On Purification, Baptism, and Peace

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of The Purification of S. Mary the Virgin (Candlemas), 2020.

There is no normal reason why Saint Luke should use the personal pronoun “their” to describe who’s purification is taking place. Mosaic law within Jewish custom specifies that the purification is only for the mother. And while in Jewish tradition, this ritual normally was understood to remove ritual uncleanness so as to allow a return to active worship within the community, for Mary the opposite pertained: she had experienced contact with an unfathomable holiness in the birth of God her Son, and so her purification was not to make clean what was dirty, but rather to make normal what was mystical. The same patterns applies to why the priest purifies the chalice after administration of Communion: the chalice is not dirty, for it was filled by the Precious Blood of Christ, filled with heaven. It is purified so as to return it to normal use, until which point it is taken again into the heights of heaven as a vessel for the Sacrament.

So why did Saint Luke use the word “their” instead of “her” purification? He understood what Jewish practice was, how purification was for the mother only. Luke wrote “their” because he always wrote with the eyes of his heart enlightened and transformed by Christ Crucified and Risen: for in such a view, in offering Christ to God she is offering His Body: and His Body is the Church; His Body is the members of the Church through baptism, because in baptism we are taken up into the heavenly reality permanently and engrafted into the divine Body of Christ. And so “their purification” is a moment of cryptic teaching by Luke, to be found by the people of God meditating upon the Gospel according to Saint Luke that through baptism we are purified: Mary’s return to normalcy after her contact with the ineffable allows us to be offered by her in the Temple because she knows in her Son’s body is all Israel, all the People of God. It is an extraordinary detail, Luke’s use of “their.”

Moreover, it is an extraordinary way that the old man Simeon responds to taking up Our Jesus into his arms and blessing God. I mean it is his words that are extraordinary, for his response is a petition to God, a request made to the maker of all things visible and invisible. This is Simeon’s petition: “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.” It is Simeon who is having a moment of transformation: an experience where the eyes of his heart have been enlightened. And having been transformed, Simeon petitions God to let him depart in peace, according to the Word of God. Here he echoes Mary’s response to God at the Annunciation: she said, “Let it be unto me according to Thy Word”; Simeon repeats those very last words, “according to Thy Word.” An immediate experience of God that we recognize throws us into such humility that we become so obedient, so attentive to God that all we can say is “Let it be unto me according to His Word.” And of course, “His Word” is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. And so Simeon’s petition really is: “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Jesus Christ, Thy Son and Thy Word.”

Brothers and sisters, see how this fully accords with the end of the Mass, the Dismissal. The priest says, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” It is as if those words of dismissal are a direct response to Simeon speaking for the congregation gathered at the Altar having been fed by the eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ. Just as Simeon, we have beheld Christ, and we have received Christ, holding Him in our hearts because we are filled with Him. And because we are filled with Him, we are filled with His peace. Of course we depart in peace: Christ’s peace is in our bodies through the Eucharist—“Go in peace” more fully expressed is “You are full of Christ in your bodies: now go into the world and carry the fullness of peace with you everywhere you go”—for our eyes have seen God’s salvation which He has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to the true Israel, the people of God.

On the Baptism of Jesus and Glory

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after The Epiphany, 2019.

If one were going to think in terms of chronological time, it might be startling for the Church to move on in the narrative of our Lord’s nativity and episodes of His early days involving Saint Joseph, Blessed Mary, the evil Herod, and later, the Magi. But the Church in moving into our reflection on the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan is not inviting us to think in terms of chronological time, but rather to think theologically—to think about how we understand God.

And that has been the consistent theme going all the way back to Advent—how do we understand God’s presence in the world; how do we understand God’s presence in our hearts; how do we understand our worship of Him Whom we proclaim with come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead? To come in glory is how Christ comes to us, not only at the end of days and the judgment, but how He comes to us now: we often speak of how He makes Himself known as doing so in and through glory. What is good and true and beautiful in the world—all of it is of God, is our faith; and all such manifestations, all such energies of God are known to us as His glory. The birth of a child reveals the glory of God, for example: and there are countless more examples we could think of.

