On Our Hope in Christ’s Resurrection

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

A blessed and glorious Easter to you all. And our Easter together is blessed and glorious because as was said at the beginning of Mass in the Introit: I am risen and am present with thee, Our Lord Jesus says to us, and says to His holy Church. He is risen and present: risen, of course because He is always risen, He is the Eternal Word of God, He through Whom all things are made—yes, He is risen; but He is risen and present with us. He is not risen and gone far away; He is risen and is present to us, present with us. He is with us as we carry our cross and follow Him; He is present with us as we stumble and fall. Through His guiding Hand we are able to stand up and carry on in the struggle, and do so with joy: often quiet joy, through the chances and changes of this life, but joy nonetheless. His very Name means “God with us”: Emmanuel. And He spoke to Moses at the Burning Bush and revealed His Name: “I am,” so did Jesus say to Mary Magdalene at the tomb; so did Jesus say to the disciples along the way to Emmaus: He said to them and to us: “I am.” He says this so we can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

And so it is because He is risen, and it is because He is present with us, that we on the Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, are given access to hope. Through Christ and His glorious Resurrection, true Christian hope is attainable: for Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, awaiting day by the day the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God’s purpose in the world. This Christian understanding of hope is the Easter message, as it flows directly from Our Lord’s Resurrection, from Our Lord’s passage through death, going before us—even trampling down death by death; with His death destroying death itself, destroying its power over us, and taking away any need to fear death: for by His rising to life again in our hearts He has won for us everlasting life, and what can give more hope than that?

Christians, from the first, are a practical people. The Easter message is hope given through Christ’s Resurrection, yet the practical question remains: Yes, but how? And the how of Easter hope is shown in the accounts of the Gospel by the holy evangelists, and from their accounts the question “how?” is seen to have three practical answers: the first is Faith, the second is Scripture, and the third is Sacraments. It is through Faith, Scripture, and the Sacraments that the promise of hope through the Resurrection of Jesus is realized.

Faith we see in the early morning of the first Easter, in the example of Saint Mary Magdalene. It is her faith that brings her to the tomb in the first place—faith in the honor and reverence due to the Body of Jesus, which she thinks is still laying the tomb. And because of her faith, she sees the stone rolled away from the tomb: rolled away not so Jesus can escape, but so that we (with Mary Magdalene) might enter in to the Mystery of Jesus. And in her discovery of the empty tomb, and her hearing angels speak of Christ’s Resurrection, and then meeting the Gardener who after speaking Mary’s name is revealed as Jesus Himself, we see Mary’s faith rewarded with the saving presence of Jesus which transforms Mary’s heart and empowers her apostleship. Faith always comes first.

What feeds our faith is exactly what fed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We see faith in them—imperfect faith that was clouded with misunderstanding of Jesus, but still an active relationship with Jesus and a desire for Him. To remedy their imperfect faith, Christ fed them Himself through the Scriptures, expounding unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. It is the Scripture that feeds us, feeds our faith, and corrects our faith—and this is done through the Liturgy day by day in the Office, Sunday by Sunday and Holy Day by Holy Day in the Mass, and then through our personal devotion to Scripture, carrying into our study of Scripture the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

And, likewise, what feeds our scriptural faith are the Sacraments—specifically Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism—as in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey: the life of a Christian is a continual reflection upon the fact of our Baptism; and Eucharist, because Our Lord became Flesh, became the heavenly bread, that in our receiving of Him in Holy Communion, He might dwell among us, dwelling in our heart, and feeding our heart’s transformation.

Brothers and sisters: the Easter message is Hope, only through Christ’s Resurrection: and this message let us receive through our Faith, which yearns and desires deeper relationship with Jesus; and through the opening of Scripture and breaking of bread, which reveals Him as the Crucified and Risen One, the very Jesus Who draws our hearts to Him, that He might burn within our heart. 

