Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 2: Judgment”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Advent, 2018.

We reflected last Sunday, the first of Advent, on the fact that there is a certain tension to Advent—the tension of already and not yet. The Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ is already here—Jesus and His kingdom with His Rule, with His saving pattern of life He demands of His disciples has indeed come, has been revealed to us, our baptized bodies within the Body of Christ are temples of His Holy Spirit, and through the saving pattern He taught—daily prayer in the Offices, the Eucharist, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity according to the Bible and the gifts we each are given—the Church perpetuates His mission, perpetuates His kingdom, perpetuates Him. All this is true of the here and now.

And it is true that the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ has not yet reached the end of its manifestation. Jesus, as we say in our Creeds, will come again to judge the quick and the dead. “Will come again” adds a dimension to our whole way of thought: the dimension of time and of God’s action deferred until some point in the future (or, at least, oursense of future, because it appears that to God, past, present, and future are seen by Him in a single glance. So this tension of already and not yet in fact is the air we breathe, the world of God’s action that we inhabit. As baptized people, who by God’s gift of baptism, have died to sin that we rise with Christ Crucified in His resurrection, the baptismal life itself inhabits the tension of Advent, at all times. Advent is the air that the baptized breathe every day.

The preaching of Saint John the Baptist captured the tension of Advent. Through him, the people of God began to breathe Advent air, in this sense of it being ordered to Christ, Who for John the Baptist had both come already (remember, in the womb of his mother, John the Baptist leapt after hearing Blessed Mary speak—the sound of her words, and the words themselves,undoubtedly full of grace with the presence of God Who Himself was in her womb),and Jesus had yet to come. The hymn “Joy to the World” which we sang last week and will sing again next week, is roughly analogous to the overall content of John’s preaching. In the hymn, fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy. For John, “Prepare the way of the Lord . . . Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.” It is the same imagery, it is the same action of God, And it was in Baruch, as well: “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground.” Why? “So that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” So that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. In John the Baptist, in Isaiah, in Baruch: it is the same Gospel, the same Good News. The same action of God.

What is, then, this action? The Christian term for this is judgement. The making low of mountains and hills, the filling up of valleys, the straightening of the crooked, the transformation of the things of our reality—fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, and everything else—from mere objects observed into occasions of God’s transcendent presence which means wonder and joy to the world—this is the action of God’s judgment.

Too often we think of the word “judgement” and think “sentence of condemnation.” We get this from the secular meanings of judgment, whether in a court of law or in the court of public opinion, or the opinion of even a small group of people—who judge a person and pronounce upon that person in a way that reduces their standing, manifests a sense of inferiority, and all in all is a negative thing: “don’t judge me, man,” is the cliché that pulls all of that together neatly.

Now, as is so often the case of vocabulary used both by the secular world and the Christian Church, the Christian understanding of judgement expands upon the secular meanings, not erasing the secular meaning but uncovering a more profound depth of revelation. Yes, in the case of sins committed, particularly sins of malice which are deliberate, premeditated, and committed consciously contrary to God’s will, God’s judgement is severe and unbending—left unconfessed, the consequence of that sin upon a person is a live lived in hell, both in this phase of life and into the next. Perhaps not permanently, but hell nonetheless until his or her examined conscience through the grace of God calls to contrition and confession.

But God’s judgement, in the fullest sense, is much more than this. And the best way I think to understand is through an experiential example. Imagine, in your own main area of interest—say a hobby or activity you do—that you find yourself in the presence of the person or persons whose performance in that activity reaches the highest level of accomplishment. So, if you are a golfer, imagine being in the presence of Arnold Palmer. If you are a painter or artist, imagine being in the presence of Michelangelo. Or even being in the presence of a true and genuine teacher, of music or some other subject, or simple a teacher of life.

When we are in the actual, tangible presence of such mastery, our own weaknesses or lack of skill within that activity are made quite manifest, but it is hardly a completely negative experience. In fact, it can be a very positive—humbling, but positive—experience. Being in the mere presence of greatness, to say nothing if we receive any kind of guidance or advice or teaching from such a master, somehow has the effect of improving our own skills, or if not that, at least opening up new horizons for us, that will time and effort your skills would improve. You might have to practice that tip on putting you heard from Arnold Palmer for years before you get it, but after you do—well, all of this is analogous to God’s judgement. Held up to the light of light, standing before the light that knows no darkness, being Moses on the mountain—yes, we see our shadows the closer we are to the light, but we are also closer to the light—closer to the joy of our salvation, closer to such beauty and such truth that, like Moses, we begin to glow, and become light to the world.

Homily: “On Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood”

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

Although a number of people know this quite well, I have found that it is not universally known that one of the mandatory steps within the process of being ordained to the Priesthood is to spent a significant amount of time in an internship as a hospital chaplain. In my case, I spent twenty weeks in four hospitals in suburban Chicago, near Hinsdale, La Grange, and other towns. Although you hear clerics often bemoan the experience, and I heard some priests share horror stories as to why their experiences in their estimation were unhelpful towards parish ministry, priests I trusted, including our Bishop, assured me that hospital chaplaincy was for them revelatory and deeply, and permanently, meaningful.

And I must say, it was for me as well. It was never easy, and often unpredictable. My very first overnight duty on-call saw me assist an experienced chaplain whom I was shadowing as we ministered to a large family of over 25 relatives who that night suffered the loss of one of their family members to a kind of brain hemorrhage that, tragically, was inoperable. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having to learn how to swim. Over the twenty weeks, in not only hospital patients and their families, but in the hospital staff, nurses, doctors, and my fellow chaplains, I witnessed so many instances of loss, of tragedy, of suffering and confusion, but also I witnessed joy, love, faith, and remarkable examples of God active in people’s lives, holding them up by His grace. Examples abounded of true sacrifice, and examples abounded of hopeful life.

