Living Baptismally, pt 16: “On Rendering to God”

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24), 2020.

“Render therefore,” Our Lord Jesus teaches us, “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The meaning of this teaching, and how the meaning guides how we live as followers of Christ, is the subject of our eucharistic fellowship this day. We do well to begin this reflection by noting how the Pharisees are described by Saint Matthew as interpreting and responding to the teaching. For when they heard Our Lord’s teaching, they marveled; and they left Him and went away. They crossed swords, and Jesus was the victor.

Now, I am so often to point out how important awe and wonder are to the Christian life—how “fear” in the Scriptures usually means awe and wonder, so that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” means “awe and wonder in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”—I do that so often that I feel a responsibility to point out that this is not one of those moments. The marveling of the Pharisees is not them thrown into religious awe of the God Who is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. Their marveling is rather the feeling of being bested in a duel of wits. They, S. Matthew reminds us, were trying to entangle Jesus in His talk, so that they would have grounds to arrest Him. Jesus did not give them any kind of incriminating testimony. What He said violated no Jewish law or religious custom, or sounded seditious towards the Romans. The Pharisees marveled that Jesus was able to outwit them once again.

But if that is all this episode means, then S. Matthew would not have included it in his account of the Gospel. All details included in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, along with that of Mark, Luke and John’s accounts of the Gospel, not to tell a biographical documentary of the life of Jesus, but rather to provide the food which if properly received reveals Jesus the Son of Mary as also the Son of God the Father Almighty. Being a sharp thinker that wins a dual of wits hardly shows this man to be raised up by God, having loosed the pains of death. Showing Himself to teach the virtue of paying your taxes says absolutely nothing about how God has made this Jesus, whom we crucify, both Lord and Christ. These are pedestrian interpretations. The words of Saint John in chapter 20 of his Gospel account speak for all the evangelists: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.” It is for that purpose that Matthew tells us of Jesus saying, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”—that by eating this bread in prayer, Christ the eternal Word of God may be revealed to us in our very presence.

Saint Paul helps us to see past the pedestrian interpretations. This is not surprising because Paul is a great teacher of the Christian faith. Paul praises the church in Thessalonica by relaying to them the report he had heard from others about them, how they “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, Jesus Who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Paul here teaches nothing but what the Lord Jesus taught in His life, even about the coin with the face of Caesar. The Pharisees, who are described in the Gospel accounts as “lovers of money,” are made an example by Jesus to His disciples of idolaters. Looking at money with the eyes of the flesh makes us greedy and makes money into an idol. Looking at money with the eyes of Christ, on the other hand, reveals money has being made by God and therefore to be offered to God, despite whatever surface images may be on the money’s outward design.

All things are made by Christ; without Christ is not anything made. Christians know this as a pillar of the Faith. We know we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. We are to love Him with all we have, for all we have has been given to us by Him, without Whom we can do nothing that is good. We know our offerings to God are to be the offerings not of Cain (who merely offered some of his fruits and vegetables) but of Abel—the firstborn of our flock and of their fat; our offering is that of Saint Mary Magdalene expensive jar and still more expensive spikenard. And our offering is the offering of Saint Paul—for we offer and present unto God our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Christ—that we may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and being thereby in Him, may be Him to the world around us, carrying the peace of Christ and offering it to all we meet.

Living Baptismally, pt 15: On Wearing the Wedding Garment

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 23), 2020.

The Lord of Hosts has made a feast for us, and for all peoples. Our Lord Jesus teaches us this today that we would know that the peace which passes all understanding is available to us in the feast of the heavenly banquet prepared for us. This is a feast described by the prophet Isaiah as a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. For wine to be “on the lees” means it is protected from spoiling. Fat and marrow refers to nutrients the body needs to be healthy. A robust and nutritious meal is prepared for us, prepared by God for His people. God has spread a table before us that our cups might run over.