On S. Joseph, Guardian of the Church’s Divine Nature

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

Saint Joseph is a powerful Saint. He has a powerful intercession on behalf of us to Jesus. Of this there can be no doubt, for after all, it was part of God’s economy of salvation for Joseph to have the vocation of guardian and protector both of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, and Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In the economy or plan of God’s salvation through His Son Jesus, there are no accidents, but all is of His loving and infinitely wise providence. This is why we sing of Joseph, whose glory fills the Church with praises: Joseph, the blessed and most chaste spouse of Blessed Mary, is called by God to be the best of protectors. And God chosen Joseph for this vocation, knowing of Joseph’s humility, glad spirit, and adoring nature. God never puts on our shoulders more than we can handle; but He also never puts on less. He put this responsibility upon Joseph’s shoulder because God knew Joseph would be able not only to handle the responsibility, but to exercise his responsibility most competently and always giving glory to God. God has given Joseph grace and honour in ways wondrous to the Church from the beginning, and wondrous to us today who venerate him.

In the ancient images of Joseph, such as we have here, Joseph is painted holding the Son of God, the very same Son of Mary, close to himself, as if Jesus sits on Joseph’s left arm. The intimacy between the two is evident in how Joseph holds Jesus with both hands, a symbol of Joseph’s God-given instinct of protection and strength. And notice too how Our Lord Jesus responds in the icon to Joseph, placing not one but two hands on his. The peace between the two is palpable: the peace of Son and father (and let us not be confused: of course the true and only Father of Jesus is He Who is the maker of all things, visible and invisible; thus Joseph, called even by Mary as the father of Jesus, was father not in terms of parentage but by virtue of his fatherly love and care of Jesus and Mary).

Imagine the heart of Joseph, brothers and sisters. Imagine his heart as he beheld Jesus from birth unto however old Jesus was when Joseph’s earthly life ran its course; beholding Jesus Who so trusted Joseph that Our Lord was to Joseph subject, submissive, and obedient. Imagine the heart of Joseph, quietly and inwardly savoring the love between Jesus and His Mother Mary. Imagine, too, the heart of Joseph as he courageously and decisively protected his family against the coming onslaught of Herod, even as they escaped to Egypt; and likewise the heart of Joseph as he protected Mary and Child on not one but two voyages home: to the first home of Bethlehem (home because of Our Lord’s birth) and to the second home in Nazareth. The strength, the resilience, the perseverance, steadiness, the internal fortitude of Joseph—in all ways the ideal father.

And let us also reflect upon the heart of Joseph found his betrothed spouse Mary to be with child of the Holy Ghost. Now, some may say this reflects a moment of weakness and disbelief on the part of Joseph; they therefore suggest Joseph suspected Mary to have known another man, and thus she is to be put away privily, to save her the humiliation of being known as an adulterer. But none of this is so. Notice that Saint Matthew does not say, Mary was found with child; but he says that Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost; meaning, it was made evident to Joseph from the first of the Child’s divine parentage. Joseph’s struggle, then, was not with Mary’s faithfulness. Rather, Joseph’s struggle was about whether this act of God should be private or public.

It was to this discernment that the angel Gabriel again spoke to Joseph in a dream, confirming that the Son of Mary is the Saviour, He shall save His people from their sins. And to Joseph was revealed the Holy Name, as it had been revealed at the Annuncation to Mary: to Joseph, Gabriel declared: “and thou shalt call His Name Jesus.” To Joseph was shared the Name above all other names, the Name unable to be said without the Holy Spirit.

Along with Mary, Joseph is guardian of the Holy Name, and thereby guardian of the Incarnation. Along with Mary, Joseph guards the truth that the Father of Jesus is divine. And because Jesus is divine, His Body the Church is also divine, with divine parentage. Everything, therefore, of the Church is divinely ordered, divinely arranged, divinely organized—the Scriptures, and the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the way they are because the Sacraments are heavenly and divinely arranged: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation; Matrimony, Unction, and Confession; and of course Holy Orders—all extend the ministry of Jesus; all extend Him; and all are arranged and ordered and organized divinely as Jesus Himself is the Son of the Father in heaven. Just as Joseph did not recoil but held firm as the divine plan of God unfolded through Mary, so Joseph reminds us to not recoil but hold firm to the truth that the traditional, catholic, and orthodox validity of the Sacraments is found only when their divine arrangement and ordering is accepted, cherished, celebrated, and protected.

