Homily: “On Receiving Christ Resurrected”

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

I have had one occasion when a teacher of mine has become a true friend. In all such occasions, the relationship (if we had much of one at all, and of course sometimes we do not, and that is perfectly fine) never moved beyond teacher and student. With many teachers I have had a cordiality, a certain friendliness. But we, with one exception, did not become true friends. And by “true friend,” I mean that in the traditional sense: friendship not of utility (what you do when you both happen to be in the same place for a stretch of time), not of pleasure (based on shared emotions that come but pass away), but of friendship based on deep love for each other, each seeking to bring out the best in the other. This is a selfless kind of friendship, and yet it is also the kind of friendship where you may go long stretches of time between conversations, years even, and yet the moment you both talk again, the bond between the two immediately returns, along with the selflessness.

The what is called the “farewell discourse” of Jesus captured by Saint John in chapters fourteen through seventeen of his Gospel, from which our gospel passage today is extracted, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This is not friendship of utility or pleasure. His friendship to us is of the most profound kind, so profound as to pass our understanding and exceed our desire. He always has our best in mind, He always sees us for our best selves. He sees us even for our heavenly selves; for although we have not yet passed through our chronological existence of time and space, Jesus sees us beyond our time and space selves. And like a true friend would do and give anything to help his or her true friend in time of need, Jesus would do anything to help us toward salvation—and indeed He has, by taking our flesh and giving of Himself on the Cross, to redeem humanity and justify us to be able to receive forgiveness as much as our repentant selves might need to be forgiven.

The recognition of the presence of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified Body was a progressive recognition. Although Jesus is always presence, and we can go nowhere to escape the presence and eyes of God, the purpose of His life and death was not to make Himself present (which He always was, is, and will be) but available—that is, able to be recognized. And being recognized, thereby received. An analogy with the natural world might be helpful: trees and plants need nitrogen in the soil. But pouring liquid nitrogen near a bush will do nothing for its growth, despite the necessity of nitrogen. Nitrogen given to the bush, if it is going to be helpful, is presented in a way that it can be received, through the fertilizer formula. God’s presence is everywhere and in all places, but like a bush, to receive His presence through recognizing it demands careful preparation on the part of the Gardener.

Jesus is our Gardener, as He was to Mary Magdalene, and His life and death on the Cross is the preparation for His friends to be able to receive Him after His death. For three years, He taught them so that they could recognize the invisible: recognize His words; recognize His gestures; recognize the marks of His presence and the great works of His holy Being. The prophet Joel speaks of recognizing God through the wilderness being green, the tree bearing fruit, the fig tree and vine giving full yield—through the early and late rain, and through receiving back what is lost. Our first hymn today, a favorite of many of us, especially us of British descent, speaks of recognizing Him through the little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. He gave us eyes to see them for the greatness of God’s actions through their very being, their existence.

This is the sacramental principle of creation. The lush wilderness, the yielding trees, the rains, the flowers and birds, and all the rest of God’s creatures—because He made them and all things are His creatures. They are visible signs of grace perceived inwardly and spiritually—that is to say, received inwardly and spiritually. And the same holds for the voice that calls our name, the stranger who meets us to discuss God, the woundedness people allow us to see, and the miraculous abundance, whether 153 fish or the birth of a child, we enjoy not of ourselves but from a mysterious source, which of course is God.

The recognition of the early Church in the days after the mighty Resurrection but before the glorious Ascension were days when the Church was gaining new eyes—the eyes of faith—eyes that allowed them to perceive Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body, and begin to be able to see Him—that is perceive Him with the eyes of faith—everywhere and in all places. That fact came firmly with the Ascension—the purpose of the Ascension is to teach His presence is no longer strictly local, but in some sense both local and universal at the same time. But let us see that for Him to dwell in us, and we in Him takes eyes of faith, and a heart that keeps the words of Christ, pondering them like Mary pondered. Let us see that to become not present—because He is always present—but recognizable was the task Jesus had in the days after His resurrection. And let us see as well that Our Lord accomplished His task, because the early Church, first confused and perplexed, because full of joy, became full of grace, because like Mary always was, and did so only through the grace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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

