Homily: “On Baptism”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year A), 2017.

It is my great pleasure to welcome our guests who are joining us this morning on this holy day, for this the very holy event of Makenzleigh Ann Copelen receiving the Sacrament of Baptism and being made a living member of Jesus Christ, Himself living eternally. This ritual of baptism has been performed since the very first day of the Christian Church nearly two thousand years ago. It is a Sacrament that remains central to the Christian experience, at its very core. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have seen fewer numbers of Baptisms across all Christian denominations. Whereas Baptism for many of us growing up was more or less automatic, these days it is the result more of a conscious choice. Baptism is something that my wife and I did not automatically choose for our children when we started having them twelve years ago, because at that time we long had stopped attending any church. To baptize our children did not feel right, did not feel authentic. Young adults will increasingly be faced with this kind of situation and this kind of choice. And so my first remark this morning is to applaud Nicole and Chase, Michael and Mona, for having the courage and trust to baptize young Makenzleigh.

I mentioned that Baptism as a ritual has been performed since the first day of the Christian Church two thousand years ago. It is the only Sacrament that was explicitly spoken of in the first sermon on that first day, when Saint Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost with words so powerful that three thousand souls were baptized on that day. When Jesus Christ is heard, when His truth is recognized, when His Spirit is felt, our souls are filled with light, a light that has overcome the darkness and will overcome the darkness in our lives. Saint Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is Jesus who brings forgiveness because it is Jesus who brings healing, and helps us to begin and continue the process of healing, of becoming whole, of becoming who we are intended by God to be, when we call upon His Name. It is Christ and His love for us that helps us to have Hope that our failings, our errors and mistakes, and yes even our darkness can become opportunities for love, occasions for grace. Jesus Christ was nailed to the Cross so that the darkness in each and every one of us could be transformed into light, a light that then shines in who we are, a light that becomes for others a guide to peace, a release from captivity, and warmth amid the cold.

Brothers and sisters, we are about to witness the most important moment in the life of any Christian—when he or she becomes a Christian. From that moment of Baptism, the Light of Christ will be in Makenzleigh’s heart for ever. Baptism is a spiritual tattoo that can never be removed. Let us celebrate how beautiful this moment is. The beauty of this adorable little girl; the beauty of our intentions to bring her into the Christian family; the beauty of the words of prayer that surround his moment; the beauty of the sign of the cross; the beautiful simplicity of water blessed and holy, of oil fragrant and holy, and of light radiant and holy—and the beauty of this our gathering, united with the single purpose of praising, witnessing, and sharing in the love God Almighty has for each one of us—a love so mighty, so awesome, so generous—that He comes to even the smallest of dear children, calling them by their name, welcoming them into His arms, protecting them in every moment of their life. Sending out continuously light and truth to us, that by the light and truth of Jesus Christ, we may be led. Amen.

Homily: “On Forgiveness”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19, Year A), 2017.

We have in our Lessons today a coordinated presentation of the scriptural basis for the Church’s doctrine of Forgiveness. There are other biblical passages that could also be looked at if one were to want to fashion a comprehensive and detailed list of all verses that relate to forgiveness. But certainly for purposes of our understanding of the Faith and our prayer life, these passages more than suffice.

Almost. All I would want to remind us is just how central forgiveness is to the Incarnation of Christ, indeed the whole mission of Jesus of Nazareth. It is central because He said it is, when after supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. To see the relationship between the Church’s doctrine of forgiveness and the Eucharist is not intuitive, but must be seen as a strong, even profound relationship, because of the actions and words of Jesus on the night before He died and the authority that moment receives in the liturgy of the Church. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part seven and conclusion”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Good Friday, Year A, 2017.

The seventh and last word to be uttered by our most loving Jesus from the Cross is, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The meaning is clear. But why did the Son  of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, why did Jesus commend Himself publicly into the hands of His Father in this way, when He knew that He would nonetheless have received commendation had He not spoken as He did? Surely He who, only a little while before, had said, “The ruler of this world,” that is, Satan, “is coming. He has no power over me,” knew that His most holy spirit had already the Father’s commendation? Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part seven and conclusion””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part six”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Maundy Thursday, Year A, 2017.

The sixth word of Our loving Lord Jesus Christ from the Cross come right on after the fifth word. Like the fifth, it was recorded by Saint John, so let us return to the moment we experienced on Palm Sunday. Again we are close to the very end of Jesus’s life on earth. He has been mocked, spat upon, tortured and crucified on the Cross. His garment torn, His Body emaciated—yet the loving words to His Mother and to John the Beloved Disciple have been uttered, along with the words, “I thirst,” that fifth words that reminds us that Jesus always thirsts for us. And then Saint John tells us in his Gospel these words: “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” That is the sixth word of Jesus from the Cross: “It is finished.” For John, this is the final utterance, for as he tells us of Our loving Lord Jesus, then “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part six””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part five”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, Year A, 2017.