All of this, and unfathomably more, is Joseph’s witness to the Gospel that we venerate today. Joseph indeed is guardian to the unfathomable, his words forever under the seal of confidentiality in Christ, yet his presence immediately available to us as we reflect upon his witness in silence, prayer, and awe.

Blessed Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and guardian of the divine nature of the Church and her Sacraments: pray for us!

On Baptism as the Trinitarian Life of Adventure

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2020.

The celebration of the Church on Trinity Sunday is a celebration of the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us. Word is made flesh through the Cross and is made flesh in the Sacraments, that we might participate actively in the wholeness of God, which is the baptismal life. The baptismal life—life day by day—is a trinitarian life of adventure on the sea, on the waters in our ship of prayer, where amid the unpredictable waters of life, God finds us even as we call upon His Name.

Calling upon His Name is certainly something I have been doing over these last twelve weeks. And I will readily admit it has been a kind of plea for help. Our social lockdown has been a period the best we can say about is that it has been profoundly boring—day by day with little to do, although some of us were fortunate enough to be gainfully busy with our jobs, and some of us profoundly worried because of being in a high risk medical situation. And then, as if that mess was not plenty, onto to something like the world on fire, not so much because of peaceful protests and marches (which are a very American thing to do of course) but through destructive looting and violence that has set many cities around the world on fire, destroyed businesses large and small (ironically and tragically many being African-American businesses) to compound uncertainties we already faced because of pandemic.

Day by day, as the news got not getting decidedly better, but decidedly worse, I have wondered daily where is God in all this? Perhaps you have asked this question yourselves. Now, the Word of God is God Himself given to us for daily bread, and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the Word of God has been kept, treasured, and fed upon daily in our Parish without fail, either in All Souls’ Chapel, or in my home with my family in daily prayer, and I know in other homes in our parish. And yet, amid high anxiety and often horror of the happenings of the world, perhaps we have asked still: “Where is God in all this?”

We the Church have been like Elijah, who was told by God to “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And we are then told in the story in the First Book of the Kings, chapter 19, “behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” And then we are told that “when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Eli′jah?’”

It is an amazing, and amazingly odd, question for God to ask Elijah. What are you doing here? But let us ask ourselves: What are we doing here, brothers and sisters? The Apostle Paul prods us in the same way: “Examine yourselves,” he says, “to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” The realization that this is the case—that indeed Jesus Christ is in you, is in me, is in all the baptized ontologically, that is to say permanently, is a realization that comes to us as a still, small voice once the more spectacular fireworks of life fall away from present attention when confronted by the Word of God. And how are we confronted by the Word of God? Quiet prayer in our homes with Bible and Prayer Book is a very Anglican way to be confronted—and comforted—by the Word of God. In those moments, we are Elijah on the holy mountain, the world around in chaos, but swept up in God’s presence through it all.

And it is especially Anglican, which is to say patristic, to be confronted and comforted by the Word of God through the Psalms. I sent out at the beginning of the lockdown a passage about praying with the Psalm by Alcuin, something he wrote well over 1,000 years ago. If it has lasted this long to speak to us and teach us, it must have permanent value in it. Amongst his teaching on the Psalms are these: “In the Psalms may be found, if approached with an intent mind and a spiritual understanding, the Incarnation of the Lord the Word, His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.” In the Psalms we find these, he teaches! He continues: “With an intent mind you may also discover a secret prayer that you could in no way devise for yourself. In the Psalms,” he continued, “you will find an intimate way of confessing your sins, and a sincere mode of pray for the divine mercy of the Lord.” The Psalms teach us how God speaks most tenderly to His children. And lastly, Alcuin wrote, “You may also perceive through them the hidden work of divine grace in everything that happens to you.”

