On S. Joseph, Guardian of the Church’s Divine Nature

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Feast of S. Joseph, 2021

Saint Joseph is a powerful Saint. He has a powerful intercession on behalf of us to Jesus. Of this there can be no doubt, for after all, it was part of God’s economy of salvation for Joseph to have the vocation of guardian and protector both of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the economy or plan of God’s salvation through His Son Jesus, there are no accidents, but all is of His loving and infinitely wise providence. This is why we sing of Joseph, whose glory fills the Church with praises: Joseph, the blessed and most chaste spouse of Blessed Mary, is called by God to be the best of protectors. And God chosen Joseph for this vocation, knowing of Joseph’s humility, glad spirit, and adoring nature. God never puts on our shoulders more than we can handle; but He also never puts on less. He put this responsibility upon Joseph’s shoulder because God knew Joseph would be able not only to handle the responsibility, but to exercise his responsibility most competently and always giving glory to God. God has given Joseph grace and honour in ways wondrous to the Church from the beginning, and wondrous to us today who venerate him.

In the ancient images of Joseph, such as we have here, Joseph is painted holding the Son of God, the very same Son of Mary, close to himself, as if Jesus sits on Joseph’s left arm. The intimacy between the two is evident in how Joseph holds Jesus with both hands, a symbol of Joseph’s God-given instinct of protection and strength. And notice too how Our Lord Jesus responds in the icon to Joseph, placing not one but two hands on his. The peace between the two is palpable: the peace of Son and father (and let us not be confused: of course the true and only Father of Jesus is He Who is the maker of all things, visible and invisible; thus Joseph, called even by Mary as the father of Jesus, was father not in terms of parentage but by virtue of his fatherly love and care of Jesus and Mary).

Imagine the heart of Joseph, brothers and sisters. Imagine his heart as he beheld Jesus from birth unto however old Jesus was when Joseph’s earthly life ran its course; beholding Jesus Who so trusted Joseph that Our Lord was to Joseph subject, submissive, and obedient. Imagine the heart of Joseph, quietly and inwardly savoring the love between Jesus and His Mother Mary. Imagine, too, the heart of Joseph as he courageously and decisively protected his family against the coming onslaught of Herod, even as they escaped to Egypt; and likewise the heart of Joseph as he protected Mary and Child on not one but two voyages home: to the first home of Bethlehem (home because of Our Lord’s birth) and to the second home in Nazareth. The strength, the resilience, the perseverance, steadiness, the internal fortitude of Joseph—in all ways the ideal father.

And let us also reflect upon the heart of Joseph found his betrothed spouse Mary to be with child of the Holy Ghost. Now, some may say this reflects a moment of weakness and disbelief on the part of Joseph; they therefore suggest Joseph suspected Mary to have known another man, and thus she is to be put away privily, to save her the humiliation of being known as an adulterer. But none of this is so. Notice that Saint Matthew does not say, Mary was found with child; but he says that Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost; meaning, it was made evident to Joseph from the first of the Child’s divine parentage. Joseph’s struggle, then, was not with Mary’s faithfulness. Rather, Joseph’s struggle was about whether this act of God should be private or public.

It was to this discernment that the angel Gabriel again spoke to Joseph in a dream, confirming that the Son of Mary is the Saviour, He shall save His people from their sins. And to Joseph was revealed the Holy Name, as it had been revealed at the Annuncation to Mary: to Joseph, Gabriel declared: “and thou shalt call His Name Jesus.” To Joseph was shared the Name above all other names, the Name unable to be said without the Holy Spirit.

Along with Mary, Joseph is guardian of the Holy Name, and thereby guardian of the Incarnation. Along with Mary, Joseph guards the truth that the Father of Jesus is divine. And because Jesus is divine, His Body the Church is also divine, with divine parentage. Everything, therefore, of the Church is divinely ordered, divinely arranged, divinely organized—the Scriptures, and the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the way they are because the Sacraments are heavenly and divinely arranged: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation; Matrimony, Unction, and Confession; and of course Holy Orders—all extend the ministry of Jesus; all extend Him; and all are arranged and ordered and organized divinely as Jesus Himself is the Son of the Father in heaven. Just as Joseph did not recoil but held firm as the divine plan of God unfolded through Mary, so Joseph reminds us to not recoil but hold firm to the truth that the traditional, catholic, and orthodox validity of the Sacraments is found only when their divine arrangement and ordering is accepted, cherished, celebrated, and protected.