The fifth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus was recorded by Saint John in the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel. We are close to the very end of Jesus’s life on earth. Mocked and spat upon, crucified on the Cross, His garments torn, the words to Mary His Mother and His Beloved Disciple John having been bestowed upon them, John tells us that “knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture,) “I thirst.” This, the fifth Word of Jesus—“I thirst.” Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part five””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part four”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

The fourth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus echoes about the hearts and minds of faithful Christians as we approach the events of Holy Week. This word from Jesus is plain, and it is unadorned. It is: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was Saint Matthew who recorded these words in his Gospel. Saint Matthew tells us this happened at about the ninth hour of the day. That sort of reckoning of time began at what we would call 6 am, or thereabouts. So the ninth hour of the day would be about 3 pm in the afternoon, and has traditionally in the Church been a holy time each day for prayer and recollection of Our Lord’s crucifixion. Saint Matthew also tells us that in speaking these words, Jesus cried with a loud voice. He wanted this to be heard by all close enough to hear, indeed with ears to hear. He did not want there to be any mistaking what He said. He cried with a loud voice so that what He was saying would be clear.

This fourth of the Seven Last Words is a direct quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22. We will pray with this Psalm at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass as the Altar is stripped bare of all candles, linens and decoration to bring to our minds that Jesus, the Last Supper having been Instituted and given to us in tremendous glory, is now beginning to enter into His humiliation—first in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then to His Passion and death on the Cross. As the Altar is stripped, Psalm 22 will be chanted, so that we share in the feelings that Jesus Himself was experiencing during this unspeakable time. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part four””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part three”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

In the Western Christian liturgical tradition, the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent has five more names. That one—the Fourth Sunday in Lent—as well as Laetare Sunday (because the first words of the Mass used to be “Laetare Jerusalem”, meaning “Rejoice, Jerusalem”); Rose Sunday, both because Popes used to bless a gold ornament in the shape of a rose and because rose-colored vestments are permitted on this day; mid-Lent Sunday, because it falls halfway between the beginning of Lent and Easter Sunday; Refreshment Sunday, because those keeping the Lenten fasting practice were encouraged to take a break, such as by eating sweet or rich foods; and finally, this day is called Mothering Sunday, which is the origin of our Mother’s Day. A lovely tradition of Mothering Sunday still widely observed is the Simnel Cake, a delicious cake blessed during the Mass and enjoyed during coffee hour. There are in fact more names for this day, which attests to its popularity among the laity; but I think six names are enough to mention at this point.

I have a particular fondness for the association of this day as Mothering Sunday. God commands us, of course, to honor our mother, as well as our father. The particular bonds of deep affection a mother has for her child are something no mother needs explained to them, and no father best question. And the same applies toward our spiritual and baptismal Mother, who is Blessed Mary. Can there be any doubt that Mary loves the Church with profound affection? The Church is made up of those people we are baptized into the Body of Jesus—baptized the Body of her Son. A Son whose nature and parentage were revealed to Mary, announced to Mary, by the archangel Gabriel; a Son who when still very young was proclaimed to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel”, that a sword would pierce through Mary’s soul also, an image that led Mary to the foot of the Cross. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part three””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

As I spoke last Sunday, there are seven sayings by Jesus from the Cross in the four books by the evangelists. These seven sayings are also called “the Seven Last Words,” and each of these, individually and as a group, have been the subject of much reflection, speculation, and prayer over the course of the nearly two-thousand-year history of the Christian Church.

If we recall the image of Jesus Christ given to us by Jesus Himself—that He is the true Vine—then these Seven Last Words can be thought of as seven “leaves” of the Vine. We can carry the image still further when we remember that a vine, such as grow grapes, are fastened to a structure, even a wooden structure, both so that the vine develops properly and so that its leaves provide shade to the fruits, to the grapes. Indeed our Jesus, the true Vine, was fastened to the wood of the cross, and Christians have been finding shade under His leaves, His Last Words, ever since, even as we are in this season of Lent.

The second of His Last Words was recorded by Saint Luke in the twenty-third chapter of his Gospel. Jesus was crucified with two criminals, one on His right and one on His left. When one of the criminals confessed his faith in Christ and asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Can we imagine the shelter this provided the criminal? Can we fathom how this quenched the criminal’s thirst? As I imagine this moment, I see Jesus looking directly at the criminal—looking at him with the most loving, comforting, and penetrating eyes—Jesus’ eyes looking directly at the criminal, so directly as to be felt deep in the soul. Jesus would have had to turn His head, stretch His neck, something like would have caused Him still more pain. Jesus looked with His divine eyes revealing His divine heart—a heart that has loved this criminal already, and so promptly responds with a tremendous promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Not you might be with me; not, “You will be with me if . . .” Nor is it that the criminal will be with the angels, or with other souls—undoubtedly the case, but the promise by Jesus is that in Paradise the most immediate presence will be that of Jesus Himself. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part one”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

Our Lord tells Nicodemus that “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Our Lord hung on the Cross, nailed to it, as the true Victim, as God’s love for us, that we might be saved by His love. It is for this reason that everything in the Church’s life and prayer revolves around the Cross, itself an inexhaustible source of grace. As is well known, Jesus spoke seven sentences from the cross as recorded in the Gospels. These seven sentences are called “The Seven Last Words of Jesus,” it is a common tradition to devote preaching and reflection to these Seven Last Words on Good Friday services. I will be doing so today and over the remaining Sundays in Lent, tying these Words into the appointed Gospel readings and the ongoing life within the Parish of Tazewell County.