The feast God has made for us is a feast of Himself. God has made all things, and He has made all things through His Son that in receiving His Son we receive God. The feast of God is a feast of receiving Him—that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. And He gives Himself to be received. “Take, eat,” Jesus says. “This is my Body, which is given for you.” And He says, “Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which his shed for you.” We His servants are called to the marriage feast to receive His Body and to receive His Blood, to receive what God has made everything ready so as to give and be received. He has taught us how to pray, so as to make us ready to receive. He has taught us how to find Him in Scripture, so as to make us ready to receive. He has engrafted us in His Body in Baptism and given us His Holy Spirit, so as to make us ready to receive what the Father has prepared for us. He has made all things so that as our mind learns to see, as our mind learns to hear, we might behold the Light who is the expression of God—that we might behold the holy Face of Christ, Who already knows all our desires, our thoughts, our actions, and our sins.

Brothers and sisters, we must always seek to wear the wedding garment, our Lord Jesus teaches. It is the wedding garment that allows us to discern Our Lord’s Body present among us. Saint Paul taught the Corinthian church on this when he wrote, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body east and drinks judgment upon himself.” The person who eats and drinks without discernment is a person whose mind does not see, a person whose mind does not hear. We are all made blind and we are all made deaf by our sins—this is why we must repent in prayer, why we must turn to God in humility saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer—the prayer not of the Pharisee but of the tax collector—is the prayer of a heart that yearns for God.

A heart that desires God. The yearning for God and the desiring of God is the very fabric of which the wedding garment is woven. How often we are tempted away from wearing the wedding garment! How often we are tempted, in the words of loving Jesus, to make light of the Gospel through our disbelief; how often we are tempted not to go the Altar in prayer, but one to his farm, another to his business—that is, to allow other activities to take priority over the holy Mass, to allow other activities to take priority over receiving the daily Bread given to us from heaven through the Scriptures. How often we are tempted to ignore the voice of Moses, to ignore the voice of the prophets, to ignore the words of God’s Mother—for Moses, the Prophets, and Mary all teach us about Jesus, all teach us about the heavenly realities beyond time and space, all teach us true meaning obedience, which is having a listening silence of wonder at the feet of God Who is always on His heavenly throne and closer to us than our own breathing.

As Saint Paul teaches us, “The Lord is at hand.” And because He is at hand, let us give our anxiety and worry to Him, let all our requests be told by us to God, that we might have no anxiety about anything. Let us put on the wedding garments of humility, that Paul’s words may ever be our own: “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me,” and thereby be continually given to all good works through Jesus Christ our Lord.

On the Angels

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Michaelmas (observed), 2020.

Before we say anything more about angels, let the simplest and most fundamental thing about the angels be said and understood by us all. And the simplest and most fundamental thing about angels to understand is this: angels serve God in heaven and defend us on earth. This is what our Collect affirms. It is also affirmed in the Doxology we sing at the Offertory of the Eucharist: “praise Him above, ye heavenly Host”—affirms the first part, that angels serve God in heaven. An affirmation of the angels in our life is found affirmed in the Sanctus prayer we say as the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins: “therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name; evermore praising Thee, and saying, “Holy, holy, holy”—angels join us in praise at the Altar in the Eucharist to defend us, that is, support us, as we face the heavenly Light of lights Who is transfigured before our faces on the Altar.

Likewise, their role of defender is affirmed in the Burial liturgy at a funeral, even in the last words said over the body of the deceased in the Commendation as the body leaves the Church for the cemetery or final resting place: “Into paradise may the angels lead you.” Angels defend the soul of the faithful departed against the temptations of the devil. The simplest and most fundamental thing about angels to understand is this: angels serve God in heaven and defend us on earth.

There are two more specific aspects of angels described in Scripture for our reflection on this our observance of the Feast of Michaelmas, itself on our Kalendar for this Tuesday. The first is the war in heaven described in the Revelation to S. John, chap. 12; and the second is the ascending and descending of angels upon the Son of Man described by Jesus according to S. John in his Gospel account. So let us reflect on both of these.

