Living Baptismally, pt 15: On Wearing the Wedding Garment

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 23), 2020.

The Lord of Hosts has made a feast for us, and for all peoples. Our Lord Jesus teaches us this today that we would know that the peace which passes all understanding is available to us in the feast of the heavenly banquet prepared for us. This is a feast described by the prophet Isaiah as a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. For wine to be “on the lees” means it is protected from spoiling. Fat and marrow refers to nutrients the body needs to be healthy. A robust and nutritious meal is prepared for us, prepared by God for His people. God has spread a table before us that our cups might run over.

The feast God has made for us is a feast of Himself. God has made all things, and He has made all things through His Son that in receiving His Son we receive God. The feast of God is a feast of receiving Him—that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. And He gives Himself to be received. “Take, eat,” Jesus says. “This is my Body, which is given for you.” And He says, “Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which his shed for you.” We His servants are called to the marriage feast to receive His Body and to receive His Blood, to receive what God has made everything ready so as to give and be received. He has taught us how to pray, so as to make us ready to receive. He has taught us how to find Him in Scripture, so as to make us ready to receive. He has engrafted us in His Body in Baptism and given us His Holy Spirit, so as to make us ready to receive what the Father has prepared for us. He has made all things so that as our mind learns to see, as our mind learns to hear, we might behold the Light who is the expression of God—that we might behold the holy Face of Christ, Who already knows all our desires, our thoughts, our actions, and our sins.

Brothers and sisters, we must always seek to wear the wedding garment, our Lord Jesus teaches. It is the wedding garment that allows us to discern Our Lord’s Body present among us. Saint Paul taught the Corinthian church on this when he wrote, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body east and drinks judgment upon himself.” The person who eats and drinks without discernment is a person whose mind does not see, a person whose mind does not hear. We are all made blind and we are all made deaf by our sins—this is why we must repent in prayer, why we must turn to God in humility saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer—the prayer not of the Pharisee but of the tax collector—is the prayer of a heart that yearns for God.

A heart that desires God. The yearning for God and the desiring of God is the very fabric of which the wedding garment is woven. How often we are tempted away from wearing the wedding garment! How often we are tempted, in the words of loving Jesus, to make light of the Gospel through our disbelief; how often we are tempted not to go the Altar in prayer, but one to his farm, another to his business—that is, to allow other activities to take priority over the holy Mass, to allow other activities to take priority over receiving the daily Bread given to us from heaven through the Scriptures. How often we are tempted to ignore the voice of Moses, to ignore the voice of the prophets, to ignore the words of God’s Mother—for Moses, the Prophets, and Mary all teach us about Jesus, all teach us about the heavenly realities beyond time and space, all teach us true meaning obedience, which is having a listening silence of wonder at the feet of God Who is always on His heavenly throne and closer to us than our own breathing.

As Saint Paul teaches us, “The Lord is at hand.” And because He is at hand, let us give our anxiety and worry to Him, let all our requests be told by us to God, that we might have no anxiety about anything. Let us put on the wedding garments of humility, that Paul’s words may ever be our own: “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me,” and thereby be continually given to all good works through Jesus Christ our Lord.

On the Prodigal Son and Love

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2019.

The parable of the prodigal son is the third of four parables told by our Master, our Lord Jesus. The occasion for his teaching with these parable was the fact that tax collectors and other sinners were drawing closer and closer to Jesus so that they could hear Him. Christ’s message is an infectious one—His teaching is magnetic; even His presence draws people in who are walking in darkness because He is the true light, which lighteth every person who comes into the world. It is only by our intimacy with Jesus that we are able by grace to cut through our delusions and gain true self-knowledge.

Because tax collectors and other sinners were drawn to Jesus, Saint Luke tells us that Pharisees and the scribes murmured. And not only did they murmur (which in and of itself can be sinful, because of the harm it can cause within the Christian community), but we know what they said: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus was ruffling the feathers of proper society of His day; He was breaking social conventions—He was hanging out with the “wrong people,” those people. That He was receiving them means Jesus was truly present to them, listening to them, honoring their dignity (because they were made also in His likeness, He was honoring, we must remember, His presence in them), and seeking to serve them—because Jesus came not to be served but to serve. That He ate with them indicates to us true and complete fellowship—to eat with others means companionship and total welcome. Fundamental to the attractiveness Jesus exudes is His hospitality.

That Jesus was so lavish in His giving of Himself in love was the teaching He wanted to impart to His disciples. Each of the four parables teaches about love—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the dishonest steward: all about love. But this is most dramatically brought out by the parable of the prodigal son.

The father in the parable is so eager to love his son gone astray that when the son even was at a distance, the father came to Him. He ran and embraced him and kissed him. He did not scold him, or harbor a grudge against him, or make the son jump through some hoop before sharing his love. He just loved him and ordered a feast with the fatted calf be held in honor of his return. Let us run to the lonely in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces; run to them and embrace and kiss them with our presence, our attention, our selfless care.

The prodigal son is also an example of love, we must also see. He too is also eager to love, but his ability to love selflessly is buried under his sin and shame at having wasted the gift that he was given. Instead of using the gift he was given for the glory of God, he used it toward idolatry. And so his love for his father is first expressed as a selfish love for himself, so that he could live at least at the level of his father’s hired servants. His father does not care—and indeed our heavenly Father does not care either: God can work with any kind of desire for Him, even if it is first expressed as selfish desire—and slowly turn a selfish heart into a selfless heart. Whatever kind of contrition we might have, bring it to God; give it all to Him.

And other son, he is jealous. He loves his father out of pure duty—but pure duty is not enough. We must love for the joy of loving. The other son must learn joy by the grace of God, and perhaps the father’s extravagance towards the first son is intended also as a lesson to the second son—much like Jesus’s extravagance towards tax collectors and sinners was a lesson in loving intended not only for them, but for His disciples watching Him, that they would learn how to love.

Mother Teresa taught the world that this is what Jesus came to do: to teach us how to love. In order to love others in the example of Jesus, and that example is described in the Bible, and as that example is replicated in the lives of the Saints—in order to love we must realize how profoundly we ourselves are loved by God. Our lives are always in His hands—and is daily, ongoing love for us goes as deep as keeping us in existence moment to moment, breath by breath. He loves us like a mother loves her son—like Mary loves Jesus. No matter how often we have sinned, we turn to God and we are loved by Him—He receives us and eats with us: so much so that He gives Himself to us as the true bread which giveth life to the world.

And in knowing how much we are loved, we are able to love others with the joy that we are loved by Jesus. And so let us again imitate the father in the parable, who is the image of God’s love for us: let us run to the lonely men, women, and children among us in Tazewell County. Let us bring out best selves to them: and make merry and be glad.

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””