On Being Controlled by Christ’s Love

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 2021

Saint Paul teaches us today that the love of Christ controls us. And goes on to add: because we are convinced that one has died for all. In teaching us this today, Saint Paul gives us more food for our reflection on what it means to be led by the Spirit of God, our theme for the season after Pentecost and Trinity. The love of Christ controls us—or, put another way, Christ’s love is our control. Christ’s love is our norm—is the norm. Christ’s love is the measuring stick by which we measure all of reality, and all of who are are, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Christ’s love is the pattern of being, the model of existence. The love of Christ—Christ’s love, His outpouring of Himself, His Sacrifice—controls us.

And His love controls us because we are convinced that one has died for all. It is not only that we are convinced that Christ died; we are even more convinced that Christ died for all. He gave Himself up for all, for the sins of all, giving Himself up for all persons, on behalf of all persons. On the Cross Jesus held all the sins of humanity on His holy shoulder. On the Cross Jesus held all the sins of humanity in His most holy Heart. By taking on Himself all our sins, He took upon Himself all separation that is between us and God, for sin means separation, and because of sin our relationship with God is distorted. On the Cross and through the Cross, through His Passion, Crucifixion, and Death, Jesus held in His most Holy Heart our relationship with God, distorted by sin, and as He offered Himself up to the Father on our behalf, He offered up for us our relationship with God.

And because Jesus is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world, God accepted Christ’s offering on our behalf, His vicarious offering of our relationship with God was accepted by God through Christ; and in accepting the offering of the Son, God took our distorted relationship with God, transformed it, and gave it back to us, restored, transformed and made permanently holy through Christ. Just as God take the bread offered at the Altar into Himself, transforms it into His Son, and gives it back to us transformed and holy, God takes our sinful relationship with Him into Himself through Jesus, and gives it back to us transformed—that we might live no longer for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and was raised.

Brothers and sisters, when we live with this fact—the fact of Christ’s offering of Himself for us—this fact becomes what controls our life; this fact becomes that which our life is ordered around. The love of Christ controls us, which is another way of saying that we have in remembrance Christ’s blessed Passion and precious Death; His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. When we live within the fact of Christ’s love for us—an unfathomable love for us, having given His life for us—we are truly in Christ, and we are a new creation. Living with and within the great mystery of this all—living with it, recognizing it, reflecting upon it, making it a fundamental part of our daily thoughts: as we allow the love of Christ to control us, we become by grace a new creation, because in Christ we live and move and have our being.

On the Coming of the Holy Ghost

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

There is a pious tradition in the Church seems over the last several centuries to have been obscured or forgotten, but does not deserve to have been, it seems to me. That pious tradition is that on the road to Emmaus along with Cleophas walked Saint Luke himself; that it was Cleophas (who in Luke 24 is named) and Luke (who is not named) who were accompanied by a stranger along the route, Who opened to them the Scriptures (the books of Moses, the Psalms, the Prophets) and Who revealed Himself as Jesus as He took bread, blessed bread, broke bread, and gave them bread, and Who then revealed Himself as Jesus. This pious tradition, that Luke was the unnamed companion of Cleophas, was affirmed by no less a voice of Holy Tradition than Pope S. Gregory the Great (known in the East as S. Gregory the Dialogist), Gregory being very responsible for the re-planting of Christianity in the English lands in the sixth and seventh centuries, by sending monks led by Saint Augustine of Canterbury along with giving to Augustine extraordinary pastoral guidance through letters that Gregory wrote which we still have, being as they were preserved by the Venerable S. Bede, the great historian of the early English church.

It makes sense, I think, that Saint Luke was the other disciples on the road to Emmaus, because in his gospel account, Luke wrote so intimately of the whole experience, both along the road and in the house where Christ resurrected celebrated the Eucharist. Either there is something to S. Gregory’s suggestion, or it must have been the case that Luke was a phenomenally talented investigative reporter. Intimate details abound in the entire Emmaus story. This includes the important detail from Luke 24:32: “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” And what this speaks to is the transformative power of Liturgy upon the heart; the transformative power of Christ in the Liturgy (of Word and Sacrament) upon the heart (upon our deepest being, upon our mind, upon our soul).