John describes a war that arose in heaven. Michael, one of the archangels and whose name means “Who is like God?” fought with his angels against the dragon and his angels; that is, against the Devil who is also called Satan, who accuses God and deceives the world. The battle happened, and the holy Angels of light defeated the unholy angels of darkness. It is important to see this as light verses dark, day verses night. And the reason it is important because to the Church is was revealed early that John’s description expounds upon the mystery of the first day of creation described in the opening verses of Genesis, chapter 1. These verses: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw the light: it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day; the darkness He called Night; and there was evening and morning, one day.” This is all about the angelic war in heaven described by John in the Revelation; this is not about the creation of perceivable light and darkness as we might think, because light perceivable by the eyes was not created until the fourth day: “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven for illumination to divine day and from night.” Greater light (the sun), lesser light (the moon), the stars—all this is the fourth day, and not the first.

What is described in Genesis as created on the first day is invisible light, not perceivable to the eyes, but only available to us as revelation. Hence John’s description of the war in heaven is one of the keys pieces of scripture that in fact point us to when angels were created. They were created at the very beginning of God’s creation—indeed, the angels are the Light. And the war in heaven was a battle between humility and pride: the holy angels in their humility overpowered the unholy angels burdened by the weight of their pride. Indeed, when we are humble before God, God shines through us as well; and when we are full of pride, we are heavy and weighed down with the darkness of death.

What, then, is meant by Jesus revealing at angels will be seen to be ascending and descending upon the Son of Man? To speak of angels as “ascending then descending” is rather curious, is it not? Usually we might think of it the other way round: that angels first descend to us and then ascend to heaven. But in speaking of angels being seen by the disciples as ascending and then descending upon the Son of Man echoes firstly the vision of Jacob in Genesis chapter 28. For Jacob “dreamed that were was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” And so angels reveal to us Christ lifted up, reveal to us Jesus ascending, and themselves ascend to send to us the good news of His ascension on the Cross, which is the ascension into the heavenly reality.

Jacob goes on to say: “And behold, the Lord stood above the ladder and said, “I am the Lord.” And so Jesus is directly us straightforwardly to regard Him as the ladder: Jesus is the ladder to heaven; and the top of the ladder which is Him is Him, for the voice speaks to Jacob and says, “I am the Lord.” All throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus uses that phrase: “I am”— in John 6, He says, “I am the bread of life.” In John 8, He says, “I am the light of the world.” In John 10, He says, “I am the door.” In John 11, He tells us that He is “the resurrection and the life.” In John 14, He says He is the “the way and the truth and the life,” and in John 15, He says He is “the true vine.” Even in John 8, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Each of these I Am statements in John echoes the I am statement of the Lord to Jacob. And so, angels reveal to us the “I Am-ness” of Jesus: reveal to us His living presence, as Peter proclaimed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Angels ascend to reveal to us Christ ascended and lifted up upon the heavenly cross, and angels descend to reveal to us the real living presence of Christ, His I Am-ness, even to reveal to us the Word made flesh of the Eucharist, dwelling among us—revealing His glory for us to behold, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Thanks be to God.

Baptismal Living, pt 8: Abiding in God’s Abundance

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13), 2020.

It is always important when reflecting on the Gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, as well as by Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John, that these authoritative accounts of Our Lord only began to be distributed some two, three, or four decades after the Day of Pentecost. Saint Paul’s epistles, which record his own apostolic preaching primarily about community life in and around the Cross and Sacraments, were written first, then the Gospel accounts. And what the four Gospel accounts capture are four traditions of apostolic preaching, less about sacramental community life, but about the words, deeds, and episodes in the of Jesus Christ. That is, we have the Matthew tradition, the Mark tradition, the Luke tradition, and the John tradition of those words, deeds, and episodes.

Very early on the Church decided, through guidance given by the Holy Spirit, that no fewer than these four accounts can give the full picture of Our Lord as He was preached by the Apostles. The four Gospel accounts, then, are apostolic preaching over several decades, always by the Light of the Cross, guided by the Holy Spirit, but also mediated by Scripture (what is called the Old Testament) and, it must be added, memory. For the early Church, starting in the Upper Room after the Ascension, the presence—the I Am-ness of Jesus—was made real and manifest through the prayerful process of scripturally mediated memory taught to the 120 Upper Room apostles by Our Lord Himself during that first Eastertide season. The threefold life of the Church that gestated in the Upper Room and was revealed on Pentecost is how the Church uses her scripturally mediated memory to be in communion with unfathomable mystery of God—adoring the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Son.