Saint Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles a speech or sermon by Saint Peter, which begins with the words, “Truly I perceive.” Everything he goes on about is his description of God’s glory that he has perceived and is perceiving—in order to share in his perception that others will be encouraged in faith by it; and not just encouraged, but taught and formed. The apostles’ teaching and fellowship takes its anchor in the perception of Christ that had been revealed to them in the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread. What was revealed to them is a perception of reality—a perception of Truth—a perception of what is truly real; far more real than what can be proved scientifically and witnessed empirically. And the apostolic ministry was to share this fundamental perception with others: the crucified and risen Christ revealed by the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread—the glory of His presence: guiding and loving us: that eyes of flesh would give way to eyes of faith, eyes of spirit, eyes that can perceive the invisible Truth which is Christ.

The perception of glory in Christ was learned by the apostles in some significant way through the teaching of Mary and Joseph, which was them sharing their experiences, experiences of glory, even experiences of annunciations of glory. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds in the field, the Magi—all experienced annunciations of various kinds, annunciations of glory that lifted up their hearts into the invisible reality of God’s redemptive stream. And in being initiated into God’s revelation, the young Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were then able to hear the account of the baptism of Jesus by the hand of Saint John Baptist, and see in it something of the same revelation of glory, the same annunciation about God’s workings through Christ His only-begotten Son, as had been perceived by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi.

And what is the glory revealed by the baptism of Jesus? It is a glory that is trinitarian: the revelation of God the Father in the voice from heaven which says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”; the revelation at the same time of the Holy Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Jesus—as the dove signaled to Noah the washing of sin from the earth, the alighting dove reveals our salvation in Christ, Who is the beloved Son, described in the same terms in Psalm 2 and in Isaiah 42: the beloved Son, the chosen of God.

Just as the nativity of Jesus was his biological beginning—a beginning completely bathed in glory of angels and worship—the baptism in the River Jordan was a beginning, now of the public ministry of Jesus: and let us again be drawn into the truth proclaimed throughout the scriptures: fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Awe of God is always where we must begin: not just in the beginning of our baptismal life, but every day we must begin in this holy fear, this awe. Through awe, through holy fear, we enter into stillness, the stillness necessary to know God. Through awe that gives way to stillness, we enter more and more into God’s rest: into contemplation of God, and contemplation of His boundless love.

On Saint Joseph and Epiphany

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of The Epiphany, 2019.

This afternoon my family and I drove over to Peoria to visit the Arthur family at Methodist hospital, of course on the occasion of the birth of William Fulton Tanner Arthur. I said to my wife on the drive over, it is like we are the Magi, going to visit the new child and pay homage. I suppose I should add that we did not bow down before young William—such worship is reserved only for our King, Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of the Father. But I did offer him a blessing, to add to the blessing of being born on Epiphany. I will also add that, as is the case in any birth, the glory of the Lord, following Isaiah’s words, was upon us—every baby brings such light, along with the mystery of God’s energies in the world burning particularly brightly.

We are told by Saint Matthew that after meeting Herod, the Magi saw again the leading star—that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. The birth of Christ sent shock waves of joy in every direction for those with ears to hear it. And, we are told, going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His Mother, and the fell down and worshiped Him. It is significant to us that the first vision of the King of the Universe was bound up with that of His Mother. With Jesus comes His Mother who presents Him: and, likewise, with God, comes His Church which presents the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Falling down in worship, the Magi opened their treasures and offered Him gifts—the Magi model how to properly worship: at the feet of Christ on His Throne, we fall to our knees and open the treasure of our heart, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God. When we give God our heart, our offering is greater than all the world’s gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And then notice, brothers and sisters, who is not named as being present during this holy moment. Mary, Jesus, the Magi, even the Star of Bethlehem—these are all named as present. But one important person is not named. Of all people, Joseph! He is not named as being present. Also, to be precise; it is not that he is said to be elsewhere. Matthew does not tell us that Mary and Jesus are receiving the Magi while Joseph is off doing carpentry in Damascus or some such place; we are not told he is off getting groceries or diapers.

It is quite odd to wonder why Joseph is not mentioned at least by Matthew. The passage right before and right after the Magi episode not only have Joseph present but focus on Joseph, and even are about the angelic revelations given to Joseph by Gabriel. Before the Magi episode comes Gabriel’s encouraging words “Do not fear to take Mary your wife,” for Joseph had wondered whether, knowing that Mary’s pregnancy was of divine intervention, to protect her from cultural embarrassment and even shunning, perhaps she ought be sent away quietly. Angel said, “No, she will bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And then after the Magi go home by another way—because any true encounter with God changes the direction of our journey—again it is Gabriel back again, this time to warn Joseph, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” Two major moments of angelic revelation centered on Joseph, and yet why is Joseph not described as being there when the Magi worship?

