On Christ’s Presence in the Upper Room

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2021.

We are taught today by Saint John the Evangelist (also known Saint John the Theologian) that God hath given us eternal life. And, he adds, this life is in His Son. This is to what Saint Paul is referring when he spoke of seeing God face to face. This is also what was described in the three synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in the Transfiguration of Jesus: the three disciples on the mountain with Jesus saw Him transfigured, which is a heavenly vision of His true reality and identity (both fully man, and fully God; or put another way, completely within our conditions of time and space, and at the same time completely beyond and outside time and space conditions).

Jesus in Saint John’s gospel account so often spoke of Himself using the phrase “I am”—I am the vine; I am the good shepherd; I am way, the truth and the life; I am the bread of life, and so on; in Scripture God also is recorded to have spoken this way, such as when Moses learned that God’s name is “I am whom I am.” The gift of eternal life through Christ, the goal of which is to behold God face to face, transfigured along with Him, our own being within God’s transfigured self: the vision of God is a participation in His I Am-ness, a participation that begins really and actually in this life through the Sacraments liturgically celebrated, and continues into the next, whereby we are invited to continually grow in God’s love and service. Each eucharist we celebrate is like another rung up the ladder to our goal, the divine reality in community with the triune God. Each Eucharist we receive allows us to become what we receive more and more, that we say with Saint Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” “Yet,” he adds, “not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

This is the mystery that the Upper Room church of 120 souls began to live into as they prayed with one accord in the sacred space Jesus appointed them to after His glorious Ascension. We are told that they prayed together with one accord—meaning, with one heart, with one central purpose, with one liturgy—and we are told that they were full of joy, indeed full of grace, for they had all taken on the heart of Mary, and begun to make her heart their heart, her heart becoming the heart of the Church: for Our Lady, Blessed Mary was with the Church in the Upper Room. And as the other 119 began to share together with Mary in the joyful recognition that Jesus is their light, Jesus is their salvation, and that the I Am-ness of Jesus is with them in the Upper Room, with them wherever two or three are gathered, with them in their heart whenever they call upon His most holy Name for mercy, with them in Holy Communion, with them through Scripture and the preaching of their brother and sister apostles (preeminently in the preaching of the Twelve)—as they began to share together in the joyful knowledge that Jesus is the Way, is the Truth, is the Life, every word of Mary (the bearer of God, or in Greek: the Theotokos) that she shared about her Son, especially the profoundly mysterious moments early in the life (the Annunciation, her Visitation with Elizabeth, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the losing and then finding of Jesus in Temple) had transfiguring power—Christ speaking through Mary—because the disciples in the Upper Room had experienced His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. The key for them to eternal life is the key for us: having in daily remembrance of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and ordering our lives—ordering our every day—around Jesus and His most holy Name, for this is how the Church renders unto Jesus most hearty thanks for the innumerably benefits procured unto us by Him.

This unfathomable recognition, indeed the true Mystery of Christ, is summarized by Our Lord’s words in our Gospel account today: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” For us, Christ showed Himself holy, that we might become holy through Him. All of what He revealed to the world during his three or four decades of human life was, and is, for our sakes—that we might be transformed, our hearts illumined and on fire, with true knowledge of Christ’s presence everywhere and in all places that, as Saint Paul taught the Church in Thessalonica, we may rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.

On Passion Sunday

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2021

We have come in the cycle of the Liturgy to the penultimate week before Great Easter, and the week prior to Holy Week, both of which encapsulate and make possible our participation in the most central realities of Christian identity. Here I refer to what the Church anciently has called the “Paschal Mystery”—Our Lord Jesus’s Passover from death to life: His Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Entombment, Resurrection, and Ascension. Enfolded into the Paschal Mystery is the Last Supper in the Upper Room and Our Lord’s institution of two Sacraments—the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

But today we are in the penultimate week, which since 1979 and the introduction of the new Prayer Book has called “the Fifth Sunday in Lent,” but which traditionally is called (and in many quarters of the western Church still is) “Passion Sunday.” The traditional Lenten pattern is four Sundays (which culminates in Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing) then the fifth (today) which is Passion Sunday, and then Holy Week—that’s Lent, which culminates itself with Easter which begins on Saturday in the Great Vigil and continues both into the Sunday as well as the next forty days until the Ascension, which reaches its culmination at the Coming of the Holy Ghost in Pentecost. Passion Sunday itself serves as a pivot point where our focus turns from our identity as a sinner (that is, our identity as people who are always in need of a savior) which is the first Lenten emphasis, to the second Lenten focus which is Our Lord and specifically His Passion.