It was an unfathomable mystery of the feeding of multitudes that the apostles preached about. All four evangelists recorded such an episode—therefore we can be sure that this miracle was a clear historical basis. What it looked like to be there—that is, if someone had a video camera to record the event—neither you, nor I, nor anyone in the Church can say, which is precisely Our Lord’s intent. Our only access to the episode is the description recorded by the evangelists, today by S. Matthew, and the tradition of apostolic preaching based upon the active ferment of scripturally mediated memory.

And the mystery of it all is not only God’s abundant grace in the moment of the miraculous feeding, but how at the same time Our Lord declares the harmony of this miracle with the mysteries of ancient times. For despite a constantly presumptuous and stiff neck that refused to obey God’s commandments, God was always ready to forgive, gracious and merciful to the children of Israel under Moses. Despite having committed great blasphemies, they were not forsaken in the wilderness—the Holy Spirit of Christ was always given them for instruction, manna from heaven was never withheld from their mouth, and water from rock was always given them for their thirst.

This is why Saint Paul so emphatically teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—whether tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or any peril, nothing can separate us from God’s ability to bestow His nourishing and sustaining grace. Despite our stubbornness, despite our stiff necks, despite our hardened hearts that so often forget God, distrust God, and fail to call upon His Holy Name in the adventures and ordinary days of our lives, and as a result fashion idols in place of Him, God is always willing to feed with the bread of angels those who turn to him with meek heart and due reverence to the maker of all things, visible and invisible. This speaks directly to reason why Sunday worship is a true obligation: without this worship, we are not fed by God, and as a result fashion idols in our life to replace that feeding, as important to our spiritual life as air is to our mortal life. We crave the heavenly bread, and when we turn to God,  God in His immense wisdom and love sees fit that all eat, and that all are well-filled.

Trinitytide: On Living Baptismally, part 1

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after Trinity (Proper 6), 2020.

The Feast of Trinity Sunday being a celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, and even moreso a recognition of the gift of baptismal life given through it, it likewise follows that the Sundays after Trinity invite us into the mystery of living baptismally, the practical aspects of partaking of the divine nature as baptized men, women, and children. As Michael Ramsey has said, “The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” Our scripture today presents us with two fundamental aspects of baptismal life, as we begin this season of Trinitytide.

The first comes from Paul the Apostle, who teaches us that God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And he teaches that this is a saving action in us, saving us as we grow in our love for Jesus through receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and becoming more and more deeply conscious of the presence and action of Our Lord in all the phases of human life and of our own life. In other words, Paul locates our salvation in the Cross, which for him is the icon of the process of sanctification in our lives, that is, of becoming more and more open and conscious of God’s presence.

The second come from Our Lord Himself, who is recorded by Saint Matthew has teaching us that we are to carry around in our bodies the infectious peace of Christ to be shared with all in whatever house we enter, and any relationship we have, from the briefest acquaintance to the most intimate friendship. “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” is our dismissal at Mass and directly echoes our Lord’s command to spread peace to the world—that we are agents of Christ’s peace.

Thinking about these basic teachings of the Church might lead us to ask the very kind of questions the Church asked Saint Peter on Pentecost: How? How does this work? and how does Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf lead us to be able to carry around the heavenly peace of Christ wherever we are in likewise offering to the world on behalf of Christ, Who acts through us? Or put most simply: what is the relationship between the Cross and our everyday Christian life?

Let us again take on the approach of Elijah, who was told by God to a cave. And in the cave, Elijah watched as a great and strong wind broke in pieces the rocky mountains, then after the wind an earthquake, then after the earthquake, a fire. And Elijah realized that God’s voice was not in the great wind, was not in the earthquake, was not in the fire. His voice was only heard as Elijah went to the edge of the cave and heard a still small voice. And it was a voice that asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It is a question pertinent to our situation. The events of the last several months have brought us to just that kind of fundamental inquiry, has brought us to the very basic roots of what it means to act like Christians. Our faith is being tried in the fire; our patience is being tested amid the endless storm; all of which lays bare our habits of devotion. We are the Body of Christ, Saint Paul unhesitatingly teaches us, yet we the Body of Christ have scarcely with one another shared fellowship, and the habit of fellowship—the habit of being together—is the primary means by which the baptismal doctrine of the Church becomes real. When we are sharing fellowship, the doctrine that we are members one of another can be seen and lived and we can hear the still, small voice of God together week in and week out; but without such fellowship, our isolation places a huge impediment in living out the teaching of Paul that we are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

