On Stations of the Cross in our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, 2019

We have entered today into a contemplation of the mighty acts of God whereby our salvation comes: an experience that we will spend the next 68 days reflecting upon—the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Our Lord’s Passover from life to death, from death to resurrection, from resurrection to ascension, from ascension to the coming of His Holy Ghost, and from the Coming of the Holy Ghost finally to the Eucharist, the primary means of His presence among us today. The portion of the liturgical calendar over those 68 days is today, Palm Sunday, through the feast of Corpus Christi, always on a Thursday, this year on June 20. This is the mystery of God, and within His mystery—a mystery that is transcendent of time and space, transcendent of our categories of thought, transcendent as once for all time, a mystery that being transcendent of time and space, has no beginning or end, but is happening right now and in all moments—all moments of reality have within them the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecostal and eucharistic truth of Christ—all of Christian reality being made sacramental by God’s actions—within this mystery of God is the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of prayer, and the mystery of our spiritual lives.

When we proclaimed at the beginning of our liturgy, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we joined the angels—for this is always their song proclaimed to God as the thousands and ten thousands of them are gathered around the heavenly throne. “Holy, holy, holy,” the angels sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Our liturgy indeed is a divine liturgy of the angels.

And it all begins with Jesus, riding on a colt. It begins with the King of all creation—Who was King of all creation at all moments in His life, the King walking among His creatures, the Light through Whom all creatures are made, the Light among the darkness, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not—the King riding not on a magnificent horse-drawn chariot bedazzled and bespeckled with gems and jewels befitting a secular king, but riding in His humility. He enters in humility into the City that had been the center of His human existence from the beginning, because to Jerusalem His parents brought Him every year at the Passover; He memorably stayed back one year when He was twelve, to teach us all that the sacred house of prayer—for Him, the Temple; for us the Parish church—is where the truth of the Father is made known to us through His Son.

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He taught Mary and Joseph, and through them, us. The mystery of this house, which is the mystery of the Church, is one in which we ask how we are a part of this house, indeed a member of this house, for as baptized people, we are members of His Body, the Church. And as Jesus entered as a horse, so too the beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was brought to the inn on a horse—the wounds of the beaten man were physical and of the flesh: the wounds of Christ spiritual and of the soul, and soon to be physicaland of the flesh, as we. He knew He was entering into His death, by His Father’s will.

Saint Paul teaches us to have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This mystery—which is all fact—this mystery we are always to have in mind among ourselves; when Saint Paul exhorts the parish at Corinth to imitate him in being stewards of the mysteries of God, the Apostle exhorts us as well. Our identity together is not through friendship, kinship, shared hobbies, life pursuits or interest in sports teams. Our identity together is entirely rooted in this man Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross—Who in utter humility reveals transcendent righteousness and our salvation.

Throughout Lent we have prayed the Stations of the Cross at both of our congregations, and many of us in our own homes. At each station Our Lord becomes poorer and poorer, debased and deformed at each station so that by the end, He is unrecognizable. And when Saint Mary Magdalene meets Him at the empty tomb, His unrecognizability is taken yet further: He looks not like Himself but like a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walk the whole way there not recognizing Jesus with them. Our Lord chose for His human likeness to be deformed and removed so that He could be found again after His resurrection—found in many ways, but especially so that He could be found in the poor, the abandoned, the suffering—found in people today who are suffering in loneliness, the worst human disease.

We made our Stations of the Cross, the fourteen of them around our church, not so that when we reach the fourteenth we would stop, but so that we would continue to make our stations of the cross in our lives. There are men and women and children in our county who today are suffering, and in their suffering, Jesus lives His passion. Each lonely person is a Station of the Cross, are we there? And people when they fall, because they stumble in their troubles, that is a station of the Cross—are we there, to help them pick up their cross as Simon of Cyrene was there? And the lonely people we see in our neighborhood—will we be the those who look and do not see? Let us look and see.

And as we make our Stations of the Cross, as Jesus taught His disciples they are to do—to love the least of His brethren—let us always have the joy we share at Jesus entering into Jerusalem—hosanna in the highest. All glory, laud and honor—this is our joy, for the joy that empowers of loving of the lonely is Jesus, and all we do, we do for Him. Because He did everything for us.

Homily: “On Ashes”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Ash Wednesday, 2019.

It is important to understand that the great cloud of witnesses alluded to by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is the cloud by the likes of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the great men and women of the Old Testament. The cloud that surrounds us in the cloud of their faith. It is the way we talk about God’s intimate presence—what’s called God’s immanence—and the response of faith to His immanent presence. It is always the recognition of God’s presence amid us that comes first, and our response second. God always acts first, His grace precedes our awareness. And what we call God’s calling to us is the very act of Him making Himself available to our awareness.

