Homily: “On the Transfiguration and Falling in Love with Jesus

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018.

We have asked in our Collect that God, wonderfully transfigured in raiment white and glistening, grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in His beauty. It is a Collect that exemplifies the observation, that Collects concentrate an extraordinary amount of theology into a small devotional package, a package that consolidates the biblical revelation into prayer. This is a prayer that by faith we might see the beauty of God. This is beauty at a greater depth and significance that the physical aspects of Jesus. It is this depth of beauty that Saint Mary Magdalene surely perceived Our Lord when she sat at His feet and when she anointed Him with her oil of faith. Is this not why in our lives we choose to be Christians amid other possibilities—for those moments through our worship, our prayer, our service, Christ makes His beautiful Face apparent to us, a Face that turns darkness to light, and sorrow to joy?

It seems to be a pattern for two persons who fall in love that at some point during the courtship each sees in the other more than the eye can see. The beauty of the person takes on a deeper tone of radiance and of presence. They become, for each other, an everything. And this perception, both subjective but also very real, imprints on each person, and becomes the baseline for how each sees the other as the adventure of love gives way to the ordinary days of marital relationship. And then after the death of one, the surviving spouse maintains that image imprinted so long ago, and it even heightens to become the dominant way that person is remembered. Any photograph will bring that radiant image back immediately. Or even, just hearing the name spoken aloud.

Let this be how we begin to understand the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is described as yet more, yet let this be our baseline. Just as Moses was imprinted by the divine radiance of God shown to him on the mountain as he received the commandments of creation, the commandments of relationship with God, Saints Peter, James and John were imprinted with the glory of heaven, the glory of Jesus Himself, whose true nature is also heavenly. In Him, everything is concentrated, everything is focused. His sacred Heart is the heart of Being, of all of reality. He who had performed miracles of healing and feeding, Himself is the true miracle, indeed the primordial miracle. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses of His majesty, and heard the thunder of the Father’s voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was the true Isaac, Jesus was the true Lamb, Jesus was the true suffering servant. It is no small detail that in each of the Evangelists’ telling, the Transfiguration only comes after Jesus had described both His coming Passion and the conditions of true discipleship, of taking up of the cross.

The three disciples, then, fell in love with Jesus. The Transfiguration is the moment of transition from the disciples’ acquaintance with the human Jesus to their faith in the same Jesus as the Christ.[1] The depth of this transition did not begin to be realized until Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected to the Right Hand of His Father. But it began here—began as they witnessed firsthand the glory of this human man who teaching them that true love is not basking in the radiance of being, but giving one’s life for others. Jesus could have, one might suppose, chosen to be assumed into heaven at this moment of glistening glory. He could have passed from that mountain to His Father’s presence in the sight of the three disciples. But that would not have been the Christ we worship, if He had sent His disciples down to face something that He Himself would not face.[2]

That prayer on the mountain was not a prayer for escape from pain, but a prayer that brought to His mind and soul and will the complete acceptance of all that was hidden in the dark sea of the Passion. As the Church forever wrestles with the Cross, and tries to make the Cross the center of our reality, let us always thank God that through the devastation of the Cross, through its cloud of suffering, through the crown of thorns shines a Face, a Face that is divine. As we enter into the cloud of Christ’s pain we enter into the light of His love.[3]

[1] cf. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, XII.48.xvi-xvii.
[2] cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Tuesday after Trinity VIII.”
[3] Ibid. And cf. Father Andrew, Meditations for Every Day, “Wednesday after Trinity VIII.”

Homily: “On Abiding in His Love”

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

Jesus taught that if we keep His word, that we will abide in the love between Him and the Father. As mysterious as that may sound, Jesus appears to have intended that to be accomplished through relatively simple means. The means that the disciples were given amounts to what is called the “Rule of the Church” (or Regula): the Eucharist, their daily prayer life flowing out of their Jewish tradition, and fellowship of service toward each other reflecting on their experiences of Jesus in the light of the Sacred Scriptures—all to find the way to do a new thing: abide in the love of God through Christ crucified. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in His Love””

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 Wanting A Clean Heart”

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

We have asked in our Collect for the grace to love what Jesus has commanded us to love, and to desire what He has promised to us. And we have asked that our hearts be fixed to where true joys are to be found, amid the swift and varied changes of the world. Life indeed does change on a dime. Our sense of normalcy, of just wanting things to get back to the way they used to be, because they were going along, well not perfectly, but well enough—the rug gets pulled out from under us. Dramatic changes in our life are swift—too swift.