At Emmaus indeed was a Pentecost moment—we might call it a “micro-Pentecost moment”—for it is only in and by the power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Crucified and Risen perceived and recognized. Micro-Pentecost moments abound in the New Testament writings, and even through all of Scripture. Mary Magdalene, for example, at the empty tomb also experienced a micro-Pentecost moment, when in hearing the supposed gardener speak her name, “Mary,” she perceived and recognized Jesus, only possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room later in that first Easter Day, after the Emmaus experience, Jesus came and stood in the midst of the 11 disciples and said “Peace  be with you.” He showed His Hands and His Side, and then said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit,” truly a micro-Pentecost moment. Certainly we can see the moment for Moses at the Burning Bush in a similar light. And preeminent perhaps of all, at the foot of the Cross as experienced by Blessed Mary and Saint John (and as described in his Gospel account), after Jesus had received the sour wine, He said “It is finished!” and gave up the Spirit—that is, in scriptural language, He handed the Spirit down upon Mary and John, a micro-Pentecost moment of unfathomable significance.

How then do we understand the Day of Pentecost given all these micro-Pentecost experiences? The staggering power of the Coming of the Holy Ghost to the 120 disciples who had prayed with one accord for nine days I think begins to be properly grasped if we take all the micro-Pentecost moments—all deeply soaked in Mystery beyond telling—and just not add them together, but multiply them together. These 120 people—Blessed Mary, the Holy Women including Mary Magdalene, Martha, Cleophas’ wife Mary, along with Peter, John, Mathias and the rest of the Twelve ordained Apostles, undoubtedly Saint Luke and perhaps Saint Mark—these 120 people experienced through their Liturgy in the Upper Room a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

An analogy for us to understand what this “sound from heaven” was like is I think a symphony, a heavenly symphony. And in this symphony all the 120 disciples are accompanied by the patriarchs and prophets, accompanied and lifted up by the angelic choir—all the experiences of the 120 disciples coming together, experiences of Our Lord directly, experiences of our Lord mystically, experiences of our Lord as they now knew Him in Scripture opened by Him—experiences direct, mystical, and scriptural that the 120 disciples shared together in the Upper Room, which became over the nine days the womb of the Church. At Pentecost, the womb of the Upper Room indeed went boom. This Upper Room—so small in comparison to the entirety of creation, yet what took place in it now fills all creation—which is even too small for it. To the Upper Room, which is now every parish church, including ours, the Holy Spirit has come. Why? He has come that all of Christ’s Body, His people—you, me, and all of His Church—may rejoice ever more in His holy comfort being in us.

On the Work of the Holy Spirit

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 2021.

One of the striking aspects of the gospel account according to Saint John is how in his account, the core disciples (which includes the Twelve, but also others including the holy women) are shown to recognize the divinity of Jesus during his ministry of preaching and teaching, walking about them, eating, drinking, healing, praying, and spiritually guiding. This is very different than the gospel accounts according to Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, and Saint Luke. In those three, the core disciples, especially the men of the Twelve, do not recognize who Christ is, until after the Passion. Only when Jesus crucified and risen walks among them and shows them how to read Scripture do they recognize Him. For Saint Luke, for example, the crucified and risen Christ opens the scriptures and breaks bread, and He is recognized only then.

Such is not the case for John’s gospel, however. Immediately in John’s gospel, the first chapter, we have the strong declaration from Saint John Baptist: “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” which John Baptist repeats a few verses later. That is a recognition that the disciples only began to grapple with in the end of the three other gospel accounts. Where those end, the gospel according to John begins. And, furthermore, it is from hearing John Baptist’s confession—Behold! The Lamb of God! (which, of course, is taken up into our eucharistic liturgy when the priest turns with the Blessed Sacrament, the words being proclaimed by the priest are the same as the words proclaimed by John Baptist, and with the same meaning—it is from hearing John Baptist’s confession that the Twelve disciples of Jesus began to come together. Initially it was Andrew who heard John Baptist and felt called. Then Andrew did the same to Peter, his brother, and Peter felt called. Then Jesus showed Himself in Galilee and said to Philip “Follow Me.” And then Philip repeated the pattern with Nathanael (who later name was Bartholomew) and he felt called. And with this, the initial quartet of four disciples was set (or, quintet of disciples, if you include John Baptist). All of this is so very different from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that it begs the question, what is Saint John after with this? What is the purpose behind the way he is telling the Gospel, even its very beginning?

