On Fear of the Lord and Our Prayer Life

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

“For behold, the day comes,” says God through the prophet Malachi, “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn the up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” This revelation through Malachi makes clear what is at stake in our service to God. The Lord will come like fire, and the wrongdoers among the people of God will be burnt to ashes. Those who fear the Lord, however, will experience the fire as a healing sun. The stakes, in other words, are high. The historic and traditional Christian faith is not about “playing church.”

In all things and in all expressions and in all circumstances, the root of real faith is fear of the Lord. And here again, we must bear in mind that “fear of the Lord” means not fright, but awe before the majesty of the Lord the maker of all things visible and invisible. Fear of the Lord, then, is an attitude. It is a disposition that we do not have like we have a mood—moods come and go; we have a mood of lightness one moment, a mood of heaviness another, a mood of optimism, then a mood of pessimism. The fear of the Lord is nothing like that. The fear of the Lord must be as everyday to us as is the recognition that the sky is blue, that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that dark follows day and day follows after night. So the fear of the Lord—awe at the majesty of God and His marvelous things, awe at His mercy and faithfulness, awe at His love for His creation, awe at the offering of Jesus for the world, awe at His suffering of death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone and thereby remove the sting of death for ever—the fear of the Lord is something so central to being a Christian that if it is something we do not thing that we have, we must ask God for His grace to give us this fear!

Brothers and sisters, let me emphasize that the primary means for asking for this grace to give us the fear of the Lord necessary for our salvation is the Liturgy—the daily prayer with the Offices or devotions in the Prayer Book in concert with the Mass are a system that was a revealed publicly on the Day of Pentecost with the Coming of the Holy Ghost. And the purpose of this system is entirely spiritual: to draw us into awe of God. Why is the Mass ordered the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. Why is daily prayer ordered in the Prayer Book the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. If these services, seen not as a collection of pious things to do but as a system or “regula” to work out our salvation, were not central to the Faith the Prayer Book would not have them at the front of the Book and Saint Luke would not have noted the revelation of them by God to the young Church on Pentecost.

Being faithful and mature Christians in our tradition means embracing the daily prayer and the Mass not as an obligation as much as an opportunity to again surrender ourselves to God, presenting to Our Lord our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Him—an opportunity for Him to take us into Him, and make us one Body with Him, that He—the maker of all things visible and invisible—may be one Body with us. And this is the seed that grows into true fear of the Lord. This is the seed that grows into a deeper ability to rest in God: for only in Him can our restlessness truly find rest. Our participation in the Liturgy is the seed that grows into the reliance upon God in all things: particularly reliance upon Him when the world tests us. We need to rely upon God in those moments, knowing that, as Our Lord Jesus taught His disciples, He will give us a mouth and wisdom. He will speak through our mouth.

The promises of Christ are high, indeed. They are high because the stakes are high. Without the fear of God implanted in our hearts, at His coming we will not be able to withstand the heat. But with it—the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing—that is, mercy—in its wings.

Homily: “On Seeking His Face”

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

We ask of our loving and glorious God in our Collect this week something quite appropriate to this season of penitence: We ask Him to be gracious to all who have gone astray from His ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast fast to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of His Word, Jesus Christ His Son. We are asking for God’s action in them, in us. We are asking for God to act first, and He always does. It is God who decides when a person can bear the weight of self-awareness of their sins. There are times in our life, even long stretches, when we are unable to bear the weight of self-awareness, of truth, of the reality of what we have done contrary to God’s will. Perhaps knowing it was wrong at the time, but in the subsequent flux and turning of life, have forgotten, or repressed our wrong actions, our wrong deeds, whether done or not done, said or unsaid. This is perhaps why those in the occupation of psychologist might never be unemployed.

Of course, God knows when we are ready. Our Collect is not trying to persuade Him to do something—to bring them again with penitent hearts back to Jesus, which means giving them penitent hearts in the first place, which means making them aware of their sins—we are not trying to persuade God to do something He would otherwise be inclined not to do. God always wants repentance, and He is always working and battling in our hearts for our hearts—the heart is the depth of one’s being, where a person decides for or against God. The heart is where the good angels of God battle against the fallen angels of Satan for our attention, for our obedience, for our devotion.

It is not attempts at persuasion, then, but rather our telling Him we are ready for our sins to be revealed—that our community, our Parish is ready for them to be revealed. For implicit in this Collect is the claim that our Parish life—our total life around the Cross through daily Prayer, Eucharist, and devotion to God’s creatures according to the sacred humanity of Christ revealed in Scripture, the threefold Regula or threefold pattern of total Christian life—our Parish life itself is ready to bear the burden of the knowledge of sins committed by individuals or by groups small or large within us.