That one bread we partake of is Christ. He is our daily Bread. It is Him, and Him alone, that we are to feed on if our habits of faith, hope, and charity are to be ardent and resilient. And, as I said last week, the most reliable way to feed on the Word of God is through prayer with the Psalms. As Alcuin taught the Church one thousand, two hundred years ago, as well as today, through prayer in the Psalms may be found the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ the Eternal Word of God. In the Psalms can we find guidance as to our question of the relationship of the Cross to our Christian living?

In Psalm 100 we find the strong and direct teaching on that. “Know this,” the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord Himself is God.” Christ is our Lord, and His manner of revealing His divinity to us centers on the sacrifice of the Cross. The Psalmist continues: “He Himself has made us, and we are His,” and here is direct baptismal teaching, because through the Sacrament we are made part of His Body, and begin the process of being made and transformed into Him; we are His, as baptism is really a form of marriage to God. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” We might ask, what is His pasture? Is it the world around us. How can it be with all the sin and evil abounding in the world? Instead, where is the Lord’s pasture but heaven? Our food is the heavenly Bread, which we feed on as His sheep. Baptism seals us indelibly with the pledge to be able to participate in all the heavenly realities—is a seal that promises us that we are Christ’s sheep feeding in His pasture.

Brothers and sister, what a gift! His presence is a heavenly presence, His gates entered with joy because His gates are the gates of ever-lasting freedom and joy. “God’s faithfulness endures from age to age,” because God Himself is eternal, the maker of all things visible and invisible, and beyond the conditions of time and space. When we are baptized we begin the process of being remade into the image and likeness of Jesus, thereby transformed even at the start into His Body, beyond time and space. He Himself makes us—He makes all the members of His Body work and live as His Body.

And so, to answer our question, how does Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf lead us to be able to carry around His heavenly peace? Because having destroyed death by His death, Jesus has removed not physical death from us, but the need for any fear of physical death. By His death He has destroyed death. Which is to say, through baptism we are alive in Christ Who is ever-alive. We are living in Christ Who is ever-living. Our joy in Christ is precisely due to this fact. Christ died that we might enter into His ever-lasting life through faith in Him that we hold fast. This knowledge brings peace. And having this peace, what can we do but share it with all we know and all we meet. How can we be but joyful in the Lord, and invite joyfulness in all the lands? How can we but serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song, participating as we are in the divine nature and always in the hands of our loving Good Shepherd?

On Waking Up

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2020.

Saint John’s account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead perhaps strikes us as a passage of scripture that belongs as a Lesson during Eastertide. The story, after all, is a kind of resurrection story. Lazarus is dead, Jesus hears. And after being dead four days, he is raised from the dead, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. This parallels, closely but by no means exactly, the account of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ—not four days for Him, but three. We can be sure that the young Church in the Upper Room were inspired by the Holy Ghost to remember this miracle—and in John’s account of the Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the seventh of seven miracles performed by Jesus. But for us, the Church, we encounter this story not in Eastertide, but in Lent. And the reason is because of what the passage from John, along with the especially the passage from the prophet Ezekiel, teaches us about what the Christian faith means when we speak of “being dead.”

It is a detail we are apt to miss, especially in such a length Gospel passage—44 verses. But before leaving to go to Lazarus, and to Martha and Mary Magdalene, Jesus says to His disciples with Him: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” The disciples miss Our Lord’s meaning, for they respond, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Saint John underscores their missing of Jesus’s subtle teaching when the evangelist adds, “Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.” What has Our Lord’s subtle teaching here? It was that what eyes of the flesh perceive as death, the eyes of Our Lord, and presumably the eyes of Christian faith, see in fact as sleep; that physical death, the end of the course of our moral life, is not the end. This is captured in our funeral liturgy; the Preface for the Eucharist read, “for to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” When we die, we fall asleep in the Lord, but our life is not ended. Jesus knew from the first that this episode with Lazarus provided Him a true teaching moment: It is all for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it; and, as He says later, that all those witnessing the moment in faith may believe that Jesus was sent by the Father.