All of this, and unfathomably more, is Joseph’s witness to the Gospel that we venerate today. Joseph indeed is guardian to the unfathomable, his words forever under the seal of confidentiality in Christ, yet his presence immediately available to us as we reflect upon his witness in silence, prayer, and awe.

Blessed Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and guardian of the divine nature of the Church and her Sacraments: pray for us!

On Knowing that Our Redeemer Lives

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

“I know my Redeemer lives,” Job proclaims to his interlocutors. Indeed, he is pleading to them. Immediately preceding this passage, Job says, “Have pity of me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me?” Job has become repulsive to his wine, loathsome to his relatives. All his intimate friends abhor him, and those who once loved him have turned against him. Physically he is a shell of himself, for his bones cleave to his skin and to his flesh. He feels alienated from the world, he feels a profound estrangement. He feels lost—and perhaps some of us have experienced something of this deep alienation, estrangement, and lostness.

There are some commentators on the Book of Job—which if you have never read or have not read recently, would make for excellent reading and prayer during Advent—who detect throughout the book a semi-obscured sense of creeping Pride on the part of Job, such that because of his Pride, if indeed he displays it in the story, would be occasion for God’s wrath upon him. But there is far from consensus among interpreters on this point. By my lights, Job is how he was described by God himself: a servant of God, none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil. And so what befalls him is simply a test from God. God allows these difficulties to occur, even invites Satan in the opening sequences of the book to have at it, try to turn Job from me. I do not think you will succeed, but do not believe me, God is saying, see for yourself.

Why does God allow Satan to make life difficult for Job? It is because God trusts Job to be able to handle the burdens and remain faithful to God. And so why does God allow difficulties to come upon us in our life? It is for the same reason: He trusts us that we can handle the burdens, and no matter how onerous and challenging our circumstances, that we are capable of remaining faithful. God, our loving God Almighty, made us in His image and likeness. Because of our tendency toward selfishness portrayed in the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, our active likeness to God—that is our virtuous life of faith, hope, and charity—is disfigured and distorted and without God’s grace is lost to us. But we have never lost God’s image in us. Despite our sinfulness, we are God’s image. The Greek word for image is “icon.” So we are the icon of God.

And because of that, God trusts that we can endure. God trusts that when we fall, we will turn to Him and by His grace stand up again. God believes that, when we find ourselves in such a bad place that we wonder will I ever get out of this? Is this as good as it gets?—that His love for us will overcome our darkness; that His love for us will be a light leading us from the dead end; that His love for us will give us the sense of direction that leads us back to Him.

And why? Because our God is not God of the dead, but of the living, as our Lord Jesus taught the Sadducees. All live to Him, He taught. The impulse to live to God is part of the image He gave us that we can never lose. The spark to hunger and thirst for righteousness—that is, hunger and thirst for right relationship with God—is part of the image He gave us that we can never lose. God, our God, our wonderful God, knows that His love wins, because His love must win—His love is heavenly. His love is mercy. His love is true healing. His love is true nourishment. His love is true peace and unity of the heavenly city where the triune God lives and reigns.

God knows that if we want to live, we will find Him, either in this life or the next life to come. Being His image—being His icon—by His grace we will seek to be reformed back into His likeness: that, we He shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom.

On Trusting the Lord and Doing Good

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Our Lord’s response to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” tells us these apostles had little or no active faith, at least at this point in the narrative from Saint Luke. They were certainly filled with an active and robust faith after the event of Our Lord’s Pascal Mystery—His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension—so much so that from the first day of the Church, the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost and the nature of Prayer was revealed—one of the dimensions of Christian Prayer from the first was holding steadfastly to the apostles teaching and fellowship, along with breaking bread and daily Office services. So knowing that the apostles were, by the end, so robust in their faith that they offered their lives to Christ, embodying Saint Paul’s teaching of being a living sacrifice—offering their souls and bodies, an example so strong that it entered into our liturgy at the Altar—we can give clear witness and our open, loving hearts to not the end of the story of the apostles’ and their journey into faith, but here in the middle—when their faith was smaller than the small seed of the mustard bush.