To say all of this and to think on it all rather takes one’s breath away. These next weeks present to us one profound mystery after another—mystery upon mystery, mystery within mystery. It is in these next weeks that so many of the events, episodes, actions, and teachings of Jesus are encountered that truly help us to understand Paul’s emphasis that God also hath highly exalted Jesus, and given Him a name which is above every name—the holy Name Jesus, a name that means “saviour.”

Preparing us for the coming whirlwind of revelation is the purpose of Passion Sunday, and we see that even in our Collect: that through it all, we ask God that our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found. And where must this be but upon Jesus, His Passion, His Cross? Everything of reality and the proper understanding of reality hinges upon our understanding, our interpretation, of Jesus, His Passion, and His Cross. So much so that Our Lord taught that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. It is so marvelous that Our Lord had such compassion upon us that He would present so profound a mystery in such an ordinary and accessible metaphor: for grains of wheat must die before these can be ground into flour to able to become the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. Our Lord constantly taught His disciples that in order for Him to enter into His glory he must first die: but here He shows us that the glory that comes after His death is a glory we receive in our bodies in the Eucharist, a glory that feeds us, emboldens us, and transforms us.

It was for this purpose that He came to the hour of His Passion—that His Name, the holy and unfathomable Name of Jesus would be glorified as the Name above all names. It was for this purpose that He took upon Him our vesture, our flesh—that His Name would be glorified. It was for this purpose that He gave His life and He would be lifted up from the earth on the Cross—that His Name would be glorified among those drawn to Him, that His glory would be made known each and every time His Holy Name is uttered, spoken, and prayed. And it was for this purpose that He suffered—to show the purpose of suffering to His people, the purpose of which is learning obedience: which means for us, learning how to listen to God in times of suffering, learning how to trust God in times of suffering, and learning how to praise God in times of suffering—and learning through our suffering how Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

Living Baptismally, pt 10: Living with God’s Revelation to us through Christ

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Proper 16), 2020.

The young Church that began in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus were people that knew Scripture (here of course I refer to what is called now the Old Testament). Within this first parish Church (with, as Saint Luke tells us, an average Sunday attendance of one hundred and twenty, souls, all of whom were apostles, both men and women alike), were people whose whole lives had been lived within the profoundly pervasive influence of religious life according to the Scriptures. Certainly not all or even many were Scripture experts—for being expert in the Sacred Page has always been a calling for a very few; important, but numerically small. I mean rather that the Upper Room apostles had heard the stories of Moses, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob their whole lives; and likewise their parents and relatives, and all of their parents and relatives, as far back as anyone knew, potentially thousands of years. God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea—“heard it, maybe a thousand times!” they might have said if asked. The flood of Noah and the ark, same thing. And so many others stories in Scripture. These stories made up their imagination, made up their way of life, made up how they understand reality. It is impossible to overstate the deep-rooted effects of these stories every which way.

Another of these stories was water out of the rock, another of the stories of Moses. The people of Israel, having escaped debilitating slavery by extraordinary actions by God culminating with the Red Sea event, were thirsty, murmured against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” So, we are told, Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And, we are told, Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah (which means “proof”) and Mer′ibah (which means “contention”, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” It is a remarkable story, easy to remember, and inexhaustible for preaching and reflecting upon. And we see this reflected in the Psalms, which were the hymns of Jewish religion. Psalm 18 says, “My God, my rock in whom I put my trust.” God not only bring water out of the rock, but the rock is Him, and out of Him comes water. This is rich and formative of worldview. And that is precisely what happened century after century in Jewish religious life. And this formed the minds of the 120 Upper Room apostles like the story of the American revolution forms ours. Only much more so.