Lazarus was not dead, despite the stench of four days in a tomb. And likewise, the house of Israel were not dead, despite them saying of themselves, “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.” What was the house of Israel but slaves to sin, in Saint Paul’s words to the Church of Rome? Sin leads to death: physical death in many cases, to be sure; but from the perspective of Christian faith, one can be perfectly alive and functioning in a physical sense but dead to God through sin. Dead, and enslaved, which means unable to free ourselves from enslavement. As the Apostle says, “the end of those things is death.” Physically alive but spiritually dead is enslavement to sin, and also asleep, yet to be free is to wake up to enlightenment through Christ.

And yet, we rejoice because of the free gift of God, His gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And we receive this gift through resurrection. But whose resurrection shows the gift? Certainly our Lord’s, for His resurrection was made manifest to the young Church in the forty days after the empty tomb, experiences the young Church carried with them into the Upper Room before the Coming of the Holy Ghost. But I ask again, whose resurrection shows the gift? In the story of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus was alive: the gift of resurrection was entirely shown through the resurrection not of Jesus but of Lazarus. And in the same way, for us, Jesus is already alive—and has never not been alive, for He was begotten of His Father before all worlds. And the gift of resurrection is not shown by Him—for He is always risen—but through us.

And so this is the teaching for us to carry with us into the last days of Lent and Holy Week: The resurrection of  Christ is shown to the world not through the resurrection of Christ but in His resurrection through us, we being raised in a resurrection like His, showing ourselves to the world as Him, as His ambassadors, His agents, as the Sacrament of His Hope for the world. Our Lord, through His resurrection, puts His Spirit within us, and raises us from the graves of slavery to sin—that we shall live, and know that the Lord has spoken, “Let there be light,”—and that we have responded in kind like Blessed Mother Mary did: Let it be to us according to Thy Word.

On Purification, Baptism, and Peace

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of The Purification of S. Mary the Virgin (Candlemas), 2020.

There is no normal reason why Saint Luke should use the personal pronoun “their” to describe who’s purification is taking place. Mosaic law within Jewish custom specifies that the purification is only for the mother. And while in Jewish tradition, this ritual normally was understood to remove ritual uncleanness so as to allow a return to active worship within the community, for Mary the opposite pertained: she had experienced contact with an unfathomable holiness in the birth of God her Son, and so her purification was not to make clean what was dirty, but rather to make normal what was mystical. The same patterns applies to why the priest purifies the chalice after administration of Communion: the chalice is not dirty, for it was filled by the Precious Blood of Christ, filled with heaven. It is purified so as to return it to normal use, until which point it is taken again into the heights of heaven as a vessel for the Sacrament.

So why did Saint Luke use the word “their” instead of “her” purification? He understood what Jewish practice was, how purification was for the mother only. Luke wrote “their” because he always wrote with the eyes of his heart enlightened and transformed by Christ Crucified and Risen: for in such a view, in offering Christ to God she is offering His Body: and His Body is the Church; His Body is the members of the Church through baptism, because in baptism we are taken up into the heavenly reality permanently and engrafted into the divine Body of Christ. And so “their purification” is a moment of cryptic teaching by Luke, to be found by the people of God meditating upon the Gospel according to Saint Luke that through baptism we are purified: Mary’s return to normalcy after her contact with the ineffable allows us to be offered by her in the Temple because she knows in her Son’s body is all Israel, all the People of God. It is an extraordinary detail, Luke’s use of “their.”