To love what Jesus has commanded us to love, and to desire what He has promised to us. A superficial reflection on these words would render them little more than sentiment one finds on a Hallmark greeting card. Sure, I will love what Jesus has commanded; sure, I want what He has promised. Well, He wants us to carry our cross and He has commanded us to follow Him. That’s all well and good when we get to sit down on the grass, listen to Him teach and watch Him preach, and then be fed by Him with bread from heaven.

That’s all well and good, in other words, when Christianity is something of a spectator sport—when we can watch the action from a distance, and even when the action gets tough, when Jesus says to the crowd, “I am not the Messiah you thought I would be. I am not a political leader who will overturn injustice and oppression through political action.” Instead He again teaches who He really is: He is the kind of messiah who will suffer mightily, He will die on the cross, with no political victory of any kind attained.

That’s all well and good, except the hard part: which is that Christianity is not a spectator sport. Read more “Homily: “On Wanting A Clean Heart””

Homily: “On Entering Lent”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on Ash Wednesday, 2018.

We have entered into a new season, the season of Lent. This is a forty-day period that, with clear references to Sacred Scripture, invites us into a new spiritual context. “Forty” is a symbolic number of with which both the Old and the New Testaments represent the pregnant and holy moments in the experience of faith of the People of God (cf BXVI). And so, for our season of Lent to be forty days long is no accident, but rather a clear example of how the wisdom of the Church expresses itself, bringing together the Liturgy, our spirituality, and the Sacred Scriptures for an experience over these forty days that is holy and sacramental. Read more “Homily: “On Entering Lent””

Homily: “On Healing Saint Peter’s Mother-in-Law”

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

In our Collect this week, we are asking God to set us free from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which He has made known to us in Jesus. This is what God wants to do. He came down from heaven not to call the righteous but sinners—not the righteous but those separated from Him, for “sin” means separation. Those who are separated from God, and hence are sinners, have that relationship not because God has separated them from Him, but because they have separated themselves from God because of their choices, which often become or lead to habits. Read more “Homily: “On Healing Saint Peter’s Mother-in-Law””

Homily: “On the Holiness of Eternal Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the First Sunday after Christmas, 2017.

In our Collect, we have acknowledged to God and affirmed it to be true that our loving Lord, the God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, has poured upon us the new light of His incarnate Word. And this incarnate Word is Jesus Christ, the newborn King. Upon the announcement of His birth by the archangel Gabriel, the Angels sang triumphantly. Upon the announcement of His birth, the Light of Heaven came into our world of darkness and confusion. Upon the announcement of His birth, all of the world is at peace: the conditions of our time and space are transcended, forever giving us a window to heaven in the embrace of Blessed Mary, Blessed Joseph her most chaste spouse, and the Christ child.

For in the embrace of this Holy Family we see love itself dynamic, love itself embodied, love itself pure and holy. It is in this holiness of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we share each Christmastide—the holiness of this eternal Light—as so how fitting our Collect is, that we ask God to grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives. For we are taught by our loving Lord Jesus not to hide our light under a bushel, but to put the light on a stand, that it gives light to all in the house. Read more “Homily: “On the Holiness of Eternal Light””

Homily: “On Bringing a Sword”