This is important to know as one considers the account of Saint Matthew of Jesus asking the disciples (and it appears here to be just the Twelve), “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Clear proof that these disciples knew Scripture!) Then then, masterfully, Jesus refines the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter famously responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter recognizes, for this moment at least, not the humanity of Jesus (for everyone saw that, obviously); rather, in this moment Peter recognizes the divinity of Jesus. He, Peter proclaims, is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the anointed and chosen one (spoken of throughout the Scriptures) and the Son of the living God (the Son of the God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets). In other words, Peter sees, at least enough to proclaim it, that in some sense, Jesus is the Rock. And if this is true, then it was Jesus speaking to Moses, Jesus commanding Moses to strike the Rock (which is Jesus), and water for the Jews coming out of Him. Truly, Peter can easily intimate, out of Jesus comes living water—He is the Messiah.

So Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father Who is in heaven.” It was not seeing Jesus—what He looked like, what He sounded like, what He said and taught, none of this—it was not seeing Jesus that gave Peter this deep insight. It was only a revelation from the Father, given to Peter. It was only an apocalypse (for apocalypse is what “revelation” translates) from heaven that, at this for this moment, opened the eyes of Peter to reveal Christ transfigured in some sense so as to cause Peter to proclaim Him the Son of the living God.

And so we easily proclaim with Paul, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!” And then, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” And let us, brothers and sisters, in celebrating with Paul our God and His gloriously profound mystery revealed only through Jesus Christ, be likewise thankful. Because seeing Jesus in person during His life provided no advantage to the Twelve and the 120 apostles, and seeing as we share with them the stories they knew and told themselves and proclaimed to the Church, about the words and deeds of Jesus, they (the young Church) are our contemporaries, the communion of the Saints means that living relationship with them, and together we are learning how to emulate the words of Peter given Him only by grace: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God: learning how to emulate them, and day by day, how to order our lives by them. Learning, with Peter and the apostles, how to live with the glorious revelation given unto us.

Baptismal Living, pt 8: Abiding in God’s Abundance

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13), 2020.

It is always important when reflecting on the Gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, as well as by Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John, that these authoritative accounts of Our Lord only began to be distributed some two, three, or four decades after the Day of Pentecost. Saint Paul’s epistles, which record his own apostolic preaching primarily about community life in and around the Cross and Sacraments, were written first, then the Gospel accounts. And what the four Gospel accounts capture are four traditions of apostolic preaching, less about sacramental community life, but about the words, deeds, and episodes in the of Jesus Christ. That is, we have the Matthew tradition, the Mark tradition, the Luke tradition, and the John tradition of those words, deeds, and episodes.

Very early on the Church decided, through guidance given by the Holy Spirit, that no fewer than these four accounts can give the full picture of Our Lord as He was preached by the Apostles. The four Gospel accounts, then, are apostolic preaching over several decades, always by the Light of the Cross, guided by the Holy Spirit, but also mediated by Scripture (what is called the Old Testament) and, it must be added, memory. For the early Church, starting in the Upper Room after the Ascension, the presence—the I Am-ness of Jesus—was made real and manifest through the prayerful process of scripturally mediated memory taught to the 120 Upper Room apostles by Our Lord Himself during that first Eastertide season. The threefold life of the Church that gestated in the Upper Room and was revealed on Pentecost is how the Church uses her scripturally mediated memory to be in communion with unfathomable mystery of God—adoring the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Son.

It was an unfathomable mystery of the feeding of multitudes that the apostles preached about. All four evangelists recorded such an episode—therefore we can be sure that this miracle was a clear historical basis. What it looked like to be there—that is, if someone had a video camera to record the event—neither you, nor I, nor anyone in the Church can say, which is precisely Our Lord’s intent. Our only access to the episode is the description recorded by the evangelists, today by S. Matthew, and the tradition of apostolic preaching based upon the active ferment of scripturally mediated memory.