Moreover, it is an extraordinary way that the old man Simeon responds to taking up Our Jesus into his arms and blessing God. I mean it is his words that are extraordinary, for his response is a petition to God, a request made to the maker of all things visible and invisible. This is Simeon’s petition: “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.” It is Simeon who is having a moment of transformation: an experience where the eyes of his heart have been enlightened. And having been transformed, Simeon petitions God to let him depart in peace, according to the Word of God. Here he echoes Mary’s response to God at the Annunciation: she said, “Let it be unto me according to Thy Word”; Simeon repeats those very last words, “according to Thy Word.” An immediate experience of God that we recognize throws us into such humility that we become so obedient, so attentive to God that all we can say is “Let it be unto me according to His Word.” And of course, “His Word” is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. And so Simeon’s petition really is: “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Jesus Christ, Thy Son and Thy Word.”

Brothers and sisters, see how this fully accords with the end of the Mass, the Dismissal. The priest says, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” It is as if those words of dismissal are a direct response to Simeon speaking for the congregation gathered at the Altar having been fed by the eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ. Just as Simeon, we have beheld Christ, and we have received Christ, holding Him in our hearts because we are filled with Him. And because we are filled with Him, we are filled with His peace. Of course we depart in peace: Christ’s peace is in our bodies through the Eucharist—“Go in peace” more fully expressed is “You are full of Christ in your bodies: now go into the world and carry the fullness of peace with you everywhere you go”—for our eyes have seen God’s salvation which He has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to the true Israel, the people of God.

On Speaking about God Present in Our Lives

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

The episode we heard from the prophet Isaiah—”the call of the prophet to prophesy”—is part of the prayer I say silently just before I proclaim the Gospel passage of the day. The prayer is this: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, who didst purge the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a live coal: and of thy gracious mercy, vouchsafe so to purify me, that I may worthily proclaim thy holy Gospel.” Isaiah’s experience was a profound one: he heard two angels singing to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” We sing this truth as well at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer. Just as we are taken to the source and summit of reality in the Eucharist, where the door opens to heaven, Isaiah had a mountaintop experience. And as when we approach the Light of Christ we see our shadows, Isaiah saw his. And he confessed his sins: that he had unclean lips, and therefore had become lost. One of the seraphim brought a live coal to his mouth, and thereby absolved Isaiah of his sin. And being made clean, he was able to respond to God’s call to go into the world and prophesy. “Here am I! Send me,” he said. And we Christians have savored his words for nearly two thousand years: words spoken six hundred years before the Incarnation of Jesus yet describe Jesus is wondrous detail.

On this Trinity Sunday, the final of the traditional eight days of Pentecost (also called the Octave of Pentecost) it is fitting to reflect on what it means to prophecy. It is fitting because being prophetic is something that Saint Peter preached about on the Day of Pentecost, and it is captured in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Quoting from the prophet Joel, from whom we heard last Sunday on the Feast itself, Peter said these words: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Prophesying, then, is something that all will do—all who are caught up in the Spirit’s out-pouring. Prophesying is for everyone. It is not reserved for the few or the spiritually elite. Sons and daughters, young and old, menservants and maidservants—all shall prophesy. It is in fact a kind of command: “shall prophesy,” not “might prophesy.” I want us, then, to ask the immediate question: Are we prophesying in our parish?

This might sound like an odd question to ask, but it is not at all. Or at least, it should not be. The reason I say that is because Saint Paul taught the very same thing to the parish church in Corinith. In the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” So as it was for Saint Peter, it is for Saint Paul: prophesying is for everyone. “But,” you may have in your mind right now, “I thought prophecy has to do with predicting the future, like Isaiah did.” But that is not right. It is true that Isaiah’s words predicted a great deal, but that is not what made what he did an act of prophesying. What made his words prophesying was simply that he, Isaiah, spoke about how God was present in his life. God is present in our lives in unique ways—for Isaiah, to describe God’s presence meant to describe the words God was telling him. We do not all need to be speaking like Isaiah literally to be prophesying. But we do need to imitate Isaiah at the deeper level: to speak to others about how God is present in our lives—that is what it means to prophesy, and that is what Saint Paul was teaching the Corinthian parish to do.

And why is it important to prophesy? For Saint Paul, when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, we are taught and encouraged by their words. Why? Because when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, God becomes present in our lives in the hearing. And as wonderful and nourishing as that it, there is still more for Saint Paul. He taught them that a parish church whose members are comfortable talking about how God is present in their particular lives, such a parish stands the best chance of growing numerically. And he states it plainly: if outsiders or unbelievers enter our church, if they hear the congregation as a whole, as well as individuals, prophesying—speaking genuinely and authentically about how God is present in their lives—the outsiders will be attracted to the community. In Saint Paul’s words, “secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Because nothing in this world is more attractive than the presence of God, and He makes His presence known through the members of His Body—through us.