It was the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee who went into the tomb. The stone was rolled away, but they did not find the body. What they found was new and utterly unfamiliar. And they were perplexed. And why wouldn’t they be? The mystery of their Master, their and our loving Lord Jesus Christ, took yet another turn. Jesus had lived and taught in such mystery—always confronting His followers with their own shadows, yet confronting always with love and presence that to not follow Him felt empty and wrong. It was the women who treasured and kept and abided in the words of Jesus—the women before the men for the most part.

They had been taught, it seems, by Our Lord’s most blessed and chaste Mother: Mary, who was named by the angel full of grace. She too was perplexed when she was confronted by God’s truth: that He had made her the fullness of grace, and that she, who had known no man, would conceive in her womb and bear a son, and would call His name Jesus—He who would reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of Whose kingdom there shall be no end—that she would be the Mother of Son of God. At hearing this she was greatly troubled, we are told by Saint Luke. She too had entered into the new and utterly unfamiliar, a mystery of the same order as the cave on Easter Sunday morning.

Since then the Church has been imprinted with this pattern which we have learned from God: when we are confronted by His presence, He very well might manifest Himself in the new and utterly unfamiliar. In some sense, this should be how we expect God to come to us—expecting, it seems, the unexpected, but also expecting to be perplexed, even troubled, and to have to grapple with something we feel ill-equipped to handle.

What we should never be is scared; because we are always in God’s hand, and He is ever-watching over His flock like the Good Shepherd. Our job is to be faithful as God works the newness of His creation through His Son and through us. Our job is to be faithful: faithful in prayer and worship, in giving of ourselves to God and His Church, in giving of ourselves to others, for God lives in all those who are made in His image—and all people are made in His image, and so we are to give ourselves to whomever God calls us to serve, and do so with the joyful action of love.

God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son—that in giving Him to us on the Cross, we might be taught what true humility looks like: for our loving Lord Jesus is for all times the sacrament of humility, even so in the way we receive Him today in the most ordinary form of bread and wine: ordinary, simple, accessible: so humble as to be vulnerable, for we so easily forget that He is always with us in the Tabernacle. He became so vulnerable in His humility that He allows Himself to be forgotten in the Tabernacle, where He rests all but two days of the year.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue to remember Him as He rests in perfect peace in our Tabernacle, consecrating this space as sacred, heavenly—everywhere there is a Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, there is the holy land, there is the new Jerusalem. Remembering our Lord allows us to be formed by Him. This was the first teaching given to the women early on that first Easter Sunday morning: remember. Remember the words of Jesus, remember what He told you, remember—in other words, keep all the words of Our Lord in our heart, treasuring them, pondering them, like  Blessed Mary taught the early Church to do.

Brothers and sisters, it is a blessed Easter! Our Lord—truth Himself, truth incarnate—has overcome the sharpness of death, and has did open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He opened the tomb not so that He could get out, but so that we might enter in: entering in by faith in Him, abiding in His words, that we might dwell in Him, and He in us. And abiding in us, fill us with hope, with peace, and with direction. He told the women to proclaim the Resurrection to the men. Let us be so emboldened to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our loving actions of accompanying the lonely—that the joy of Christ may be in their hearts. Amen.

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 Christ the Messiah for All”

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

Among the prophetic words spoken by Simeon in the Temple when forty-day-old Jesus was presented in the Temple according to Jewish religious law, and also Mary presenting herself for purification in likewise custom, were these: “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles.” The Church continues to chant and pray these words every evening as the light of the day begins to fade, in part as constant reminder that the light of Christ is a light of revelation—the Light in which darkness is no longer darkness, for with Christ the night is as clear as the day. The man Simeon is regarded in ancient Church tradition as being one of the seventy biblical scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek.