And the mystery of it all is not only God’s abundant grace in the moment of the miraculous feeding, but how at the same time Our Lord declares the harmony of this miracle with the mysteries of ancient times. For despite a constantly presumptuous and stiff neck that refused to obey God’s commandments, God was always ready to forgive, gracious and merciful to the children of Israel under Moses. Despite having committed great blasphemies, they were not forsaken in the wilderness—the Holy Spirit of Christ was always given them for instruction, manna from heaven was never withheld from their mouth, and water from rock was always given them for their thirst.

This is why Saint Paul so emphatically teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—whether tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or any peril, nothing can separate us from God’s ability to bestow His nourishing and sustaining grace. Despite our stubbornness, despite our stiff necks, despite our hardened hearts that so often forget God, distrust God, and fail to call upon His Holy Name in the adventures and ordinary days of our lives, and as a result fashion idols in place of Him, God is always willing to feed with the bread of angels those who turn to him with meek heart and due reverence to the maker of all things, visible and invisible. This speaks directly to reason why Sunday worship is a true obligation: without this worship, we are not fed by God, and as a result fashion idols in our life to replace that feeding, as important to our spiritual life as air is to our mortal life. We crave the heavenly bread, and when we turn to God,  God in His immense wisdom and love sees fit that all eat, and that all are well-filled.

Baptismal Living, part 5: God in Us

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 10), 2020.

We have been ruminating upon the teaching of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, that “The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” And the reason it is a continual response, is because the mystery of Baptism is inexhaustible. Thinking about our baptism can never fail to take us into the heart of the faith—the heart of the mystery of Christ Himself, the mystery of His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. Because through Baptism, which unites us permanently with Christ—ingrafted into Him, incorporated into His Body—the events of His glorious life lived entirely on our behalf become the events of our life: that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. This is all part of the economy of salvation—that the life of Christ revealed to us through the life of the Church (fellowship with the apostolic doctrine, the breaking of bread, the daily prayer according to scripture) becomes the life we live. Jesus lived all the episodes captured in the books of the New Testament, and He spoke anonymously through the episodes captured in the books of the Old Testament) to bring our lives into His Life. Baptism is God’s seal and pledge to us, that being forever His, the more we cooperate with His grace offered freely to us, the more we will bear fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.

What Our Lord’s parable today, as captured by Saint Matthew, invites us to take seriously is what it means to be “good soil,” and what as a result we should do in our lives. Our Lord says to us that good soil is “he who hears the word and understands it.” What is clear is that the seed—which is God’s eternal Word, indeed Christ the Word, in us—is powerful beyond measure. Christ the Word performs awesome things, moves mountains in His power, stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves of insecurity, anxiety, and desolation; Christ the Word makes the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy, and He visits the earth and waters it abundantly with His grace, endless grace for His river is full of grace.

How do we receive this divine seed? By putting to death selfishness, blindness of heart, pride, vainglory, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice, and all want of charity is how we become good soil. By giving over all inordinate and sinful affections, and resisting the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, is how we become good soil. From avoiding false doctrine, heresy, schism, hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s Word and commandment, is how we become good soil.

Or, in a word, we are good soil through our humility. Humility—knowing that it is God Who has made us, and not we ourselves. Humility—knowing that without God’s grace we can do no good thing of ourselves. Humility—knowing that the eyes of the Lord are always upon us, and upon the baptized all the more. Humility—that the same Spirit Who hovered over the fact of the primordial waters hovered over the waters in the font at our baptism. The basic facts about God and about humanity ought constantly catch us in our sinful ways and draw us back to humility before God—draw us back to humility before the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Brothers and sisters, let us allow the fact that God’s Holy Spirit—God Himself, the gift Who proceeds from the Father sent by the Son—that God’s Spirit dwells in us throw us into humility, into peace, into restfulness. And let the restfulness of the fact of who we are calm the seas and storms of our emotions, our hearts, our minds. And let us recognize God alive in us, that He might lead us—for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And let us be humbled in knowing, according to the teaching of Saint Paul, that whenever we cry “Father!” such as in the prayer taught us by our Lord, the Our Father prayer, the Spirit Himself speaks through us, allowing us to say the Name Father, allowing us to the Name Jesus. As we pray to Our Father, day by day, we are crowned with goodness, and our paths made to overflow with plenty.

