeasurably more exciting. And our Lord works His signs here, and always, not by changing the containers, but leaving them as they were. Whether it is through His miracles with bread and wine, or with the Old Testament and the Psalms, or with us in our Baptism: the container remains the same, but by His grace we are given treasure that reaches into heaven.

Homily: “On the Baptism of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, 2019.

In many aspects of our society, we commonly use the expression, “heir apparent.” It is a way of speaking about a person, whether man, woman or even child, and how to understand their calling, their identity. Professional sports and politics perhaps most commonly demonstrate this way of speaking. For example, some observers suggest that the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar—for many, the three best basketball players ever to play the game—might be someone like Lebron James. In professional soccer, many wonder what player may be the heir apparent to Mia Hamm. In politics, many Democratic observers spoke of President Barack Obama as the heir apparent of President John F. Kennedy; and on the Republican side we see hopes continue that a politician might follow in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan, as his heir apparent. The “heir apparent” means more than imitation: it means capturing the imagination of the wider world—indeed being a captivating and charismatic figure through whom progress is made, within whom all that came before is recapitulated, upon whom the hopes of all rest.

The significance of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan is seen in this way. Saint Luke tells us the people were in expectation—they were looking for the Messiah, the heir apparent. Saint John Baptist insisted that despite the appearances by which is seemed he might fit the bill, it in fact was not him. And so God manifested the heir apparent in a dramatic revelation at the River Jordan. For when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.”

The Evangelists capture this moment in similar fashion, which is to evoke for us the Creation narrative of Genesis. The overtones are clear: the Spirit hovering over the waters, the showing forth out of waters, and the creative words of the Father. And Luke describes the heavens as being opened—such as they were opened at the death of Jesus when the veil of the Temple was torn above to below. The imagery and symbolism invites our imagination to stretch, and even explode—such as old wine skins would explode, unable to contain the new wine, because its fermenting demands a container that can stretch. In this season of the Star of Wonder, Luke wants us not to receive the revelation of Jesus being the heir apparent as information, but rather as a mystery we allow to form us, shape us, and call us to prayer.

Luke wants us to regard Jesus, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, as the “heir of all things.” And we can trace that in Scripture through the Father’s words, “Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.” The Prophets had been telling such a one was to come. In Isaiah we hear verses among the most preached upon in Jewish religion: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” In the other of Isaiah’s so-called “servant songs,” the Messiah is described as quiet, restrained, and not a conquering hero or political leader. And this echoes the second Psalm: “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you.”

And commonly through Scripture, we hear of God speaking of a “Son” as vicarious representative of all of Israel. In Exodus, God instructs Moses to say to Pharaoh: “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” In Deuteronomy, we hear “how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child.” In Jeremiah: “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in?” In Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I call my son.” And of course we have God telling Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” In Jewish tradition, Isaac was a mature man who chose to make himself be a sacrifice to God (before God spoke with Abraham) and so in Jewish tradition Isaac came to represent all of Israel, and the promised Messiah, therefore, the new Isaac.

And so in the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, let us hear this symphony of biblical symbolism, all coming together in focused concentration upon Jesus: the creation of existence, the revelation of the triune nature of God (Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit), His crucifixion, the prophetic strand of Hebrew spirituality involving the suffering servant who is God’s anointed and chosen representative of all people, who as high priest atones for their sins through His free-will offering of Himself and His life for the sins of all—He is the paschal Lamb of God. At his Baptism, as in the Eucharist, let us behold Him. And let us wonder at His star, His shining Light, as the first disciples did when they heard the words of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

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: “On Communion of the Saints”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints, 2018.

Our Collect speaks of God having knit together His elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of Christ. All of those words are important, are meaningful and quite significant, and what they direct us to is not only a good and sound prayer on this solemn feast of All Saints, but the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints which is spoken of and confessed in the Apostles’ Creed, which captures the baptismal faith of the Church, originally used, and still used, on the occasions of people received the Sacrament of Baptism, the sacrament of incorporation into Christ’s Body.