But what if Joseph was there at the visit by the Magi, and Matthew’s silence about it is to make an important point? It is certainly possible this is the case—again, Matthew does not say Joseph is somewhere else, and the overall tendency of Matthew’s account at this point is for Joseph to be central to God’s activity. So, what if Joseph is there, but does not speak or do anything particularly out of the ordinary? What would be the purpose of Matthew writing this way?

It occurs to me firstly that, interpreted this way, it mirrors or recapitulates the episode of Adam and Eve in the Garden. For recall that although Adam is in the Garden with Eve, of course preceded her in the Garden, while Eve is being tempted by the Serpent, Adam is no where to be found. Did Adam go away, like Joseph go away? Or did Adam buckle under the pressure of the Serpent’s temptation and, scared, delegate dealing with the serpent all to Eve? I prefer that reading because it emphasizes the dignity and fortitude of Eve, and the lameness of Adam, his weakness.

And so consider the Magi episode. Joseph is present while Mary and Joseph receive the Magi. And as they do, Joseph watches silently as the Magi’s gifts become a kind of temptation to Mary to think herself esteemed and special: I mean, frankincense and myrrh: great. But all the gold! In addition to Mary thinking, “We are rich! Joseph, you can retire now!” she might be tempted to think it is all about her; that the Magi worship of the Child means she can boast of herself. And so unlike Adam’s silence, which allows Eve to be tricked by the Serpent, Joseph’s silence pays tribute to Mary and to God, because Joseph knows Mary is too humble, too self-effacing, too focused on sacrifice and praise to God at all times and in all places to give into any of that. All of this fits the portrait of Joseph that we have: caught up in the divine activity of God through Mary, utterly humble towards God and trusting of Mary, and a permanent witness that everything having to do with Jesus is of divine origin, divine plan, and divine ordering: the Church, the seven Sacraments, all ordered not by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. Let us, brothers and sisters, behold along with Saint Joseph, the unfathomable wonder of God, of the Word made flesh for us, for our nourishment, and for our salvation.

On Having the Eyes of Saint Joseph

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after Christmas, 2019.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, we are told by Saint Matthew. And then but a few verses later, again an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, now in Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and yet again to decide specifically where to dwell. This means there have been at least four, and probably five, times that Saint Matthew tells us Joseph has had an angel visit him in a dream. Five angel visits, five angel messages—five, we can say, annunciations, just as Blessed Mary experienced her annunciation by the angel Gabriel. This to some may sound rather fanciful legend, the stuff of fantasy literature. But let us remember that at the heart of this part of the Gospel narrative is the infancy of a child. At the birth of any child, the whole family is thrown into a state of wonder and joy. This is especially so for the parents. Holding the baby, hearing the baby, smelling the baby, simply being with the baby—the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas is rooted in this very reality that Christ is born. We spend twelve days savouring the simple fact that unto us a child is born—twelve days, savouring our savior. This Child, Who is in Himself the new Temple of Jerusalem. O come let us adore Him.

I have said before that for such an important person in the gospel narrative, there are so few words ascribed to Joseph. But we know more about him than we might realize. He has been visited by the angel Gabriel five times! So although we do not know what Joseph looked like, or how he spoke, or hardly anything about his life before he took Mary as his wife, except that he was a carpenter of some sort, or what happened to Joseph in the time after Jesus at age twelve was found in the Temple—he died at some point after that, obviously, probably of natural causes of old age—we do know he has been visited five times by an angel to reveal God’s will. So on an existential level, we know quite a bit about Joseph—that he was open to, and well aware of, the supernatural. He was open to, and well aware of, God in His transcendent dimension—open and aware of the invisible reality of God.

And not just open and aware of the invisible reality of God, but ordering his life around the invisible reality of God. He was making crucial life decisions based upon the invisible reality of God revealed to him by the angel. First, to accept the truth that his betrothed had conceived by divine hands—that she was of Child by the Holy Ghost; second, that he, Joseph, was to be a public witness and defender to this divine action—the divine ordering of salvation itself through the Church which is the Body of Jesus, rather than sending Mary away quietly for her protection; third, that he, Joseph, should take the child and His mother to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, undoubtedly possessed by demons, and to wait there; and fourthly, to return to Israel, anf fifthly, eventually to dwell in Nazareth.

