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””

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2017.

Today we remember and in some sense experience ourselves the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. And while everything we do in our liturgical life is always in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, and of course those whose life is ordered by the Episcopal Church, today we have particular bonds of affection with those churches whose patron is Saint Paul. He is the patron of this Holy House, this church in Pekin, Illinois. Within our diocese we celebrate with the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Springfield, Saint Paul’s Church in Carlinville, and Saint Paul’s Church in Alton. And of course we feel an affection with churches outside of the Anglican tradition also named for this apostle, such as Saint Paul United Church of Christ in Pekin, and Saint Paul Lutheran and Saint Paul Baptist in Peoria. Thousands of churches around the planet owe their patronage to Saint Paul the Apostle. And indeed we pray that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to God Almighty by following his holy teaching.

It is quite fitting to reflect on Paul’s conversion in this season after Christmas and Epiphany. It is fitting because in Paul’s conversion we have strong echoes of the mystical experiences of Blessed Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds in Bethlehem, the Magi from the East, and Saint John the Baptist. In these instances were profound experiences of revelation. In these experiences was glory unspeakable, glory beyond words. In these experiences God’s revelation provided new direction, provided guidance, provided a deeper level of truth about God and a deeper level of truth about the purpose of the lives of each of these people—truth, direction and purpose revealed to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds watching their fields by night, to the Magi and to Saint John. An encounter with God always changes the direction of our life, and always shows to us something about our self either unknown or denied, and continues to lead us to the very purpose for our creation. Read more “Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle””

Prologue to Votive Mass for Holy Mary, Mother of God

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman as the prologue to the Votive Mass for Holy Mary, Mother of God on December 31, 2016.

With Christmas, we celebrate the long-promised “fullness of time” when God would be, and how is, definitively revealed. Christmas is a time for the warm feelings of family memories and wonderful song, yet at root it is about two things: God has come to earth and Mary is the Mother of God.

The intention of this Mass is to celebrate the wonderful and inexpressible mystery by which the Father of all love sent His only begotten Son from heaven into the womb of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin to be His saving Word and our Bread of Life.

Mary—a real, genuine human being just like you and me, with parents named Anne and Joachim, both Saints of the Holy Church—was immaculately from her conception highly favored and full of grace. We celebrate the faith and humility with which Our Lady conceived God’s only Son and bore Him in her womb. And so grace itself is taught by Mary: it has to do with the attitude and habit of faith and the necessity of humility.

Mary is set before us as an example: like her we are to receive the Son of God by treasuring His words in our hearts and celebrating with deep faith the mysteries of our redemption, and to reveal Him in the holiness of our lives. Mary teaches us how important it is to reflect and ponder who God is as He is revealed in our experience of Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Apostles.

It was through her humility, her saying Yes to God’s will for her as He revealed it, that Jesus, our Savior, was born of a woman, born of Mary. And, so, I invite you to ponder this: Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb.

Cover image “The Burning Bush” photographed from the personal collection of Father Dallman. The icon can be purchased from here from Skete.