The image of this old man beholding baby Jesus and recognizing in Him He through Whom all things have been made—and recognizing in this moment the fulfilment of all that the prophets had told—is too much for words. Better to sing the words daily and allow the image to work on our imaginations like water works on rough rocks making them smooth. By the time of the Ascension of Jesus to the Right Hand of the Father, the only person still alive from that event in the Temple thirty-three years prior was Mary, and it is surely her who told of this and many other stories of Jesus to the early Church, helping to fire their imaginations and hearts with the divine, out-pouring spark.

In those words from Simeon is a message that Jesus is universal: that the salvation brought by Christ is a universal salvation, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles—more than for Jews only. (But of course, to their glory.) The early Church needed this teaching because even after the death of Jesus, and probably for decades still after His death, the Church had a hard time letting go of the idea that the Messiah would be a political hero. That expectation had been ingrained within the Jewish religious culture for centuries, and to great extent it was a reasonable expectation when the idea of “messiah” was considered within Jewish political history and reality. If the Temple was going to be fully rebuilt, the occupiers of the Temple (the Romans) would have to be overthrown. And that would take a political revolution. They were not just going to give control of the Temple away. It had to be taken by force.

Jesus often taught that He was no such messiah, and it was always a message poorly received by His Jewish audiences. Such is what we hear in our lesson from Saint Luke. What kind of Messiah is He? It is to be a prophetic messiah—“Today this scripture (which was from Isaiah) has been fulfilled in your hearing,” He preached. Jesus is situating Himself and His ministry in the prophetic line. This is directly after proclaiming these words from Isaiah: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Not a political hero, but a Messiah who announces good news to the poor, blind, captive, oppressed—and, lonely.

And then Jesus brings to his audience’s mind the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Their healing ministry, Jesus reminded everyone, was not to the Jews in need but to the Gentiles, and even a small group. His ministry was universal salvation, offered freely to Gentiles. This was the first time in Luke’s Gospel that this aspect of Christ’s mission was revealed, and it was nothing short of scandal. That He was for all, not just for them. And after Christ’s Ascension, I have little doubt that such scandal lingered in people’s imagination. It took Blessed Mary again being a Mother to the Church and telling them that her Son’s ministry has been universal and for all since the beginning. God revealed this to Simeon, she would have told them. Yes, He is our King, for Gabriel told me that “the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” He is our King, she assured them, but He is also their King, the King of all, the King of kings and Light of lights.

Brothers and sisters, let us be heartened by our universal God, as the Magi themselves acknowledged when they came to pay Him homage. Let us not keep our loving and gracious God to ourselves, but follow the star of Christ as He leads us to the poor, the lonely, the dispirited, of Tazewell County. Through our ministry called by God, the hearts of the lonely will be warmed. God’s presence has made us holy—through His word, through His most Precious Body and Blood—not so that we can hold onto Him only for ourselves, but that lonely people in Tazewell County can find Him through us.

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2019.

It is not always recognized that after Saint Paul saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round him and those who journeyed with him; after he had fallen to the ground and heard a voice saying to him in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And after Paul learned that this was the voice of Jesus speaking—Jesus whom Paul was persecuting—and then heard Jesus bestow upon Paul his true vocation—to be one who opens the people’s eyes, that they may turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus—it is not always recognized that Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert trying to get a handle upon what just happened.

It must have been hard to say! Like Blessed Mary’s annunciation from Gabriel, this was an annunciation to Paul—the power of the Most High also overshadowing Paul. Mary pondered in her heart the meaning of her Son, and the meaning of her vocation. Likewise Paul spent three years in the desert—three years, we can reasonably say, in a wilderness of prayer, a wilderness of mystery, a wilderness of what must have been profound existential crisis. To say that Paul’s whole world was flipped upside down does not begin to describe his situation. As he said, he who once persecuted the Church is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. And then uncertainty of what to do next. How could he possibly know?