How does our Lord respond to this situation? He certainly does not sugar-coat His message—“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed (not even the whole seed, but a portion of it), you could say to this sycamine tree (which is a kind of mulberry bush), ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Quite a teaching! He believes in them, despite their little faith. He knows they are capable of great and wondrous things through His grace, despite their little faith at present. So his teaching is direct, yet filled with love and hope. There is in the teaching a seed of empowerment that would germinate after Pentecost when the apostolic Church remembered these and other teachings of Jesus, and saw them in the full light of the revelation of Christ.

And why, at this moment in the narrative, are they of little faith? We are not told directly, but the strong hint is that they were feeling deflated, and unable to live up to the high calling of following in the example of Jesus, unable to be as forgiving to others as Jesus would have them be. This is because directly preceding our Lesson is the teaching by Jesus that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is to that high calling that the apostles cry out, “Increase our faith!” And who can blame them?

Later in our Lesson Jesus teaches them, in effect the words of our Psalm: they need to put their trust in the Lord and do good—they need to be more humble and be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And while the Christian life that seeks to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways is rich and varied—for Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve; and furthermore Jesus will later teach to these same disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”—nonetheless within this rich and varied life of discipleship, there is a place for being a good soldier. There is a place for simply doing what we are told. There is a place for carrying our the orders of our Mission General, Jesus of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is teaching us that we will know Him in our humility. He is teaching us that we will know Him as we forgive those who trespass against us—indeed that when we forgive the sins of others, we will know forgiveness of our sins. We will know the relief of the removal of separation between ourselves and God’s mercy and peace. It takes faith to forgive trespasses against us. And yet, the more we forgive, the Church teaches us, the more our faith grows.

Homily: “On Firm and Certain Faith”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Easter, 2018. It is not the easiest passage in the Sacred Scriptures to contemplate, but the passage from the Book of Isaiah is a very important one, which is why it is provided for our prayer today. “Open the gates,” Isaiah begins. He is dreaming about the future: a future kept by God, a future where peace is the way of life—a future built on confident trust in the Lord God as an everlasting rock. In the words of one Old Testament scholar, this passage is called Isaiah’s “song of the redeemed.” The vision celebrated in this song foresees a future in which the fortunes of the present will be reversed: the mighty will be brought low. It will celebrate Jerusalem, the strong city of God that has withstood the enemy and encloses the faithful. Read more “Homily: “On Firm and Certain Faith””

Homily: “On the Parable of the Talents”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year A), 2017.

Last Sunday we heard the Parable of the Ten Maidens, and today we hear about the Parable of the Talents. Our eyes are being directed toward the coming of the Lord, the Christian term for which is a Greek word, Parousia. This is the end and fulfillment of the whole history of salvation. What Saint Matthew in his Gospel intends with these parables is not that we should evade the present, but rather, to help us to live fully in the light of the completion of the history of salvation. We do not know when the end will come, but that it will is essential to ancient, Catholic faith, as we confess in our Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Indeed, the Lord will come. Read more “Homily: “On the Parable of the Talents””

Homily: “On Loving the Name of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year A), 2017.

We have asked this day in our Collect for God, the author and giver of all good things, to graft in our hearts the love of His Name, to increase in us true religion, to nourish us with His goodness, and to bring forth the fruit of good works. If one had to find a single prayer that summarizes the Christian faith and our total life in it, this Collect would be it. It is also a very old prayer. It goes back at least to the eighth century, making it at least one thousand, three hundred years old. But that is only when the prayer was written down, so it is probably much older than that. It lived in England as one of the Collects of the Day (although earlier in the liturgical calendar than our use) before the English Reformation, and it lived on in the first Book of Common Prayer, and in Prayer Books ever since, including those of the American church. I point this out so as to invite you to reflect on the fact that in our praying of it this morning, we are doing something very ancient, indeed, with words well seasoned with the sweat and devotion of untold numbers of souls. Read more “Homily: “On Loving the Name of Jesus””

Homily: “Advent and Expectation”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In this first week of Advent, the sense of expectation grows. Although the weather outside can often be frightful, nonetheless this is for the most part a season of warmth, for Christmas and all its wonderful remembrances is just around the corner. We are expecting a visit from Jesus—a particular kind of visit, where he visits us in His humility, as the long proclaimed and hoped for Messiah, as a child. Imagine the feelings, two thousand years ago, of Blessed Mary, now in her eighth month of pregnancy—how she was pondering the real meaning of the words announced to her by the Angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Pondering, and feeling this baby, the Son of God, in all the glory of the eighth month of pregnancy.