The first word uttered by our most compassionate Jesus, as he hung on the cross, was, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” There can be no more dramatic demonstration of the centrality of forgiveness to the Christian life than this first word. Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the actions of His murderers, to overlook their deeds. Jesus knows that His Father always hears Him. He is saying: Look, Father, at the love of Thy Son, not their behavior. Through the Son’s plea, indeed through the Son Himself, those who were responsible for nailing Jesus to the Cross are made present to God the Father, and God the Father made present to them, through Jesus. Forgiveness has everything to do with presence—and particularly with the presence of Jesus.

That forgiveness is central to the Christian life is demonstrated by how it echoes throughout the Mass. By plainly reading of the words of the Mass, forgiveness shows up explicitly in four places, and it is worth noting them now. There is a fifth location where forgiveness is prominent, perhaps its most prominent moment, that is somewhat hidden and does not appear in the plain words of the liturgy, but is directly alluded to; this fifth location we will look at later in Lent.

The first instance of forgiveness is in the General confession of sin which begins the Mass. Amid our confession of sin—of separation from God—as a body, we petition God to “Have mercy on us and forgive us.” We ask this so that we might again delight in God’s will and again walk in God’s ways. We have lost something of Christ’s immediate presence, a presence that guides and leads us in our lives, a presence that directs us in our journey. And the Priest responds: “Almighty God have mercy on you and forgive you.” When we ask for forgiveness as a body through the means that the Church provides us, our separation is removed—God is most willing to do that, most willing to restore and renew His presence and availability to us.

The second instance where forgiveness shows up is in the Nicene Creed: “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This Creed took final form in the fourth century through a council of Christian bishops east and west, and so it is seen as one of the most ecumenical fruits the Church has been given by God. Here forgiveness is seen in a different light than it was in the Confession. Here it is connected to baptism. Baptism is permanent; it can never be undone nor can it be re-done. Being baptized in some sense permanently removes a certain kind of separation from God, and likewise through baptism God is made more present in the person who is now incorporated into the Body of Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, that person’s own body now being a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The third instance of forgiveness in the Mass is during what is called the Words of Institution. Holding the prepared Chalice, the priest repeats the words of Our Lord: “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is intimately tied into the nature of the Eucharist, and at the heart of Holy Communion. By the consecrated Bread and Wine—the Precious Body and Precious Blood of Jesus—Jesus is really and actually present, palpably, tangibly and sacramentally—and this presence is for the forgiveness of sins. By the Eucharist, we are completely un-separated from God. This mystery requires our utmost reverence, our best prayer.

The fourth and final plain instance is in the Our Father prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Note that we are agreeing to a contract, you might say. The contract that we enter into by our own free will is that God’s forgiveness of us is contingent upon our forgiving of others. Our forgiveness of others precedes, it comes first, says the contract. This is a condition that we place on ourselves. Yet we do so because we know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: it is all grace, it is all a gift from God. When we truly forgive another person, it is owing entirely to God’s presence in us, His action in our souls.

And so see Jesus on the Cross; hanging on it; nailed to it. He has been lifted up, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. And the first of His Seven Last Words is “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” What an example to us! By this example we are shown the kind of affection with which we ought to pray for our enemies. By this example we are shown the kind of affection with which we ought to pray for those that have wounded us, have hurt us, wounds and hurts that are still bleeding, as Jesus Himself bled on the Cross. Lay this Word  in the treasury of your heart, so that whenever your enemies rage against you, you may be able to utter this memorial of the good Jesus’ overflowing kindness. Hold his word up against the insults of enemies, as if it were a shield. If your Bridegroom can pray for his murderers, can you not also pray for your detractors?

Cover image “Crucifixion of Jesus” by Dionisius is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Homily: “On Ash Wednesday”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Ash Wednesday 2017.

Since September the three Adult Study Groups in our Parish have been reading the book The Process of Forgiveness by Father William Meninger, who is an American monk in the Cistercian order who is alive today and actively teaching. We have been slowly working out way through the book and how Father Meninger presents his thesis that forgiveness is a process, the important part of which is to begin by the help and grace of God.

In a lecture that one can find on the internet, Father Meninger is discussing forgiveness in front of a large group of people at a Roman Catholic parish in Texas. At the beginning of that lecture, he tells the following story, a true story that he had collected during his research for the book: Read more “Homily: “On Ash Wednesday””