The highest example of both sacrifice and life are what Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us. His example to us, being a human example that stretches into the divine, is so profound that it is well past our ability to grasp it completely and finally. This is why we are drawn to continually revisit the accounts of His life given to us by the Evangelists—that by hearing them, by which we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them through their many senses of interpretation, we are drawn deeper into the mystery of Him, which along the way reveals the mystery of ourselves.

“Truly, truly,” Jesus says to us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” This was a teaching, a hard saying, that really weeded out the true disciples from the larger group of Jesus followers. We are told that upon hearing this, many drew back and no longer went about with him. Some of us, even today, might flinch at the image, at both its physicality and its bluntness. Jesus, often winsome and generous in His public ministry, was none the less never above teaching in a direct and even aggressive way. Being poked awake from a cozy, care-free, bourgeois discipleship is a lesson disciples then, and now, constantly need.

And yet the Church, in remembering the words of Jesus, and taking them to heart in prayer in the years and decades after the Ascension of Christ, began to discern within the hard sayings of Jesus—including the teaching about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood—wisdom that echoed profoundly in the Scriptures. We hear an example in our passage from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom, who we learn in the Scriptures was God’s first creation, and who from the beginning of her creation rejoiced daily in God’s activities, invites the simple, meaning those people, like Nathaniel, who are without guile but also yet to some extent naive about life, to into her house: “Come,” she says, “eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” The term “bread” here is a general reference and would include the meat of the beast spoken of as recently slaughtered. And so to connect this to Jesus, the Church saw in His teaching a connection to the long biblical tradition of hospitality—to eat His flesh and drink His blood at least involved an invitation to intimacy with Him.

We see this in the Eucharist, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, an event that itself rings on several levels of meaning and signification. Our nourishment is towards eternal life, and so to eat the consecrated bread is to receive into our souls He that is our life—to receive His sacrifice on the Cross, just as the beast was sacrificed in the house of Wisdom, although Christ’s sacrifice was self-offered once but for all time. And to drink the consecrated wine is to receive Christ’s life, because blood in ancient days was always considered the source of life in animals. And so to drink His blood is to receive that life which is triumphant over death and united to God in heaven. Indeed James and John were correct: they could and did drink from the cup from which Jesus Himself drank, and even pleaded on the night before He died that His Father might take away. If this is all a hard teaching for us, we can trust it was a harder teaching for Jesus Himself to accept, and yet fully accept He did.

Our Collect captures all this when we pray to Almighty God, Who has given His only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life. Let us know that as we celebrate and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life, we are opening ourselves to receive Wisdom, and be received by her. When allow ourselves to participate fully and completely in the Eucharist, we become part of God’s redemptive stream, a river of wisdom, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Kneeling before the heavenly throne, let us be still, and know in the Eucharist is God.

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 Way, the Truth, and the Life”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

We ask of our loving God in our Collect this week something extraordinary. We ask that He grant us so perfectly to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life. I say this is extraordinary for two reasons. One because the claim made herein about Jesus—He is the way (and there is no other); He is the truth (and there is no other), and He is the life (and there is no other). We need to have this clarity about our loving Lord Jesus—clarity about who exactly He is, and clarity about what His mission was in becoming Man in the Incarnation. Jesus is the definitive revelation of ultimate reality, and He chose to be born, to live, to minister, to die, and to rise again so that the whole world could join Him with the Father in eternal bliss.

And that is the second way that our Collect is extraordinary—the clear articulation of Hope. Read more “Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life””

Homily: “On Micah’s Prophecy of Peace”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Easter, 2018.

In beginning our third week of living into the one day of Easter Sunday—living into its transcendent mystery—we continue to survey how the early Church began to see Jesus Christ in His glorified Body. We do that so that we can participate in the wonder and awe of Our Lord’s resurrection. The consequences of the Passover of Jesus from death to life are nothing short of outrageous. It is like a whole mountain range dropped into the ocean—waves and ripples everywhere in all directions of reality. The resurrection of Jesus washes the whole world with grace—nothing is left out, everything changes. But it is not a change in physical appearance. Rather it is a change in meaning, with new depths of meaning revealed and broken open for the People of God. The Resurrection of Jesus is first and foremost a religious event—and being a religious event, it is experienced through prayer and with the eyes of faith: eyes that see into the depths because God has opened them to us. Read more “Homily: “On Micah’s Prophecy of Peace””

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: “Advent and Hope”

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

What does it mean that God will judge? We hear from Isaiah the words, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Judgment is also described by Saint Matthew from the words of Saint John the Baptist: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What’s more, our Collect from last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, has these words: “He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.” And of course those words are carried into two important and authoritative statements of the Catholic faith, first into the Apostles’ Creed and later, historically speaking, incorporated into the Nicene Creed, and point to, and thereby express, what is called the doctrine of God’s judgement. And so we have yet another layer for our Advent prayer and reflection—the intersection of the Bible and creedal doctrine with liturgical season.

So what are we talking about when we are talking about the doctrine of God’s judgment? And how does the doctrine of God’s judgment  relate, and even enlighten, the themes of the season of Advent — of Expectation in Week 1, Hope in Week 2, Joy in Week 3, and Acceptance in Week 4? And how can we speak of such a doctrine of judgment  — apparently which involves winnowing, clearing, gathering and burning — when our God’s very nature is Charity, whose very nature is to give Himself to His creation completely and genuinely?

Read more “Homily: “Advent and Hope””

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.

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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””