Homily: “On Boasting in the Cross”

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

We come upon one of the more poetic and lovely Collects of our Calendar, one that is perfectly situated in time. Grant us, Lord, it begins, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly. And of course, for us, the heavenly is not the far away and remote, but the Kingdom of God which has come near, and has come intimate, through the Cross of Jesus Christ. The heavenly is the deeper dimension of our reality as we live and move and have our being as baptized Christians—very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ, Christ who is Himself in heaven, and we are members of Him Who is in heaven. We ourselves—you all and me, in our actual lives in the here and now—are sacraments of Christ’s presence. We are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. This is nothing to boast about. As Saint Paul’s teaches in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts boast of the Lord.” Perhaps all of us could take this very positive teaching of the Apostle more literally and seriously: a daily remembrance that God has baptized us, and made us part of Him.

We find the twelve disciples of Jesus boasting as well. Read more “Homily: “On Boasting in the Cross””

Homily: “On Emptying Ourselves for Jesus”

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

Our verses from Saint Mark give his account of Saint Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ and then the first teaching in Mark’s Gospel from Jesus about His death and resurrection, which is followed by Our Lord’s memorable description of true discipleship. These verses directly precede the account of our Lord’s Transfiguration on the high and holy mountain, which we reflect upon twice every year: the Sunday directly before Ash Wednesday and Lent, and the feast devoted to the event in August. And then the verses directly following give the Saint Mark’s account of the healing of a boy with a mute spirit, such a debilitating possession that the disciples are unable to cast out, which becomes the occasion for Our Lord’s teaching that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”

I summarize these forty odd verses because these three groups of verses demonstrate a pattern we see throughout Mark’s gospel—his use of what scholars have playfully but usefully called “the Markan sandwich.” Read more “Homily: “On Emptying Ourselves for Jesus””

Homily: “On What Defiles a Person”

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

Saint Paul exhorts us to take and use the sword of the Spirit because Jesus wields the sword of the Spirit when He cuts us to the heart, piercing our own souls with the truth, that we may grow in maturity to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. This is His work of reforming us in His likeness, and it involves embracing the experiences of life as we encounter them, falling down because of our own frailty, and through God’s grace standing up again. I reflected on this over the past week while my daughters and I watched the Disney version of Pinocchio. And this helps us also to break open Our Lord’s teaching on what defiles a person.

The story of Pinocchio is a rather odd one. Read more “Homily: “On What Defiles a Person””

Homily: On Our Lady and the Theology of Woman

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2018.

It is a funny pattern that we humans have whenever a new technology is introduced. New techbomogy is always first understood in the terms of the technology it is replacing. The perfect example is the automobile; when it was introduced, it was spoken of as the “horseless carriage.” Or, as another example, the internet was spoken of as the “information superhighway.” These  are metaphors, yet these give a vivid sense as to what the innovation actually is. The car, yes it is a carriage—but it is a horseless carriage. The internet is for information, but it is not like a library one has to travel to—no, the information is already mobile and on a superhighway-like-thing: it travels to you with the touch of the fingers. In other words, the pattern is that what is being replaced or made obsolete becomes the shell of initial interpretation for what is new.

We see the same thing in the Scriptures. “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus asks His disciples. And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The terms for understanding and interpreting Jesus used widely in Jewish society were not up to date; or, stated differently but in a sense more accurately, God’s revelation in the Incarnation was such a monumental leap forward in the “spiritual technology,” it is perfectly understandable why the terms to interpret Him had not caught up. He was either a prophet, or He was a military revolutionary—both of which were wrong, but those were the categories of serious public figures for first-century Palestine.

All of this—the pattern of interpreting the new in terms of the old—applies to Blessed Mary, the Mother of God—Theotokos­, to use the Greek title ascribed to her officially, meaning God-bearer—but it applies in fascinating ways. Our Lady is properly understood, first and foremost, in terms of what, and who, came before her. As one theologian puts it, “All theology of Mary [her place in the history of salvation, her place within the constellation of Christian worship of Jesus Christ] is fundamentally based upon the Old Testament’s deeply anchored theology of woman” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion, p. 13). This theology is derived from the description in the Sacred Scriptures of the great women of the Old Testament—Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, and Judith. Without these great women, Blessed Mary will not be properly understood.

This biblical theology of woman could be elaborated in long treatises and theological tomes. And yet, we already have that theology captured for us in a remarkably compact presentation. I am referring to Mary’s Magnificat, our Gospel passage, which has been for nearly twenty centuries the Song or Canticle of Mary sung during the evening prayer service by the People of God. (Indeed, in Anglican tradition, it is only during the singing of the Magnificat that incense, the sign of holiness, is burned and brought to the Altar.) Let me bring out of the Magnificat three of the themes that are at the core of the biblical theology of woman:

The first is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This first line is spoken in the first-person—Mary’s soul—yet within the prayer of the Church, Mary articulates the fact that it is primarily in women, not men, where the locus for the revelation of God’s power is found. We see this everywhere in the Old Testament. I recently preached about Judith, and how after she defeating the invading army by cutting off the head of its general through a well-conceived plan of deception, she was spoken of as “the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation!” Similar patterns of God manifesting His will and power—God being magnified in the soul of women—can be seen in the other great figures. The soul of women magnifies the Lord, Mary is saying: more specifically, the faithful women of Israel. And we see this fact in Mark’s Gospel from the first to the last. The first person to imitate Jesus is a woman—Saint Peter’s mother-in-law—and the disciples who listen, learn, and follow Jesus’ teaching the best are women: at His crucifixion, women watch (which was Jesus’ command repeated many times), but the men disperse and are broken, the best example of which, ironically, is the son-in-law of the first to imitate Jesus, that is, Saint Peter. Furthermore, to learn how to be apostles, the Apostles looked to women: to Saint Mary Magdalene, called the apostle to the Apostles because of the resurrection message she brought to them, and to Blessed Mary during the ten days they were gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension and before the Day of Pentecost, when we can reasonably and prayerfully assume that Our Lady shared with the Apostles the wonderful stories of the Annunciation, the Presentation, the Finding of Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, and perhaps domestic miracles likely He performed within the confines of family life with Saint Mary and Saint Joseph. It was these stories that further empowered the Apostles to bust out with their proclamation upon the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

The second: “He has exalted those of low degree.” The significance of this cannot be over-stated. God bends down to the humble, down to the powerless, bends to the rejected. This is the Gospel proclamation! And yet, this was particularly significant in Mary’s day, because in the ancient world, the unmarried and childless were inferior and often excluded from the worshiping community. Infertility was a seen as a curse, and possibly reflective of sin committed. But to Sarah in her old age was given Isaac, to Rachel Joseph, to Hannah Samuel. Their infertility was reversed: the infertile one ultimately turns out to be the truly blessed (ibid., p. 18). In other words, the ability of women to participate not peripherally but as central characters in the divine action had nothing to do with biology. This participation, which is motherhood—true religious motherhood—is not about body parts, but it is about faith, humility, fidelity to God. And as the Church has from its beginning seen Mary as representative of the Church, we are ever taught by her, Our Lady, who in herself summarizes and incorporates into her being the meaning and significance of all of the great women before her: that God acts through His Church only when we are of low degree: humble, poor, patient, yet striving for complete fidelity to God, firm in our faith despite whatever place in society we might have.

Finally, let us ever-remember and cherish these words: “All generations will call me blessed.” Mary’s place in the Church must always be secure, therefore all she represents is likewise secure, in the central treasuries of our faith. And note how this is a direct commission to the Church: all generations will call me blessed—not “might,” or “could,” or “if one happens to have that piety,” or “if one is a Roman Catholic,”—no, no, no. All generations (she might have added, “despite denominational differences”) will call her blessed—meaning, veneration of Mary is not optional but demanded, if we are to rightly worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Rejoicing in Mary, rejoicing in the central importance of women as the anchor or ark of the new Covenant, means we rejoice fully in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, 2018.

On this Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, traditionally one of the most beloved Saints in English/Anglican Christianity, three words come to mind. Those three words are peace, strength and courage. Peace, strength and courage are what we ask God in the Collect after Communion to grant us so that we can love and serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart. Jesus teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And that we are to love our neighbor as our self. And so we ask to be sent into the world in peace with strength and courage, knowing that for us, the baptized who have been nourished with the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, God sends His grace because He knows that to love Him and our neighbor, to be agents of heavenly peace in our world, requires divinely given strength and courage.

Peace born of strength and courage describes Judith perfectly. Read more “Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman””

Homily: “On Failure in Mission”

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

Failure is part of the every day situation of our lives. Every person experiences failure on a regular basis, sometimes every day. There are things we want to do, things we want to accomplish. There are ways we want to act, things we want to say, ways we want to be known and accepted. We feel that we need these things, we might even feel called to them, and have been preparing for them for some time. Our hopes and dreams may have been deeply embedded in these desires, even financial livelihood or personal accomplishment.

And yet, we fail. Read more “Homily: “On Failure in Mission””

Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding”

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

Our Collect today invites our prayer to a profound truth, despite its wording being rather commonplace, and even cliche. It begins with these words: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” What this reflects is the fact that knowledge and love are all the same—that, for Christians, love itself is understanding (William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, 57.) What we do, our actions, our behavior, our prayer, must, if it is going to be Christian action, Christian behavior, Christian prayer, live out our beliefs. Our words that profess what we believe throughout the Liturgy of the Church, whether in Mass or daily Offices, have to find expression in our bodily actions—concretely, actually, and palpably. For us, taught by Jesus Christ and learning within the fellowship of the Church, knowledge and love are all the same: Love itself is understanding. Read more “Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding””

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””

Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, 2018.

The words that the prophet Isaiah hears in the fortieth chapter come to him after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of its leading citizens.  The religious, political, and social institutions were no more. The Davidic dynasty was gone, the temple was in ruins, its priesthood scattered. Darkness pervaded everything. And so it was for this reason that in Isaiah we do not hear a call for the people to recognize their failure and confess their infidelity to God. There was no way to deny those were the case, the truth of their infidelity to God was so self-evident and pervasive. Read more “Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist””

Homily: “On the Seed Parables”

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

We hear today the second and third of the three Seed Parables. These are relayed to us by Saint Mark all in chapter four of his Gospel, almost in a direct sequence. The Parable of the Sower of course comes first, with its presentation of a kind of bleak-sounding predestination—the growth of the seed entirely depends upon the soil: good soil means growth, poor soil means the seed does not grow. The second seed parable presents the completely opposite scenario whereby the quality of the soil is irrelevant because the seed grows by itself, automatically. And the third Seed Parable, of the mustard seed, tells us that what grows of the seed is ordinary, for the shrubs described would be no more than eight feet tall. Read more “Homily: “On the Seed Parables””