I want to elaborate on those words of the Collect for All Saints Day, and do so with all of us sharing an image in our minds as we proceed. Read more “Homily: “On Communion of the Saints””

Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’”

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

There are I suppose two main ways to interpret the question that Jesus poses to the Twelve men, “Do you also wish to go away?” It could be that Jesus is gravely disappointed that His message is not catching on—gravely disappointed in what is turning into a kind of failure, even on the verse of weeping and tears. Read in this way there is a poignancy to the question, and Jesus is showing to the Twelve his vulnerability, He shows, so to speak, His cards as if in a game of poker, and lays down His hand, saying, this is what I have, Jesus not knowing whether His cards were strong enough to win the hearts of the Twelve, having apparently lost the hearts of dozens more disciples who we are told drew back at the hard saying and no longer went about with Him. Read more “Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’””

Homily: “On Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood”

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

Although a number of people know this quite well, I have found that it is not universally known that one of the mandatory steps within the process of being ordained to the Priesthood is to spent a significant amount of time in an internship as a hospital chaplain. In my case, I spent twenty weeks in four hospitals in suburban Chicago, near Hinsdale, La Grange, and other towns. Although you hear clerics often bemoan the experience, and I heard some priests share horror stories as to why their experiences in their estimation were unhelpful towards parish ministry, priests I trusted, including our Bishop, assured me that hospital chaplaincy was for them revelatory and deeply, and permanently, meaningful.

And I must say, it was for me as well. It was never easy, and often unpredictable. My very first overnight duty on-call saw me assist an experienced chaplain whom I was shadowing as we ministered to a large family of over 25 relatives who that night suffered the loss of one of their family members to a kind of brain hemorrhage that, tragically, was inoperable. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having to learn how to swim. Over the twenty weeks, in not only hospital patients and their families, but in the hospital staff, nurses, doctors, and my fellow chaplains, I witnessed so many instances of loss, of tragedy, of suffering and confusion, but also I witnessed joy, love, faith, and remarkable examples of God active in people’s lives, holding them up by His grace. Examples abounded of true sacrifice, and examples abounded of hopeful life.

The highest example of both sacrifice and life are what Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us. His example to us, being a human example that stretches into the divine, is so profound that it is well past our ability to grasp it completely and finally. This is why we are drawn to continually revisit the accounts of His life given to us by the Evangelists—that by hearing them, by which we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them through their many senses of interpretation, we are drawn deeper into the mystery of Him, which along the way reveals the mystery of ourselves.

“Truly, truly,” Jesus says to us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” This was a teaching, a hard saying, that really weeded out the true disciples from the larger group of Jesus followers. We are told that upon hearing this, many drew back and no longer went about with him. Some of us, even today, might flinch at the image, at both its physicality and its bluntness. Jesus, often winsome and generous in His public ministry, was none the less never above teaching in a direct and even aggressive way. Being poked awake from a cozy, care-free, bourgeois discipleship is a lesson disciples then, and now, constantly need.

And yet the Church, in remembering the words of Jesus, and taking them to heart in prayer in the years and decades after the Ascension of Christ, began to discern within the hard sayings of Jesus—including the teaching about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood—wisdom that echoed profoundly in the Scriptures. We hear an example in our passage from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom, who we learn in the Scriptures was God’s first creation, and who from the beginning of her creation rejoiced daily in God’s activities, invites the simple, meaning those people, like Nathaniel, who are without guile but also yet to some extent naive about life, to into her house: “Come,” she says, “eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” The term “bread” here is a general reference and would include the meat of the beast spoken of as recently slaughtered. And so to connect this to Jesus, the Church saw in His teaching a connection to the long biblical tradition of hospitality—to eat His flesh and drink His blood at least involved an invitation to intimacy with Him.

We see this in the Eucharist, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, an event that itself rings on several levels of meaning and signification. Our nourishment is towards eternal life, and so to eat the consecrated bread is to receive into our souls He that is our life—to receive His sacrifice on the Cross, just as the beast was sacrificed in the house of Wisdom, although Christ’s sacrifice was self-offered once but for all time. And to drink the consecrated wine is to receive Christ’s life, because blood in ancient days was always considered the source of life in animals. And so to drink His blood is to receive that life which is triumphant over death and united to God in heaven. Indeed James and John were correct: they could and did drink from the cup from which Jesus Himself drank, and even pleaded on the night before He died that His Father might take away. If this is all a hard teaching for us, we can trust it was a harder teaching for Jesus Himself to accept, and yet fully accept He did.

Our Collect captures all this when we pray to Almighty God, Who has given His only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life. Let us know that as we celebrate and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life, we are opening ourselves to receive Wisdom, and be received by her. When allow ourselves to participate fully and completely in the Eucharist, we become part of God’s redemptive stream, a river of wisdom, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Kneeling before the heavenly throne, let us be still, and know in the Eucharist is God.