This is demonstrated unforgettably in the Book of Job, and the faith of Job is certainly a central aspect of the cloud of witnesses that surround us. In the book, Job is described as blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Despite living such a holy life, Job loses everything through interference by Satan that is allowed by God, and furthermore is afflicted in his person by Satan. And Job in his humiliation sat among the ashes. A long series of discussions ensue between Job and friends, about God and Who God is, and how He acts. And with respect to their arguments, Job remains in the right.

And then as the friends are rendered speechless by Job’s insight and reasoning, or at least they stopped talking, out of a whirlwind appears God. And how God answers the three men and Job is truly remarkable. It is an account certainly based on God’s power, but even moreso on God’s mysterious power—God has not only laid the foundation of the earth but done so as the morning stars sang together. He not only shut in the sea with doors but gave the clouds their garment. It is He that accounts for the inexplicable instincts of animals such as the eagle, the ostrich, the deer, the mountain goat, the horse. But He also commands the morning, and causes the dawn to know its place. It is a tremendous account of God’s majesty and His mystery.

It puts the four men and Job in their place. Job’s response is “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” And all that Job lost is restored—his family, his land and animals, even more so than before. Job therefore is strengthened through it all, he is not made weak but stronger but this encounter of God. But this encounter nonetheless revealed something absolutely central to healthy faith and spiritual growth—and it is the recognition that we are creatures. It is the profound truth that we are created—it is God who hath made us and not we ourselves. God walks among us. God talks among us. God knows all our thoughts, desires, and secrets. But our relationship with God is fundamentally unequal—our creaturehood in the face of the Creator of all things visible and invisible is a truth of inexhaustible value in prayer, and it is the basis for the proper understanding of God and His divine holiness. It is the basis for peace and calm.

It is this question of who God is that is at stake in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, which, in the words of one New Testament scholar, “speaks to something deep within the heart of every human.” The heart is where we encounter God and is the arena where God encounters us. It is in our heart that we do battle against temptations—for the heart is the seat of the will, the mother of our decisions and intentions. What happens inwardly in our heart in this battle between the conflicts that make up our human existence is lived out in our actions, our behavior, our words and deeds.

This is why it is often said that what we say we believe is less important than how we live our lives according to those beliefs. When Christian actions, broadly construed, are at great odds with stated beliefs, the term for that is hypocrisy. But when Christian actions are in accord with stated Christian beliefs, the term for that is holiness. But the lives of holy person and the hypocrite can look quite similar, as the that of the Pharisee and Tax Collector probably did from about fifty feet away. It is only by knowing something of their inner world of prayer, which Saint Luke gives us from the words of Our Lord Jesus, that we can discern that despite appearances, the differences between the Pharisee and the Tax Collect are great.

At root in this parable is the attitude towards God. Behind the boastful, love of self that we see in the Pharisee is a very ordinary view of God. This is a god that loves gossip, that loves bragging, that favors the elite, and favors the proud. And the teaching here is that the Pharisee is making God out to be exactly like himself: God in the image of man, and specifically, of this man. And the Pharisee is addressing God as if he and God are on the same plane, the same level—and even because the Pharisee’s words are little more that gossip, secretly the Pharisee inwardly thinks he can control God, and that is why he fasts and that is why he tithes, so that he can claim a holy specialness.

What the Tax Collector says in his prayer is equally illustrative, but notice how different it is. Not lifting his eyes to heaven, he beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” None of the comparison of himself to others, none of the idolatrous self-love, none of the celebration of self-accomplishment seen in the Pharisee. Rather, the simplicity and truth of the Tax Collector expresses humility. The words of the Tax Collector are the words of Job. Both recognize the immanent presence of God in their hearts, and both are struck nearly speechless by His presence both mysterious and tremendous—fundamentally incomprehensible. Their prayer is the prayer of creaturehood—of ultimate humility.

This is why the Church imposes ashes upon our foreheads. It is not a mark intended to evoke sorrow, to make us weak, or to focus inordinately on our mortality. Job was in ashes and he was empowered by God. The ashes are a mark of truth—that we are creatures. We are created. God’s power and majesty is inexplicable in human terms and yet this is a power we participate in by His grace, and indeed that we are to be agents of for others. Ashes are to give the same peace and calm to us that God gave to Job—a peace that settles us, a calm that pervades us, that comes through the right knowledge of who God is and who we His creatures are. And with that knowledge—with that peace and calm, and only with that peace and calm—can we rightly enter Lent, and allow the deepest truth of our creaturehood in the face of an unfathomable Creator to work on our hearts. We enter Lent much like Peter, John, and James walked down the mountain after the Transfiguration—overwhelmed in such a way that provides clarity necessary for proper repentence.

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 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 the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.