On Trusting the Lord and Doing Good

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

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Our Lord’s response to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” tells us these apostles had little or no active faith, at least at this point in the narrative from Saint Luke. They were certainly filled with an active and robust faith after the event of Our Lord’s Pascal Mystery—His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension—so much so that from the first day of the Church, the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost and the nature of Prayer was revealed—one of the dimensions of Christian Prayer from the first was holding steadfastly to the apostles teaching and fellowship, along with breaking bread and daily Office services. So knowing that the apostles were, by the end, so robust in their faith that they offered their lives to Christ, embodying Saint Paul’s teaching of being a living sacrifice—offering their souls and bodies, an example so strong that it entered into our liturgy at the Altar—we can give clear witness and our open, loving hearts to not the end of the story of the apostles’ and their journey into faith, but here in the middle—when their faith was smaller than the small seed of the mustard bush.

How does our Lord respond to this situation? He certainly does not sugar-coat His message—“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed (not even the whole seed, but a portion of it), you could say to this sycamine tree (which is a kind of mulberry bush), ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Quite a teaching! He believes in them, despite their little faith. He knows they are capable of great and wondrous things through His grace, despite their little faith at present. So his teaching is direct, yet filled with love and hope. There is in the teaching a seed of empowerment that would germinate after Pentecost when the apostolic Church remembered these and other teachings of Jesus, and saw them in the full light of the revelation of Christ.

And why, at this moment in the narrative, are they of little faith? We are not told directly, but the strong hint is that they were feeling deflated, and unable to live up to the high calling of following in the example of Jesus, unable to be as forgiving to others as Jesus would have them be. This is because directly preceding our Lesson is the teaching by Jesus that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is to that high calling that the apostles cry out, “Increase our faith!” And who can blame them?

Later in our Lesson Jesus teaches them, in effect the words of our Psalm: they need to put their trust in the Lord and do good—they need to be more humble and be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And while the Christian life that seeks to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways is rich and varied—for Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve; and furthermore Jesus will later teach to these same disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”—nonetheless within this rich and varied life of discipleship, there is a place for being a good soldier. There is a place for simply doing what we are told. There is a place for carrying our the orders of our Mission General, Jesus of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is teaching us that we will know Him in our humility. He is teaching us that we will know Him as we forgive those who trespass against us—indeed that when we forgive the sins of others, we will know forgiveness of our sins. We will know the relief of the removal of separation between ourselves and God’s mercy and peace. It takes faith to forgive trespasses against us. And yet, the more we forgive, the Church teaches us, the more our faith grows.

Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege”

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

There are times in parish life when our sense of living it is fairly simple and straightforward: love God, love neighbor through the threefold pattern of daily Offices, Masses on Sundays and holy days, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity flowing from our Baptism. This is Saint Luke’s account, stemming from the Upper Room, a kind of proto-parish. Yet there are times as well in parish life when our sense of living it is the opposite of all that: complicated, confusing and full of uncertainty—often through divisions within a parish, factions, in-fighting, and the like. This is Saint Paul’s account of the church at Corinth, which we can see also as a proto-parish. Parish life is both simple and complicated. Read more “Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege””

A Field Guide for Holy Week and Easter Week in Tazewell Parish

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the fountain of Catholic Faith. This cataclysmic event is intimately tied into the Sacraments, so we must see Easter (which along with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is called the Sacred Triduum of three Holy Days) as the anchor of our identity as Christians. These events, along with Palm Sunday beforehand, and Pentecost and Ascension afterward, form what we call the Paschal Mystery, the name for God’s plan for our salvation through the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus. The Paschal Mystery is really the heart of all Liturgy, and the entire liturgical year grows out of it. It is a passage through death to authentic life. This is why each Mass throughout the year is called a “little Easter.”

To the degree we are physically able, it is important that all participate in these liturgies—not as an exterior ritual but as immersion into the Eternal Truth of Christ so that we may be what we receive and show forth what we experience. Clear your calendar as much as possible during Holy Week and plan to attend Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and either the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday. Attending any additional weekday services enriches our prayer life all the more. Read more “A Field Guide for Holy Week and Easter Week in Tazewell Parish”