What then does all this say about Joseph? How do we interpret him, and his role in God’s plan for salvation through Christ? The first principle we should always use and start with is that we interpret scripture by scripture. Joseph led Mary and Jesus back from Egypt to Israel all by the guidance of God through the angel. Does this sound familiar? It should—it is what Moses did with Israel. Moses led Israel out of bondage to an evil ruler to the promised land of Israel, at all times led by God. And Saint Joseph recapitulates all of it. And if Joseph recapitulates Moses, then Mary and Jesus recapitulate the Ark of the Covenant (the container for God’s holy presence, which is symbolically Mary) and God’s holy presence itself in the cloud and voice (which is Christ). And unlike Israel who were constantly disobedient to God, constantly complaining to Moses, Mary and Jesus were fully obedient to God’s will expressed through Joseph, completely given over to following God’s will without delay. What’s more, just as Moses was able to glimpse the promised land with his own eyes but not reach it before dying, Joseph glimpsed salvation Himself—and was the guardian of the Promised Land-Made-Man in Jesus, for at least twelve years—the protector and dutiful guardian of the revelation of the divine ordering of the Church through Mary and through Jesus, the Son of God.

Saint Paul speaks of God giving us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. He speaks of having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know the hope to which God has called us, and the immeasurable greatness of His power. This is all the spirit and the eyes and the knowledge of Saint Joseph. We know nothing about him except how he gave his life as a sacrifice to God and to be an instrument for God to accomplish salvation through Christ crucified and risen. By the intercession of Saint Joseph, may we do the same.

On the Nativity of Christ

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2019.

It is glorious to be with you all to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, born of His Mother, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin. He was conceived by Mary in her heart by the message and invitation of the Angel Gabriel—and thereby after conceiving Him first in her heart, she conceived Him in her spotless womb. And the Angel Gabriel greeted the newborn Babe and announced to the shepherds keeping watch by night the very words, Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth. He conceived through an angel, and welcomed into the world through an Angel, who then was surrounded by the whole heavenly host of angels just as our Altar when we celebrate the Eucharist is surrounded by angels, archangels, and furthermore all the company of heaven—the Saints who live in glory and pray for us that we may continue to walk in the ways of Christ along the holy highway prophecied by Isaiah. The whole world, I chanted at the beginning of our Mass—the whole world being at peace. The Lord has given us a sign: As promised in time of old, a Virgin has conceived and has born a Son, and all call His name Emmanuel: which means, God with us. Our prayer can only lift us to heaven when surrounded as we are by such glory.

This is my fourth Christmas as your priest. I look forward as I am sure you all do as well to this holy night, when the stars are brightly shining. A new spirit is in the air, a gentleness enters into our everyday conversations in a noticeable way, does it not? Many of us gather with family during this holy season—a holy season my family, before I was ordained, had to learn as a matter of necessity was twelve days long, because we quickly realized there was no way we could possibly share Christmas with all of our family if “Christmas” meant roughly a 24-hour period. I believe one year we actually tried—we tried visiting four different households on Christmas Eve and Day. Perhaps the whole world was full of peace, but our hearts were not quite sharing in that peace that year.

And so Christmas is not only religiously twelve days long, ending with the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6, when we celebrate that the whole world, represented by the Magi, the Wise Men who followed the Star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh both to Jesus the King and to His Mother Mary—but let it be practically twelve days long, as well, as best as we are able to make it so. God is at work in the world, and His power abounds everywhere we go, and everywhere we might travel during this season to see friends and family. Recognize that this power is best experience as peace not only in the season of Christmas, but everywhere and in all places and times. The peace of Christ we exchange with each other during the Liturgy of the Eucharist—that peace of the Eucharist, when all of us, each a member of the Body of Christ, by the grace of the precious Body of Christ on the Altar, seeking unity with the Body of Christ, that is, with the person with whom we exchange the peace.

And how do we really exchange peace in that moment? We can shake hands, or hug, or kiss, or greet a friend anytime. And certainly each time we do those things can be a moment that shares in the peace of Christ. But what is the specifically Christian understanding of what it means to exchange the peace? It is this: we look into the eyes of another person, and in a moment of quiet—whether it is half of a second or a whole minute does not matter—in a moment of quiet, a moment of stillness, we recognize something utterly amazing: that Christ is in that person in whose eyes you are looking, and that they can perceive Christ in you.

This is the peace of Christ. This is the same peace of Christ that passes all understanding. And this is the peace of Christ that the whole world shared with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, a peace we are sharing in this evening, the peace Christ proclaimed to the apostles on the first Easter evening: Christ, crucified and resurrected proclaiming the Upper Room, “Peace be with you.” All the same peace that shines off the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger—the whole world being at peace.

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.