Brothers and sisters, all of this is teaching we need to be mature Christians, and so our spiritual lives must be rooted in the Psalms, for they are the most reliable way to learn how to discern God’s presence in our lives. From the beginning, the early Church turned to the Psalms to make sense of the Cross and the Mission Jesus had given them upon His Ascension. When we pray the Psalms (both liturgically in Office and Mass, as well as personally, as many do such as when they are confused or grieving), we express our desire to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to us by Saint Peter on Pentecost. And in receiving the Holy Spirit through the Psalms broken open, through all of Scripture broken open—by what? broken open by Christ Crucified and Him alone—we receive Christ because giving witness to Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

And in receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, we likewise receive the Father, the primordial creator of all things seen and unseen, visible and invisible—because in so receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught the Twelve in the Upper Room that Jesus is in the Father, and we in Jesus, and Jesus in us. Grappling with the arresting and profound fact is the test spoken of by Saint Paul, and it is what it means to truly embrace the baptismal life, a life plunged into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That know and order our lives by the fact that He is with us—through thick and thin, through the wind, and the rocks and the earthquake and the fire—that He is with us, always available to be heard through His still, small voice.

Brothers and sisters, a mind that has heard the still, small voice of the Blessed Trinity is like a person who finds a fully equipped ship at sea, and having gone aboard, it brings him from the sea of this world to the isle of the age to come.

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 Being the Tax Collector

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

Let us be clear—to fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that we get are not at all bad things. In this season when we reflect on stewardship and reflect on our giving of ourselves to the Church in terms of our time, our talent, and our treasure, fasting is a good and holy practice, for it supports the deepening of prayer: prayer and fasting together is one of the primary ways we give our time to Church, and tithing (that is to say, giving 10% of our earnings to the Church) is the primary way of offering our treasure to the Church. The Pharisee is held up as the example of what not to do in prayer. That is clear: yet let us not regard necessarily the activities he lists as in and of themselves negative examples as well. For that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So, then, what is the bathwater? Saint Luke makes it clear that the bath water is the tendency we have to trust in ourselves and despise others. That is, to think we are uniquely held in God’s favor—to think “I, I am special”—and at the same time to be judgmental towards others as a result of our personal specialness. The bathwater is this whole attitude. This attitude moves God lower that He is. Rather than exalting God, this attitude exalts the self. Every one, Our Lord says, who exalts himself will be humbled. Every one who exalts himself will have a hard and difficult road. And not only individuals, but perhaps moreso parish communities. Saint Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians demonstrate this unrelentingly. Because the church at Corinith is not living in humble recognition of the Cross, is not living in humble embodiment of the gift of baptism, is not living in humble holy fear of the Sacraments—because they are not being stewards of God’s holy mysteries, the Sacraments including the Sacrament of the Cross—things are not going well for their parish, their parish is not healthy, their parish is not growing. Saint Paul’s whole teaching in the two epistles to the Corinthians can be understood as him trying to teach them to be more like the tax collector, and stop acting like the showy Pharisee.

What does it mean to be more like the tax collector? It begins in the recognition heard in Jeremiah, the words: “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.” Righteousness means right-relationship, and these words from Jeremiah express right relationship. God is in the midst of us. God, the maker of all things, maker of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, is in the midst of us. And the baptismal and eucharistic mystery is that He is in our bodies, and our bodies are in Him. Our baptized bodies are God’s temples. He is closer to us than our own breath. God is always watching us, God knows our thoughts, God knows our desires, God already knows our faults and sins. He sees us when we are sleeping; He knows when we are awake; He knows when we’ve been bad or good. He is in the midst of us.

And we are called by His Name. We are called to Him; He calls us into existence, and desires to call us continually into His love. He, through the work especially of the heavenly host of angels including our guardian angel, guides us, protects us, forms our conscience. Indeed He allows us to screw up; He allows us to fall so that in falling, we are reminded that we must turn to God to properly stand up and walk again in newness of life.