One of the open secrets upon praying with the Bible, and especially with the New Testament, is that when we come upon moments strangely void of description, we are not pass over them, but pray into them—pray with our faculties of imagination, within the fellowship of the living Church and its theological tradition, seeking to penetrate the mystery, to find life revealed amid the silence. Such is the case with the life of Jesus, completely undescribed from day 40 of His life through age 12, and then from age 12 to approximately age 30 at His baptism in the River Jordan. Such also is the case with the life of Mary, of whom the biblical writers of the New Testament report quite little. Another is the hours of prayer spent by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Bits are described, but what was His prayer like between the few words we are told? Another is the nine days in the Upper Room by Mary, the other women, the Apostles and disciples totally 120 people. We are told they with one accord devoted themselves to prayer. What did this prayer look like?

With Paul’s initial conversion moment, we have another such moment. Paul himself prayed into the silence and mystery of it for three years, and indeed the rest of his life. Perhaps the primary mystery is this voice he heard. Who is this voice? Paul himself immediately wondered. He identifies the voice as that of Lord, of someone he must respect. It is a voice that first identifies Himself through the question, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This Lord is a persecuted Lord, one actively being persecuted. And the voice answers Paul’s question, “Who are you, Lord?” by saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

Now the human mind attaches images to invisible things. What image would Paul attach to this voice of Jesus being persecuted? It is not clear that Paul ever saw Jesus in person, whether in Our Lord’s public ministry or as He hung, nailed upon the Cross. He would have heard of Jesus’ crucifixion, at the very least from the testimony of Saint Stephen before his stoning. He certainly heard enough from other sources to decide to actively persecute the early Church.

Yet the image that most likely came to Paul’s mind, whether in the moment or over the course of the subsequent three years, was Jesus on His Cross. The image of Jesus crucified, when He was most persecuted. And this fits as well when one considers the whole of Paul’s writing. There are two primary emphases in his writing as a body: take Baptism and the other Sacraments seriously (so much so that he teaches that healthy parish life is built upon stewardship of God’s sacraments; what the voice of Jesus means by “sanctified by faith in me”), and in all things face the cross. Face the cross—as a parish church in worship; face the cross—as a community in mission; face the cross—as a person seeking to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (that is, with adoration and humility).

The Cross for Paul is an inexhaustible image, the central icon of Christian life. For Paul, all leads to the Cross (as it did in his own life from birth to the road to Damascus), all come forth from the Cross (as he famously taught, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and again, “We preach Christ Crucified”). Life for Paul is always a cross-shaped life.

And so how do we know that we are truly being taught by Paul? It is when we find ourselves through the Liturgy and through our prayer life, drawn into the mystery of the Cross—its horror, and its glory. That’s its horror humbles us, and its glory throws us into adoration, into praise, and into thankfulness.

Homily: “On the Wedding at Cana”

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

For those of you who have made wine in the home, or known friends or family who have, you know as I do that it is a rewarding process that requires not much talent but a great deal of patience. Patience, I mean, from the very beginning: in allowing the yeast to start bubbling, and then patience to basically do nothing for months at a time as some mysterious process called fermentation does its magic. Probably this is why the German theologian Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Beer is made by men; wine by God.” One is supposed to wait at least three years before drinking the wine; as winemaker, however, it is expected that you sample along the way. Quality control. But there really is something to waiting. The taste of a three year old wine is in fact quite different than it was at the beginning, but at the same time, over those three years, the true taste of the wine does progressively show itself, little by little.