It is with joy and thankfulness in my heart that I wish you all a merry Christmas on this most solemn feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And a merry white Christmas, assuming the roads do not get too slippery. This holy night is shining with the brightness of the true Light, and what wonder it is to consider how indeed this Light is for the whole world—how one by one through the time zones of our world, thousands of churches and religious communities gather to sing, to pray, and to celebrate the wonderful and inexpressible mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceiving the Son of God Almighty, bearing in her pure womb the Lord of Heaven, and giving birth to the world’s Redeemer amid the choir of holy Angels filling the air with the hymn of glory. Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. Read more “Homily: “On the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ””

Homily: “On the Ten Maidens”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year A), 2017.

Five maidens were wise, and five were foolish. The five who were wise took flasks of oil with them as they waited for the bridegroom to open the door. The five who were foolish brought no oil with them. They were too busy finding other matters important than to tend to this preparation. Asking the wise maidens to give them some oil, they were refused. Scrambling then to find more oil, by the time they returned, the door was closed to them. And despite their pleas to enter, the bridegroom does not reconsider, but instead says, “Truly, I do not know you.” They are unrecognizable to him, for if they have not taken seriously the preparations for this most significant day, their presence will not add to the festivity but detract from it.

Brothers and sisters, Saint Matthew earlier in his Gospel has already given us three clues in His Sermon on the Mount to understanding our Lord’s meaning in this parable. Read more “Homily: “On the Ten Maidens””

Homily: “On the Saints and Mission”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of All Saints, 2017.

As the Adult Study Classes began early last month our close examination of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, I invited the classes to an exercise in which we name significant things we would lose of the Christian life if the only Gospel account of Jesus Christ that came down to us was from Mark; in other words, if Matthew, Luke and John, and for that matter the rest of the New Testament books, did not exist, only the account recorded by Mark. I was not the least bit surprised to see that each class caught on quickly to what we would lose in that scenario. The first response in each case was—we would lose Christmas, because Mark begins his gospel not with the infancy of Jesus but with his mature ministry. Quickly were named many of the rest: knowledge of Blessed Mary, important parables such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we also would not have the Sermon on the Mount, and so we would not have the Beatitudes that we hear in our Gospel lesson on this Feast of All Saints.

The Saints and the Beatitudes go hand in hand. And if we did not have the Beatitudes, then the Church would have a far less clear and defined understanding of the qualities Jesus expects His saints to have. To be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake—these are all qualities of being a disciple at it highest level. They have to do with being humble, sympathetic, sensitive, finding joy in humility, craving progress toward union with God, compassionate, constant in religion, prudent in search of harmony with others, and possessing the fortitude to endure suffering in a creative way. The Saints of the Church have in myriad ways attained these characteristics by the grace of God. And in the myriad ways they have done so, and through their unique personalities and gifts, they teach us how to be better disciples, because they are model Christians. Read more “Homily: “On the Saints and Mission””

Homily: “On the Wedding Garments”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23, Year A), 2017.

Our Collect this week dates from at least the 8th century, and it is the shortest, most concise of all the Sunday Collects used throughout the year. But despite its brevity, it contains in concentrated, devotional idiom what has been called the first principle of sound theology. And because of its brevity, it can be easily memorized and used throughout one’s life, almost as a mantra or personal refrain.

That first principle of sound theology is found in the first half, in these words: “Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us.” What that says is, God acts first, and anything we do is a response to grace manifest and present, rather than being of our own design and origin.  Earlier in the church year, we acknowledged to God that in our weakness we can do nothing good without Him. It is grace before, during, and after each and every godly encounter in which we participate in our lives, from the most mundane to the most grand. It is for that reason that we must evermore be praising Him, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts (of power and might). We can do nothing good without God, without grace. What a humbling fact! Read more “Homily: “On the Wedding Garments””

Homily: “On Serving God in Others”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year A), 2017.

Let us hear words from the Book of Proverbs: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.” Those words from the end of chapter 3 form the basis for our Collect this week. It is an ancient Collect, dating at least from the 7th century. Through the workings of translations over the centuries, that proverb shows up in our Collect as, “As you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

This also shows up in the Epistle of James as a succinct and useful summary: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The proud have closed themselves off from God—God does not love them any less, but the proud have opposed themselves to God in their self-centeredness. We cannot be self-centered if we hope to enjoy God’s grace, and be led by grace in our lives. This is why we ask in our Collect for God to give us the ability to trust in Him with all our hearts—trusting in Him in a way that leaves nothing out; trusting in Him in a way whereby we give ourselves, our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. Read more “Homily: “On Serving God in Others””

Homily: “On the Canaanite Woman”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year A), 2017.

We have asked God in our Collect to give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of His redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. The entire petition is a fitting one for today, as we are beginning today a long, mostly uninterrupted period of Sundays which focuses on the life of the Church as we savor the life of Jesus Christ and how His life, and acts, and words provide fruits for the Church’s Mission in the world and teach us how to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. Let us hear as well in our request to God an echo of our request to Him that begins every Mass—that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. The journey of the Christian life is a journey in which we learn how to walk. Read more “Homily: “On the Canaanite Woman””