What John is after is emphasizing the centrality of the Holy Spirit to being a follower of Christ. And we see this when we look at the verses that directly precede our Gospel passage today. Sandwiched in between the two proclamations by John of “Behold! The Lamb of God!” is his necessary preaching in which John Baptist says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.” John then adds, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” The emphasis in John Baptist’s preaching is a central teaching on the Christian faith: the teaching that it is the Holy Spirit at work whenever Christ is recognized. For it was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus truly came to John Baptist, when in Jesus of Nazareth John saw the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. It is the Holy Spirit Who revealed to John the correct interpretation of Jesus, He Who is the image (the icon) of the invisible Father. And the chain of calling that was outlined earlier is a chain of the Holy Spirit at work through John Baptist and through Andrew, just as the Holy Spirit was at work upon John Baptist at Jesus’s baptism.

This is why Saint Paul puts such strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the Greek Christians in Corinth. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” In context, this is part of Paul’s teaching about the high view of the human body in Christianity. But his teaching is all of a piece, and the whole of it is so breathtaking that it can only be taught in parts—and the whole of it is the sheer and unfathomable gift of the Holy Spirit to us. Through Him, the Holy Spirit, our hearts are transformed. Through Him, we are purified. Through Him, we are taught to pray. Through Him, we are led more and more, deeper and deeper, into the Truth Who is Christ. And, that the Holy Spirit is in our body, that our body is His temple. Let us continue to pray unceasingly, brothers and sisters, that just as Christ overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple, the Holy Spirit overturns our sinful habits and replaces them with godly habits of obedience and works of charity according to the threefold Regula, that Christ’s House, His temple, which is miraculously our body, which is our heart baptized, may not be a den of thieves, but rather, a house of prayer.

Homily: “On Saint Matthias and Providence”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle, 2019.

There are times when I just do not know what I will be making for dinner. When the regular dishes do not have that spark, well, one just starts with whatever ingredient you want to base your cooking around, and go from there: a little of this, a little of that, and so on. Sometimes one finds oneself at the grocery store, not knowing what one plans to make for dinner. And this can be dangerous, especially if at that moment you are hungry. But you walk through the aisles of the grocery store—produce, dairy, meat, and the boxed goods—waiting for inspiration. Waiting to be reminded. Waiting even, well, for a sign.

When we hear from Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles that the company of persons gathered in the Upper Room (about a hundred and twenty) cast lots to determine who would replace Judas in the college of the twelve apostles, and we learn that “casting lots,” though a well-attested biblical practice throughout the Scriptures, is something along the lines of rolling dice or playing the lottery, hoping the ping-pong balls come out with the right numbers—when we learn this, we are tempted to regard the early Church as superstitious or naïve. Yet we should resist this temptation, for we often leave important matters—such as what’s for dinner—up to something we call “chance.”

The company of one hundred and twenty—constituting what we can regard as the first parish—had a strong belief in the Providence of God by means of the Holy Spirit. And they had good reason for this belief. The things that Jesus said would happen had happened and were continuing to happen. This was a group of people fresh off an astonishing series of events: the Ascension of Jesus, preceded by a whole host of resurrection appearances by Jesus in His glorious Body that Scripture insists was an objective reality, and that after His resurrection after gruesome and utterly deflating death on the Cross, which was immediately on the heels of a public show-trial that was little more than a riot in the public square, and this after He had instituted the Eucharist as His permanent gift of unfathomable love—and of course this preceded by His three years of public ministry in which the hearts of each and every one of the one hundred and twenty people in the Upper Room Parish were cut to the heart time and time again—changing the direction of their lives and focusing their lives toward a singular shared purpose of unity with God for eternal life.

Furthermore, their prayer life together in the Upper Room Parish was one that broke open the Scriptures—that they found Jesus everywhere in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. They found His guidance in the Psalms, as we hear Saint Peter proclaiming (and this is a subtle but unmistakable indication that in those nine days in the Upper Room, they were praying the Psalms through what we call the daily Offices both Morning and Evening). They remembered Jesus’ words of teaching, and shared them together that the fruits of profound hidden meanings might be found, and the guidance as to what to do next discerned.

They remembered, as Saint John recorded, Jesus say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” They remember how much Jesus said He would possess them, as a vine possesses all its branches. And here again we see the biblical basis for the stark words of our Collect last week—that we can do no good thing without God—as a branch can do nothing that leads to growth or fruit without being part of the vine. The positive expression of that is Jesus’s strong teaching to abide in His love: abide in His words, His actions, His life, His person. Savor them, and allow ourselves to rest in them.