Jesus has shown Himself to be the Light of the world through a series of showings, little by little, we might say reverently: first to a small group of people and then to increasingly more and more people in larger groups. If we may go back into the Sacred Hebrew Scriptures, He first showed Himself to the Patriarchs and Prophets—showing Himself as a voice Who spoke of a messiah coming to be, and for Isaiah, a suffering servant. To blessed Mary, He showed Himself through an Angel, and then to Elizabeth and John the Baptist in her womb, He showed Himself through the voice of Mary, and it was both through her voice and an Angel in a dream that He showed Himself to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. Then it was to a group of shepherds in the fields through one and then many angels singing “Glory be to God on high.” Then it was to Magi and their train of people from the East through a star, and then Simeon and Anna in the Temple (which we celebrate in two weeks at Candlemas), to Herod and all Jerusalem through the voice of the Magi as well as the Temple religious authorities, the chief priests and scribes interpreting the Scriptures, then to the rabbis in the Temple when He was twelve-years ago, then at His Baptism in the River Jordan, revealing at the same time the identity of God as Holy Trinity. Jesus had always been the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, by Whom all things were made. But it was only in the fullness of time that He allowed Himself to become known, little by little, to those who were prepared.

The marriage feast at Cana is another showing forth of the Light, a manifestation of His glory. Specifically the whole event is a sign, a sign of mystery to invite reflection upon that mystery which leads to an encounter with His divinity; the first of His truly public signs, and it enkindled the faith of the disciples of Jesus. It is a kind of preamble to His public life. Cana was a small village, not far from Nazareth, and tradition has it that Cana abounded in flowers, thereby having a pleasant, rural beauty. It is a sign performed before a larger gathering lasting a week or more.

The Mother of Jesus noticed that the wine would not suffice for the duration of the wedding feast. Wine was the heart of such a banquet, and in the Sacred Scripture, win is a symbol of exuberance and intoxication of the divine life. With disarming simplicity and natural spontaneity, she turns to Him and says, “They have no wine.” Mary is the one person at the feast who realizes who Jesus is, and a very large quantity of wine would be needed: in other words, nothing short of a miraculous intervention was needed. She intercedes on behalf of the whole gathering, indeed represents them before the Lord, bringing their needs to Him. And of course He listens.

“O woman, what have you to do with me?” Too many people hear that as Him being critical or even harsh. Jesus is being none of that. Rather His expression is idiomatic for His day for something along the lines of “Okay, let’s do it.” And given their entire 30 years of intimate communion together, Mother and Son, filled with great moments of sublimity, reverence, and probably domestic miracles within the home of Mary and Joseph—there is a tenderness, a playfulness, even humorousness to this moment—“What have you to do with me?” can only be answered by saying, “Why everything, my Son: for You are my Lord and my God, and an Angel first told me about You!” “O woman, what have you to do with me?”, brothers and sisters, is one of the most hilariously ironic moments in Scripture. She has everything to do with Him, and they both know it.

For us, the way to interpret this event at Cana is twofold: both literally and spiritually. Literally, we have a miracle performed by Jesus stemming from Mary’s motherly care for two young spouses: for Mary not know intercedes for them before God, but also teaches them: “Do whatever He tells you,” words she has taught the Church ever since. And spiritually, the wedding at Cana signifies the marriage between the Eternal Word and humanity in Mary and through Mary, changing the ordinary into something immeasurably more exciting. And our Lord works His signs here, and always, not by changing the containers, but leaving them as they were. Whether it is through His miracles with bread and wine, or with the Old Testament and the Psalms, or with us in our Baptism: the container remains the same, but by His grace we are given treasure that reaches into heaven.

Homily: “On Epiphany and Mission”

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

The Epiphany of Our Lord presents to us a most singular moment for our reflection. Its alternate name in our tradition is The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. That word, “epiphany,” means manifestation, the showing forth, the making evident, the becoming accessible. Christ had always been God; had always been the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Christ was always the only-begotten Son of God; the eternal Word of the Father, by Whom all things were made. So Our Lord’s Epiphany was not the making new of something that had not been present. Christ is always present to us, irrespective of whether we are aware of Him, or not.

And Christ was always present to the Magi, the wise men from the East. How was He always present? He was present as the guiding Hand, His anonymous Holy Spirit, amid their searches for wisdom and truth. As in the science of our day, the science of their day can always be understood as the search for truth, a seeking after the mind of God, a process to understand creation: to understand the workings of God, for He has made all things. To understand how He has worked in creation is to understand something important of Him. All that is good, all that is beautiful, and all that is true comes from God. And we always do well in our prayer life to remember that.

