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””

Homily: “On Communion of the Saints”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints, 2018.

Our Collect speaks of God having knit together His elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of Christ. All of those words are important, are meaningful and quite significant, and what they direct us to is not only a good and sound prayer on this solemn feast of All Saints, but the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints which is spoken of and confessed in the Apostles’ Creed, which captures the baptismal faith of the Church, originally used, and still used, on the occasions of people received the Sacrament of Baptism, the sacrament of incorporation into Christ’s Body.

I want to elaborate on those words of the Collect for All Saints Day, and do so with all of us sharing an image in our minds as we proceed. Read more “Homily: “On Communion of the Saints””

Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

There are I suppose two main ways to interpret the question that Jesus poses to the Twelve men, “Do you also wish to go away?” It could be that Jesus is gravely disappointed that His message is not catching on—gravely disappointed in what is turning into a kind of failure, even on the verse of weeping and tears. Read in this way there is a poignancy to the question, and Jesus is showing to the Twelve his vulnerability, He shows, so to speak, His cards as if in a game of poker, and lays down His hand, saying, this is what I have, Jesus not knowing whether His cards were strong enough to win the hearts of the Twelve, having apparently lost the hearts of dozens more disciples who we are told drew back at the hard saying and no longer went about with Him. Read more “Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’””

Homily: On Our Lady and the Theology of Woman

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2018.

It is a funny pattern that we humans have whenever a new technology is introduced. New techbomogy is always first understood in the terms of the technology it is replacing. The perfect example is the automobile; when it was introduced, it was spoken of as the “horseless carriage.” Or, as another example, the internet was spoken of as the “information superhighway.” These  are metaphors, yet these give a vivid sense as to what the innovation actually is. The car, yes it is a carriage—but it is a horseless carriage. The internet is for information, but it is not like a library one has to travel to—no, the information is already mobile and on a superhighway-like-thing: it travels to you with the touch of the fingers. In other words, the pattern is that what is being replaced or made obsolete becomes the shell of initial interpretation for what is new.

We see the same thing in the Scriptures. “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus asks His disciples. And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The terms for understanding and interpreting Jesus used widely in Jewish society were not up to date; or, stated differently but in a sense more accurately, God’s revelation in the Incarnation was such a monumental leap forward in the “spiritual technology,” it is perfectly understandable why the terms to interpret Him had not caught up. He was either a prophet, or He was a military revolutionary—both of which were wrong, but those were the categories of serious public figures for first-century Palestine.

All of this—the pattern of interpreting the new in terms of the old—applies to Blessed Mary, the Mother of God—Theotokos­, to use the Greek title ascribed to her officially, meaning God-bearer—but it applies in fascinating ways. Our Lady is properly understood, first and foremost, in terms of what, and who, came before her. As one theologian puts it, “All theology of Mary [her place in the history of salvation, her place within the constellation of Christian worship of Jesus Christ] is fundamentally based upon the Old Testament’s deeply anchored theology of woman” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion, p. 13). This theology is derived from the description in the Sacred Scriptures of the great women of the Old Testament—Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, and Judith. Without these great women, Blessed Mary will not be properly understood.

This biblical theology of woman could be elaborated in long treatises and theological tomes. And yet, we already have that theology captured for us in a remarkably compact presentation. I am referring to Mary’s Magnificat, our Gospel passage, which has been for nearly twenty centuries the Song or Canticle of Mary sung during the evening prayer service by the People of God. (Indeed, in Anglican tradition, it is only during the singing of the Magnificat that incense, the sign of holiness, is burned and brought to the Altar.) Let me bring out of the Magnificat three of the themes that are at the core of the biblical theology of woman:

The first is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This first line is spoken in the first-person—Mary’s soul—yet within the prayer of the Church, Mary articulates the fact that it is primarily in women, not men, where the locus for the revelation of God’s power is found. We see this everywhere in the Old Testament. I recently preached about Judith, and how after she defeating the invading army by cutting off the head of its general through a well-conceived plan of deception, she was spoken of as “the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation!” Similar patterns of God manifesting His will and power—God being magnified in the soul of women—can be seen in the other great figures. The soul of women magnifies the Lord, Mary is saying: more specifically, the faithful women of Israel. And we see this fact in Mark’s Gospel from the first to the last. The first person to imitate Jesus is a woman—Saint Peter’s mother-in-law—and the disciples who listen, learn, and follow Jesus’ teaching the best are women: at His crucifixion, women watch (which was Jesus’ command repeated many times), but the men disperse and are broken, the best example of which, ironically, is the son-in-law of the first to imitate Jesus, that is, Saint Peter. Furthermore, to learn how to be apostles, the Apostles looked to women: to Saint Mary Magdalene, called the apostle to the Apostles because of the resurrection message she brought to them, and to Blessed Mary during the ten days they were gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension and before the Day of Pentecost, when we can reasonably and prayerfully assume that Our Lady shared with the Apostles the wonderful stories of the Annunciation, the Presentation, the Finding of Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, and perhaps domestic miracles likely He performed within the confines of family life with Saint Mary and Saint Joseph. It was these stories that further empowered the Apostles to bust out with their proclamation upon the Coming of the Holy Ghost.

The second: “He has exalted those of low degree.” The significance of this cannot be over-stated. God bends down to the humble, down to the powerless, bends to the rejected. This is the Gospel proclamation! And yet, this was particularly significant in Mary’s day, because in the ancient world, the unmarried and childless were inferior and often excluded from the worshiping community. Infertility was a seen as a curse, and possibly reflective of sin committed. But to Sarah in her old age was given Isaac, to Rachel Joseph, to Hannah Samuel. Their infertility was reversed: the infertile one ultimately turns out to be the truly blessed (ibid., p. 18). In other words, the ability of women to participate not peripherally but as central characters in the divine action had nothing to do with biology. This participation, which is motherhood—true religious motherhood—is not about body parts, but it is about faith, humility, fidelity to God. And as the Church has from its beginning seen Mary as representative of the Church, we are ever taught by her, Our Lady, who in herself summarizes and incorporates into her being the meaning and significance of all of the great women before her: that God acts through His Church only when we are of low degree: humble, poor, patient, yet striving for complete fidelity to God, firm in our faith despite whatever place in society we might have.

Finally, let us ever-remember and cherish these words: “All generations will call me blessed.” Mary’s place in the Church must always be secure, therefore all she represents is likewise secure, in the central treasuries of our faith. And note how this is a direct commission to the Church: all generations will call me blessed—not “might,” or “could,” or “if one happens to have that piety,” or “if one is a Roman Catholic,”—no, no, no. All generations (she might have added, “despite denominational differences”) will call her blessed—meaning, veneration of Mary is not optional but demanded, if we are to rightly worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Rejoicing in Mary, rejoicing in the central importance of women as the anchor or ark of the new Covenant, means we rejoice fully in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.