Homily: “On Healing the Needy”

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

Attention to language is often something that people gently ridicule in others. When a person is regarded as paying too close attention to words and their meaning, they are said to be “splitting hairs.” Or such examination is dismissed with “oh, that’s just being semantic,” meaning, it is not necessary to pay such close attention to words: the meaning is about the same either way. Six, or one half dozen of the other, is an axiom we often hear. A person claiming “I did not yell at you, instead I spoke firmly with my voice raised,” might be demonstrating this. To which the other person might respond: yes, and that’s splitting hairs, because you should not have done that. So sometimes, we use a strategy of being very attentive to language, perhaps overly so, as a way to protect or defend ourselves against the accusations of others, or to hide from our behavior we know was inappropriate.

Attention to language with respect to the Sacred Scriptures, on the other hand, is constantly demanded. This is why the Collect for the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday at the end of each liturgical year has taken a special place in Anglican spirituality: “Grant us so to hear the Sacred Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” To read and to mark, to learn and inwardly digest, means to be attentive to the words of a passage, even just one word—attentive through prayer, through silence that allows us to hear how the words echo in our mind, echo in our memories, echo in our soul. Read more “Homily: “On Healing the Needy””

A Field Guide for Holy Week and Easter Week in Tazewell Parish

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the fountain of Catholic Faith. This cataclysmic event is intimately tied into the Sacraments, so we must see Easter (which along with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is called the Sacred Triduum of three Holy Days) as the anchor of our identity as Christians. These events, along with Palm Sunday beforehand, and Pentecost and Ascension afterward, form what we call the Paschal Mystery, the name for God’s plan for our salvation through the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. The Paschal Mystery is really the heart of all Liturgy, and the entire liturgical year grows out of it. It is a passage through death to authentic life. This is why each Mass throughout the year is called a “little Easter.”

To the degree we are physically able, it is important that all participate in these liturgies—not as an exterior ritual but as immersion into the Eternal Truth of Christ so that we may be what we receive and show forth what we experience. Clear your calendar as much as possible during Holy Week and plan to attend Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and either the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday. Attending any additional weekday services enriches our prayer life all the more. Read more “A Field Guide for Holy Week and Easter Week in Tazewell Parish”

Homily: “On Seeking Our Mother”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2018.

In Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has a characteristic unique from the other Sundays in Lent. Coming roughly in the middle of the season of Lent, seen as the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter, this Sunday has taken on a characteristic of being a kind of intermission or half-time. In England, today is known in popular piety as Mothering Sunday, and indeed this is where the secular holiday of Mother’s Day originates. In England, people would travel back home to the parish church of their youth, their “mother church.” The day has other names: “Refreshment Sunday,” “Mid-Lent-Sunday,” “Rose Sunday.” It was also the only Sunday in Lent when the Sacrament of Matrimony was allowed to be celebrated. Food is involved, with a variety of cakes and buns often baked for this occasion. Mothers themselves were honored with presents, such as small bouquets of early spring flowers. In this season wherein we give a certain emphasis on the Ten Commandments, Mothering Sunday becomes something of a robust enactment of the commandment to honor thy mother—because to genuinely believe is to not only to say what we believe but to act it out.

This sense of refreshment shows up, in a way, in our Gospel reading. Read more “Homily: “On Seeking Our Mother””

Homily: “On the Binding of Isaac”

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

Even though the Sundays during the season of Lent are not part of the season properly understood, which means that we are given refreshment from any fasting or particular ascetical disciplines we might be following—these Sundays are in Lent, but not of Lent—nonetheless these Sundays certainly take on a Lenten character. This happens through the various displays of the liturgical color of purple, the color of expectancy, the suppression of liturgical proclamations of the Gloria and Alleluia, as well as the prayers and appointed lections from the Sacred Scriptures.

Yet the Eucharist takes us out of time, up on the holy mountain, alongside Saints Peter, James and John as they, and as we, witness Jesus transfigured, the Eucharist glistening with a love intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach further; on the mountain with Moses and Elijah on the right and on the left of Jesus, because the divinity of Jesus cannot be seen without the lenses of the Law and the Prophets, without the Old Testament. Read more “Homily: “On the Binding of Isaac””