And yet Christ was made accessible to the Magi in this moment, captured only in Saint Matthew. And He made Himself accessible to them for a singular purpose: that not only religious Jews, but Gentiles as well, would learn who is the source of all beauty, goodness, and truth—indeed, He who is beauty, goodness, and truth incarnate—that they, according to their own free will, might worship Him. That in following their scientific method to the source, they would freely fall to their knees in adoration. And let us also take to heart how Jesus chose to manifest Himself to the Gentile Magi: “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary, His Mother.” To the Magi is presented the inseparability of Mary and Jesus. There is no mention of Saint Joseph, which would have caused scandal in ancient Jewish society. St Matthew’s intent is clear: where is Jesus—the Star of stars, the Light of light, Truth incarnate—where is Jesus to be found but in the arms of His mother?

Let us allow Jesus to be our light. Let Him be our lamp upon the spiritual realities, the inexhaustible Truth of our invisible God. Let us be assured that God comes to those who call upon Him in humility. He Himself came to us in great humility—a helpless Child wrapped in swaddling linen, the same linen He would be wrapped in in His tomb—as a permanent reminder to us of the need for humility, of vulnerability, of weakness—that by these God may embolden us, strengthen us, and lift us up.

Let us allow Jesus to be our light as He was the light for Moses through the Burning Bush. As he was the light for the Centurion at the foot of the Cross, a Gentile to whom Christ’s divinity was also made accessible and manifest: for when he saw that Jesus thus breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”—his heart filled with unspeakable light. As Saint Paul was so filled at His conversion: the thunder and light of Christ on His cross speaking to Paul: “Why are you persecuting me?”

In our communion hymn, the first and final verse contains this petition to God: “Star of the East, the horizon adorning, guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.” For a missionary Parish such as ours—our Mission of proclamation of Christ’s resurrection through adoring Him on His Cross—let us open ourselves in humility and vulnerability to be led by Christ’s Star to where our infant Redeemer is laid. We ourselves, like Blessed Mary, have through the message of an Angel conceived the holy Jesus in our hearts.

But a Parish with a sense of Mission does not stop there. We thank God that we are bearing Him in our hearts and mind, yet we must know that to fully grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ is to go to Him in the new places He is being born and reborn—to go to Him as He grows in the hearts of those Who need His love, strength and presence—a missionary Parish seeks to be guided by God to be with people who are not yet able to be guided by the same star as the Magi, because their hearts are heavy with loneliness.

Let us, then, be Christian Magi—men, women, and children wise in the ways of Christ—who allow ourselves to be guided to where Christ sets His star, where ever that might be. And when we come to Him in the lonely among us in Tazewell County—let us also like the Magi fall to our knees in adoration and offer our gifts. And what gifts are these? In the words of a beloved hymn:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Homily: “On ‘In the beginning'”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after Christmas Day, 2018.

Saint John begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning.” Saint Mark began in a similar way, with the shared purpose of immediately evoking the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. That is what we might call a “narrative translation,” like any story might begin. Yet the Greek can also be translated in a more philosophical way, something like, “at the root of existence.” If we were to creatively stick those two together, the narrative with the philosophical, we would have something like “at the root of the beginning of being.”

Saint John intends both translations to be in the mind of his hearers. Why? He intends this in order to heighten our prayer: so that as we are caught up in the joy and wonder of the shepherds who heard the first Christmas Carol, sung by the angels, and then beheld the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes born to a woman, Blessed Mary, after a journey to Bethlehem, we are similarly pushed toward the spiritual and inward meaning, pushed toward mystery, for that is where even more profound meaning is seen—that is, pushed to imitate Mary’s own response to hearing of the shepherd’s experience that night out in the fields tending their flock by night: the response of keeping these things, pondering them in her heart.