And there is a second visit that we expect, but expect in a different way. That is the visit of Christ in His Second Coming in the Last Day—His coming in glory. In this visit he comes to judge both the living and the dead.

And yet in our Collect, we ask God to give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. And so we expect a third coming of Christ—a coming in our hearts—to cast darkness out of our hearts, that the armor of light might shield our hearts. For with our hearts filled with this coming of Jesus, our hearts filled with light and protected with light, all of which comes from God, we are filled with Hope, and we may by His grace rise to the life immortal.

Read more “Homily: “Advent and Expectation””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 4”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Christ the King, the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 29, Year C).

I will conclude today with my series of sermons on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It was four Sundays ago that I began in on this area of Christian religion. Recall part of our Collect from that Day: “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.” Well, we do not properly pray if we say words that we do not grasp and have a decent handle on as far as their meaning. And what understanding we might have already of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity can always be renewed and deepened; it is the very nature of Christianity that we continually revisit and in so doing, re-experience, the terms and principles we use to attempt to grasp the revelation about ultimate reality—God—that is in Jesus Christ, and in Him definitively.

I have said that the theological virtues are habits. In so saying, it should become clear that in considering what Faith is, what Hope is, and what Charity is, we are not merely looking at their everyday meaning in wider society, but the particular depth and richness that the Church has found in them over the course of its two thousand year investigation. We are talking about patterns of repeated behavior—not merely ideas, much more than inward, emotional feelings, but actually what we do in our lives. Now it is often the case that there can be differences or disjunction between what we think, what we feel, and what we do. That there may be inconsistencies is to be expected, as part of the journey. The working out and making our own of the Christian revelation—given to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and living and breathing within His Church and offered to us through His Sacraments—is a process. It is movement, a movement that involves our rational faculty, our emotional faculty, as well as our behavior.

Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 4””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 27, Year C).

Today is Stewardship Sunday. This is the day each year when we reflect on what it means to be a steward. A steward is someone who looks after something, protects something. Specific to us, we reflect on what it means to look after this church, and what it means to protect this church. By “church,” we mean certainly the physical structures, care of the buildings, the roof, the furnace, the organ, the windows; we also mean care of the people who worship here; and we also mean protecting and caring for the culture in this church, the “feel” of being here that we often do not notice because it is so obvious, the sense of life, the sense of sacred in this space, the sense of holiness and the active, burning and real presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

No mature or even semi-mature person needs to be told that the care and protection of a church’s physical structures, the people, and sacrality requires an ongoing financial commitment on the part of the members of that church. Later this week you will receive in the mail pledge cards that ask you to tell the treasurer of the church the amount of your pledge for next year, so that the treasurer, along with the Vestry, can make an intelligent budget for our church in the two thousand seventeenth year after the birth of Our Lord.

It is said, of course that we give to the church not only treasure, but also time and talent. This is true, but there is more to it than that. Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 2”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints.

I said previously that I would be exploring the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity as a kind of running theme over the course of several sermons. Recall that I said that these three virtues are potentials in every human being, gifts given us when we were knit by God in our mother’s womb, and that the cultivation of these virtues through religious practice makes us not like the Pharisee who exalts himself, but like the tax collector, who humbles himself and can only say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

It is also true that cultivation of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity makes us more like the Saints of the Church. It is very helpful, I think, to recall that the Saints, and not intellectual biblical theologians, are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. The Saints are those of the baptized who have lived out their membership in Christ most fully. Doing that, making that journey, living out our membership in Christ to the fullest extent possible, is really what the Bible is for. The purpose of Holy Scripture is to help us love Jesus more and more; when we contemplate Holy Scripture, we allow the Holy Spirit to throw logs on the fire in our heart. Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 2””