The Upper Room Parish also remembered that Jesus taught that “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” And before His Ascension He again promised the coming of the Holy Spirit—that they would be plunged into the reality of the Holy Spirit (because “plunging” is what the word “baptism” means). We see this happening, because in Luke’s telling, what follows on the selection of Matthias by lots—meaning allowing the Holy Spirit to make evident His wish; this was no partisan election or straw poll; they asked the Holy Ghost to show everyone whom He wanted to replace Judas—what follows on this is the Coming of the Holy Ghost not only as evident to them (because He had already come to them numerously in private and small-group ways) but as a public reality evident to all of Jerusalem—a staggering explosion of spiritual energy that continues to empower everything that we do.

It is rightly said that the Kalendar of the Church teaches the faith. Through our cycles through the seasons—Advent into Christmas into Epiphany—we have learned how Jesus manifested the glory of His being the Eternal Light of the Father. Our tour through the Saints also teaches the faith—for we see through their lives how the Gospel is lived out. In the case of Saint Matthias, we know precious little about him and his ministry—the strongest evidence is that he later travelled to lands in and around present day Turkey and planted Christian communities. His symbol is a bible and a sword—so he was faithful to the Scriptures and he died from martyrdom. His primary teaching for us is found in how he was selected, because it indicates the level of trust and surrender to the Providence of God through His Holy Spirit that the Upper Room Parish had, and that we should have as well. Allowing God to show us what to do as a Parish is how we demonstrate our surrender to Him, our total dependence upon Him. And according to the pattern of the Sacred Scriptures, abandonment of our selves to God anf surrender to His Providence is not an option, but rather necessary for the spiritual health of a parish.

Icon by the hand of Aidan Hart.

Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Day of Pentecost, 2018.

In terms of centrality to the Christian experience, everything we do, indeed everything we are, revolves around Easter and the resurrection of Christ crucified. For if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, and all who have fallen asleep are truly perished out of existence. Without Easter, much of what we do would be better characterized not by “Let us pray,” but “Let us play.” The rite of baptism would be an ineffectual ceremony of water, the Eucharist would be an empty symbol of bread and water, and on and on. Read more “Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost””

Homily: “On Ascensiontide”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after Ascension Day, 2018.

We come together today in the short but holy period of Ascensiontide, the concluding moments of the Easter season. God has exalted His only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to His kingdom in heaven. We observed and celebrated that great feast three days ago. It is indeed a great feast because the reality it celebrates we profess in the Creed of the Church: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of the Father.” The presence of Jesus had been local in time and space—as He walked on the ground, as He talked in specific places, as He sat at table with disciples and followers—a local presence. Even as He appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection, these appearances remained local occurrences of the divine, where the separation between heaven and earth indeed had been torn open.

The resurrection appearances of Jesus taught the disciples and apostles about the Eucharist, Read more “Homily: “On Ascensiontide””

Homily: “On Pentecost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Pentecost, 2017.

Although the Church in the West over the last century or two has not always treated this way, the Day of Pentecost is a celebration in the church year the theological importance of which is only surpassed by Holy Week culminating in Easter. Granted, its festivity usually comes in behind that of Christmas. Christmas even outpaces Easter Day in that regard. But just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Easter as a whole ends up taking the prize because whereas Christmas is twelve days, Easter has fifty.

The culmination of those Fifty Days is the Day of Pentecost, a day on which God taught, and teaches in the present tense, the hearts of His faithful people by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit. Again it is worth bearing in mind that the biblical understanding of the word heart is much more than our emotions, but indeed refers to our entire being, the arena in which we encounter God—where He lives in us and where God speaks to us. Read more “Homily: “On Pentecost””

Homily: “On Abiding in Him”

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

I would like to draw our attention again to the Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I would like to look at it again because by it we are expressing something very important to the Christian life, and we are asking Our Lord Jesus for something very important, particularly as we look forward on Thursday to the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and the nine-days of prayer that follow on the Ascension, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first line of the prayer begins: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” In bringing God to mind, we bring to mind something about God that He has done for us, something about Him that lifts our hearts in praise for His love for us. What hope we express in these words, and these words call to mind our Gospel from last Sunday when we heard that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, a house with many rooms. Jesus knows this because of the love he shared with the Father, since before creation. His Father dwells in Him, and when we dwell in Jesus, Jesus dwells in Us, and through Him dwells the Father in our hearts. As we abide in Jesus, He abides in us. And when He abides in us, the Holy Trinity abides in us, the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The God of all creation dwells in our hearts, and continues His saving work through us. Of course these surpass our understanding, so Jesus teaches us with a commandment that we can understand and endlessly apply: “Abide in me.” If we abide in Him, and continue to actively grapple with what that means, God will work through us. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in Him””