Indeed, the whole purpose of the first two verses of his Gospel—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without Him was not anything made that was made—is to throw us into adoration, to induce our imitation of Mary: because adoration, that is being like Mary, is the key to spiritual maturity. Adoration is the beginning of wisdom.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we heard Mary proclaim to her cousin Saint Elizabeth: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior.” Her Magnificat, or in the words of one Anglican priest, “Our Lady’s Hymn” Mary’s hymn (which for two thousand years has been said, sung, or chanted at the end of the daylight hours as part of Evening Prayer and is beloved within Anglicanism) is a collage of praise and adoration texts from the Old Testament. Mary recapitulates all of the great women of the Old Testament, as we have seen; and she recapitulates Israel herself in being “Daughter Zion.” She assembled the verses of her Hymn from words of her forefathers, the seed of Abraham.

We see one of them in our lesson from Isaiah, the first verse, in our translation: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God.” This not only tells us that Mary knew well her Bible, and that she had meditated on the book of Isaiah, but something yet more profound. This whole passage is speaking of the New Jerusalem, the Jerusalem coming to be with the coming of the Messiah: and so the profound thing is this: Mary herself symbolizes the new Jerusalem. She symbolizes the City of God, for in the City of God dwells God; in the City of God is His garden; in the City of God is His throne, and on that throne sits God Almighty. On the lap of Mary, sits Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

“And the Word because flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Let us ruminate upon this verse. God took on the flesh of His mother, as all babies take their flesh from their mother. And here we can recognize a yet more startling fact: when we speak of the Body and Blood of Christ, that Body and Blood came from Mary, and her body and blood came from Anne, and all the way back in the line of mothers!

“He dwelt among us,” is sometimes translated, in literal fashion, as “He pitched His tent among us,” or as some translations have it, “He tabernacled among us.” Inside the Tabernacle near the Altar is Jesus; inside the womb of Mary is the eternal Word of God. Every tabernacle is an immediate symbol of Mary; and when we worship the Precious Body housed within it, we likewise venerate Our Lady.

“Full of grace and truth.” All of divine reality is disclosed by Jesus, and all of its beauty. Mary was named “full of grace” and after she said Yes to God, she became full not only of grace, but of Truth Himself. And what grace, brothers and sisters! That we have beheld His glory—the glory of reality Himself, revealed in such holiness as few if any words could possibly grasp, save the words of Our Lady harmonizing with Isaiah: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior.”

Brothers and sisters, Christ is the light inside each and every one of us. Each and every person ever born, past, present and future, to be sure—yet He burns still brighter in those reborn in Him: not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but reborn entirely through the action of God in baptism. Let us continue to ask God to help us grow into the stature of Jesus: that as the world continues to receive her King, our hearts, having prepared anew making room for His coming can receive the light of light—that the peace and love we know through Christ and only through Christ can be shared with those in Tazewell County who have never known such peace, never known such love—or if they have, have forgotten what it feels like to experience peace and love.

Homily: “From Darkness to Light”

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

It is a genuine pleasure to be with you all this evening on the great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time so full of grace and love in so many ways, a time with friends and family, a time for singing hymns and carols. The heart of Christmas beats full and alive, and every year the heartbeat of Christmas—tonight, over the next twelve days, and even on through the winter—makes us glad indeed that the joy has indeed come to the world—and as was proclaimed at the beginning of Mass: the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. Hail Mary, full of grace, indeed. And hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

The feast of Christmas finds us this year, as it does every year, trying to walk in the footsteps of Our Lord, Him always being our helper. Indeed the Christian journey as a whole is a path of peace led by Jesus Christ from our world all the way to heaven. And yet in some sense, we the baptized are already there, having been grafted at baptism into His Body, and His Body being at the Right Hand of the Father. Already there, and also not yet there.