Brothers and sisters of the Parish of Tazewell Count, let us begin this season of Trinitytide with this petition to our loving and merciful God—that the Holy Ghost, Whose very nature is to guide us into all truth, will continue to teach us how to prophesy—that the Holy Ghost, Who always gives to those faithful to Christ the words to speak, continues to teach us how to speak about how God is present in our lives—how He was present in our distant past, how He was present in our life five years ago, how He was present in our life last week, and yesterday. For outsiders to visit us and come away from the experience by saying “God is really among you” is the highest compliment a parish church can receive. And I am sure I am not alone in saying that I want outsiders to say that about us.

On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Easter Day, 2019

It was the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who went into the tomb. The stone was rolled away, but they did not find the body. What they found was new and utterly unfamiliar. And they were perplexed. And why wouldn’t they be? The mystery of their Master, their and our loving Lord Jesus Christ, took yet another turn. Jesus had lived and taught in such mystery—always confronting His followers with their own shadows, yet confronting always with love and presence that to not follow Him felt empty and wrong. It was the women who treasured and kept and abided in the words of Jesus—the women before the men for the most part.

They had been taught, it seems, by Our Lord’s most blessed and chaste Mother: Mary, who was named by the angel full of grace. She too was perplexed when she was confronted by God’s truth: that He had made her the fullness of grace, and that she, who had known no man, would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and would call His name Jesus—He who would reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of Whose kingdom there shall be no end—that she would be the Mother of Son of God. At hearing this she was greatly troubled, we are told by Saint Luke. She too had entered into the new and utterly unfamiliar, a mystery of the same order as the cave on Easter Sunday morning.

Since then the Church has been imprinted with this pattern which we have learned from God: when we are confronted by His presence, He very well might manifest Himself in the new and utterly unfamiliar. In some sense, this should be how we expect God to come to us—expecting, it seems, the unexpected, but also expecting to be perplexed, even troubled, and to have to grapple with something we feel ill-equipped to handle.

What we should never be is scared; because we are always in God’s hand, and He is ever-watching over His flock like the Good Shepherd. Our job is to be faithful as God works the newness of His creation through His Son and through us. Our job is to be faithful: faithful in prayer and worship, in giving of ourselves to God and His Church, in giving of ourselves to others, for God lives in all those who are made in His image—and all people are made in His image, and so we are to give ourselves to whomever God calls us to serve, and do so with the joyful action of love.

God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son—that in giving Him to us on the Cross, we might be taught what true humility looks like: for our loving Lord Jesus is for all times the sacrament of humility, even so in the way we receive Him today in the most ordinary form of bread and wine: ordinary, simple, accessible: so humble as to be vulnerable, for we so easily forget that He is always with us in the Tabernacle. He became so vulnerable in His humility that He allows Himself to be forgotten in the Tabernacle, where He rests all but two days of the year.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue to remember Him as He rests in perfect peace in our Tabernacle, consecrating this space as sacred, heavenly—everywhere there is a Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, there is the holy land, there is the new Jerusalem. Remembering our Lord allows us to be formed by Him. This was the first teaching given to the women early on that first Easter Sunday morning: remember. Remember the words of Jesus, remember what He told you, remember—in other words, keep all the words of Our Lord in our heart, treasuring them, pondering them, like  Blessed Mary taught the early Church to do.

Brothers and sisters, it is a blessed Easter! Our Lord—truth Himself, truth incarnate—has overcome the sharpness of death, and has did open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He opened the tomb not so that He could get out, but so that we might enter in: entering in by faith in Him, abiding in His words, that we might dwell in Him, and He in us. And abiding in us, fill us with hope, with peace, and with direction. He told the women to proclaim the Resurrection to the men. Let us be so emboldened to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our loving actions of accompanying the lonely—that the joy of Christ may be in their hearts. Amen.