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

Having celebrated and savored a remarkable sequence of events in the life of the holy Church—the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and then the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist—we move into the Sundays of Ordinary time, or to use something of an invented turn of phrase, “Ordinarytide.” Up until Pentecost, the emphasis in the Church has been on the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, an emphasis that began back in the Sundays in Advent. We prayed for His coming, and over the course of roughly half a year, we experienced again His coming: His taking of human flesh, His blessing of sacred humanity, His breaking of Himself on the Cross, and His giving of Himself through the Sacraments and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now, over the course of the last several Sunday celebrations, the emphasis has shifted from the Incarnation of Jesus onto the Holy Trinity. Basically until Advent, we will be focusing on how the Church itself lives into the reality of the Holy Trinity, indeed we can say, how the Church itself has a trinitarian nature. The Church is the Body of Christ, Jesus is God, and God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: God is trinitarian, and so the Church is as well. This is to emphasize something very important to our daily lives as Christians in a fallen but redeemed world: the Church itself is not a social club, but a divine organism. It is a visible institution, made by and of Christ, and its essence is holiness. Read more “Homily: “On Bringing a Sword””

Homily: “On ‘To Die is Gain'”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemn Mass of Christian Burial for Terry Young, 2 March 2017.

Jesus actively loves all His creatures completely and absolutely, and upon His creatures Jesus also makes an active demand. He loves and keeps all his creatures—angels, human beings, and all the way down the biological chain of animate and inanimate creatures—because through Him all things were made, and without Him was nothing made that is made. Jesus Christ is the Artist through Him the eternal Father spoke the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the whole universe is His canvas, and every brushstroke on this canvas of reality expresses the love between the Father and the Son. And this means every single detail of creation, the littlest of things in our lives, matter a great deal to God, for all the details express the relationship God has with His creation—a relationship of love, of reconciliation, of stewardship, and of peace.

Jesus, the perfect lover, also makes an active demand on us. One of the many ways this demand upon us finds expression is in what are known as the “Hard sayings of Jesus.” These are verses in the New Testament that confront us, and have confronted the Church for two-thousand years. We cannot avoid them, as much as we might want to. These hard sayings include: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” and “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Another is “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There are many more. Now each of these would require separate homilies to begin to rightly interpret, and I am not going to do that here. And in truth, it is often the case that some of the hard sayings display Jesus of Nazareth with a rather dry but deadly sense of humor. His demands upon us are sometimes made with a subtle smirk and slightly raised eyebrow.

A hard saying from elsewhere in the New Testament, not from Jesus but from Saint Paul, however, I will spend a bit of time on. In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in the first chapter, he writes, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Now, Saint Paul was indeed a mystic; he was a persecutor of the early Church who was knocked to the ground by the blinding light and voice of Jesus confronting him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” So for Paul to say “to me to live is Christ” is not the hard part of this saying, because his whole life turned around, turned toward God, and so he reckoned all aspects of his life to Jesus and found in Jesus a new outlook. The hard part of the saying are the words after that: “to die is gain.” How can we understand these four words? And how can they provide Christian people solace in times of grief?

The key is to understand the nature of God. God is love. His love is infinite, and He made His creatures in His infinite love, so that in seeking Him we might find Him. God is constantly seeking us, constantly inviting us into deeper relationship with Him. This is why Saint John tells us in our Gospel that Jesus desires to lose nothing of what the Father has given Him. The will of God is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life—that everyone who loves Jesus, listens to Jesus, is confronted by Jesus, and offers him or herself in humility to Jesus will begin to share in His feast; will live a life of ever-deepening gladness and rejoicing; will cultivate their courage and strength to face life’s trials and remember to call to Jesus for help, for to us and our trials He offered Himself to us as a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. “Him who comes to me I will not cast out.” There are no exceptions to this teaching, and there does not appear to be any particular nuance to grasp: All who respond to Jesus will be embraced, loved, and held in His arms for ever.

And so while “to die is gain” is a hard saying, a confronting saying, let us not hear it as a condemnation of this life, but a fulfilment of this life. We are created in order that we can begin to understand what true love actually is, so that when we take the next steps of the journey the loving relationships we have experienced on earth are not replaced, nor forgotten, nor trivialized, but fulfilled, remembered, and forever treasured within the company of heaven, the angels, the saints, the faithful departed, and within the company of God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the very nature of Whom is love: a love that shines on us, fills us, purifies us, and remakes us. Amen.