This is where the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four men by lowering him through the roof takes on profound significance. It was not the faith of the paralytic that Jesus saw as much as the faith of the four men—this faith Jesus saw (belief acted out) and seeing the faith of the four men, Jesus healed the sins of the paralytic. Through the faith—the belief in God acted out through our corporate prayer life according to Regula—of our Parish, God heals the sins of those unable of their own to come to Jesus. Prayer, real prayer, is that powerful. The prayer life of our Parish has the real potential, if it is strong and regular enough, to show faithfulness to God such as to heal the sins of people unable of themselves to come to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, we are able to proclaim to God that we are ready to bear the burdens of the weight of self-knowledge of any sins we have committed—that is to say, proclaim the Collect authentically—not only because we are increasingly regular in our daily prayer, our reverence for the Eucharist, and our participation in the sacred humanity of Christ, but because, like Peter, James, and John after the Transfiguration—like Moses after receiving the Ten Commandments—we are filled with the light of Christ Who revealed His glorious nature in the Transfiguration that the verse of the psalm “The Lord is my light and my salvation” became very real. That the truth of the verse, “You, Lord, speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek” are direct instructions from our Master as to how to act, what to do.

Yes, because we are so close to the Light, our shadows become clearly delineated, even in haunting, and unsettling ways. But we are also close to the Light! Let us be strong and made stronger in our self-awareness, in our vulnerability, in our bleeding, in our abandonment of the needs for security, for approval, for control—strong and made stronger, not by our own efforts, but by the Lord Who holds His children in His hands and dresses our wounds, pouring His healing oil upon our wounds—and in so doing, showing us His beautiful and tender face—His face of goodness, love, and strength beyond measure.

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””

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 Emptying Ourselves for Jesus”

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

Our verses from Saint Mark give his account of Saint Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ and then the first teaching in Mark’s Gospel from Jesus about His death and resurrection, which is followed by Our Lord’s memorable description of true discipleship. These verses directly precede the account of our Lord’s Transfiguration on the high and holy mountain, which we reflect upon twice every year: the Sunday directly before Ash Wednesday and Lent, and the feast devoted to the event in August. And then the verses directly following give the Saint Mark’s account of the healing of a boy with a mute spirit, such a debilitating possession that the disciples are unable to cast out, which becomes the occasion for Our Lord’s teaching that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.”

I summarize these forty odd verses because these three groups of verses demonstrate a pattern we see throughout Mark’s gospel—his use of what scholars have playfully but usefully called “the Markan sandwich.” Read more “Homily: “On Emptying Ourselves for Jesus””

Homily: “On Abiding in His Love”

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

Jesus taught that if we keep His word, that we will abide in the love between Him and the Father. As mysterious as that may sound, Jesus appears to have intended that to be accomplished through relatively simple means. The means that the disciples were given amounts to what is called the “Rule of the Church” (or Regula): the Eucharist, their daily prayer life flowing out of their Jewish tradition, and fellowship of service toward each other reflecting on their experiences of Jesus in the light of the Sacred Scriptures—all to find the way to do a new thing: abide in the love of God through Christ crucified. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in His Love””

Homily: “Religion and the Dark Night of the Soul”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 24, Year C).

Luke’s introduction to this parable is unusually explicit. This is a parable, he writes, about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. I could stop my homily right here because this is straight teaching about religion, straight teaching about parish life, and straight teaching about how to make Mission happen: pray always and do not lose heart. If there is an open secret in the religious life, at the center of it all, it is that.

The majority of the time, teachings about religion in the Gospels requires a bit more work to find. If the Gospels are like a tall tree, full of the most wondrous and delicious fruit ripe on its branches, the teaching that we need to pray always and not lose heart would be a fairly low-hanging fruit, able to be reached by the wee-est of children. It may not be easy to follow — for to pray always is something of a challenge, and the instruction to not lose heart is good and holy until, well, we lose heart and are left wondering, Ok, what do I do now?

To lose heart at times throughout our life, whether a day here or a day there, or even for longer spells, should never be regarded as alien to our pilgrimage, but a natural part of it. In fact, when we grow into maturity in the Christian faith, the journey in some respects does not get easier, but harder: each morning when you wake up can be a profound test of faith.

There is no more dramatic recent example of this than Mother Teresa, Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Dark Night of the Soul””