Our walking as Christ’s followers in the Parish of Tazewell County and our two church congregations has been, if I may boldly say, quickened by God’s providence, His leading hand over the last year. And that has happened in at least three ways. The first is that we have been led into a liturgical celebration that is unapologetically traditional in orientation and style. We have embarked on a devout experiment with traditional orientation, with both the Priest and the People facing the same direction—the Cross, so that at every liturgy we ask God to allow us at the foot of the Cross, to be taught by Him as He taught Blessed Mary, Saint John the beloved disciple, and others. And our devout experiment involves the use of sacred English within what younger Episcopalians call “Rite I” and what the more seasoned among us call 1928 Prayer Book. The words indeed are rich.

Why we have done so leads into the second way our footsteps have quickened. The ministerial leadership of this Parish—what we call our Parish Council, made currently of 18 members of our Parish—has discerned a clear missionary purpose for our Parish, and this Christmas finds us knee-deep in developing its shape and implementation. That purpose is simply stated: God is calling us in our Parish to serve the lonely among the wider communities of Tazewell County. And we have been inspired by the teaching of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who said that the wealthy countries of our world, despite their material wealth, not only have poverty in their countries, but in her estimation, they have a deeper poverty than anything she found in Calcutta. It is not a poverty with respect to not having money. Rather it is a poverty with respect to loneliness, and not having love. And so I ask you all for your prayers for our Parish ministers, and indeed our whole Parish—that all of us may seek and serve Christ in the lonely around us. We began to face the Cross during our Mass so that we would be emboldened to face Jesus on His cross in the hearts of the lonely people in Tazewell County. That they would know Christian love.

The third way our footsteps have been quickened is through our walking in the season of Advent through the primary themes of Advent: death, judgement, hell, and heaven, what are called the Four Last Things. Thank God for the Light of Christ among us during our walk, as we indeed were a people walking through darkness. Reflecting on death and hell in particular brings us to the knife-edge of our choices, and whether in even our mundane choices in life, as well as how we choose to be in relationship with others, how we choose to act and speak, we are doing so for the glory of God, or for selfish gratification.

And yet, we are a people who walked in darkness but have seen a great light. To us a child is born; to us a Son is given. God has known us from our mother’s womb, knit us together and covered us with His clothing as He did for Adam and Eve. Our lives have always been in His hands, and despite the disobedience of His people, time and time and time again, He has called us into covenant with Him. We have walked through the darkness of Advent so that our actions are not works of darkness but works of light.

And even more so: we have walked through the darkness of Advent so that having cleared our hearts and made room for His coming, we would be able to find the God who appeared as a Child—a child as small, as vulnerable, as helpless as any child, yet whose whole life was lived for us, and whose first cries for His mother’s breast struck mortal fear among the fallen armies of Satan from one end of the earth to the other. And we walked in the darkness so that dismounting from the high horse of our enlightened reason, our false certainties, our intellectual pride, our selfishness, we might truly find God in Mary’s Child—find Him, like the Shepherds; sing of Him, like the angels; and offer our lives to Him, as His disciples. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous. And may we in these days of Christmas give thanks to His holy Name.

Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 1: Death and Expectation”

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

The action of God Almighty, of Jesus Christ, King of the universe is afoot. Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals Himself in glory. Our Lord teaches that there will be signs in sun and moon, and stars—the roaring of the sea and the waves: heaven itself shaken. The prophet Zechariah spoke of the valley split in two, in such way that reminds of an earthquake. Let earth receive her King, indeed. Let heaven and nature sing: while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. All of these mighty acts of God are acts of Him casting away the works of darkness—because just as every visible thing is under the charge of a holy Angel, the good angels of Light, there lurks close to every perceivable thing—every creature whether animate or inanimate, visible or invisible—there lurks close by an unholy angel of the darkness. The holy angels invite us to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and to regard the creatures of this earth as made by Him with the purpose of each creature to give glory to God. The unholy angels of darkness, on the other hand, seek to tempt us into self-centeredness, tempt us to use the creatures made by God for selfish benefit, not God’s glory: ever-tempting us to pride, not humility. Read more “Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 1: Death and Expectation””