And why? Because He is God, and He is a jealous God Who craves our trust in Him. Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord, we recited. And it is the biblical faith to entirely trust God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind. Because in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, He upholds the universe by his word of power. And by His word only do we enjoy His mercy. By His word only are we healed.

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 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 Love Itself as Understanding”

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

Our Collect today invites our prayer to a profound truth, despite its wording being rather commonplace, and even cliche. It begins with these words: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” What this reflects is the fact that knowledge and love are all the same—that, for Christians, love itself is understanding (William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, 57.) What we do, our actions, our behavior, our prayer, must, if it is going to be Christian action, Christian behavior, Christian prayer, live out our beliefs. Our words that profess what we believe throughout the Liturgy of the Church, whether in Mass or daily Offices, have to find expression in our bodily actions—concretely, actually, and palpably. For us, taught by Jesus Christ and learning within the fellowship of the Church, knowledge and love are all the same: Love itself is understanding. Read more “Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding””

Homily: “On the Saturday Sabbath”

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

We have asked in our Collect this week that our loving triune God put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which are profitable for us. It is a fitting petition for us at this time, being as we are on the heels of Whitsunday and the Coming of the Holy Spirit, because it is precisely profitable things that we asked for in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—both in the traditional expression of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and in our local expression, where we asked for gifts that include 3-5 new families at both churches, a vocation to the diaconate, and a game plan to meet the homebound and lonely outside of our church membership but within our geographic parish. In other words, this is a season for asking for profitable things from God. And we should never hold back from the Maker of all that is, seen and unseen, our desire for profitable things. For as Saint Luke records of Our Lord Jesus, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The reason why it is not only permissible but advisable for us to ask God for 3-5 new families at both churches, a vocation to the diaconate, the game plan to meet the lonely, and the rest of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is also captured by our Collect. For He who hears our prayers and know the secrets of our heart set in order all things both in heaven and earth by His never-failing providence. Our lives are always in His loving hands. Just as God has designed the laws of music so that beautiful and infinite harmonic combinations are possible, God has set the laws of creation so that the things of creation—“creatures” whether animate or inanimate—can participate in the activity of God (and this is really what the Ten Commandments are: laws of creation, laws of of creation in relationship with itself and with God) but even more so, be the means by which God’s will is known. God makes Himself known through creatures.

This is the principle of “mediation,” that creatures mediate, or are a medium for, God’s salvific grace. We do not worship creatures, of course—we only worship God, and we shall have no other gods before Him. But we do, and we should, not worship creatures, but venerate creatures. To venerate is to recognize the holiness of God’s presence in things. We do not worship Mary and the Saints, we venerate them because God is present in them in remarkable and even outrageous ways. In venerating Mary and the Saints, we worship God Who was present in their lives, their words and deeds, and present in their sorrows and challenges.

Despite what seems often advertised, Christianity is not an intellectual religion, but an incarnational religion, meaning in a body, in a creature. Christianity has rightly been called the most materialistic of religions because of the high value it places on the body and on all creatures. It is this fact that undergirds the entire sacramental system, whereby through ordinary means—bread, wine, water, oil, the laying-on of hands, vows exchanged—become saturated with extraordinary grace. And the general principle of sacramentality is derived from the Seven Sacraments: it is in God’s power to use anything created as a medium for His grace.

And because God speaks through creatures, our relationship with the created world—our relationship with creation, in short—takes on theological significance. If God’s voice seems silent or barely a whisper, if His presence seems obscured or even gone, the likely cause is disharmony with the local community, disharmony with the local society of people, animals, and land. It is not that their ideals must drive ours. Far from it! It is God’s ideals that we must follow, but we must be the agents for God’s ideals wherever we are. Holy and upright in trying to follow in the footsteps of God, we are also called to love our neighbor, which means meeting them where they are, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

The task of meeting people around us where they are—particularly where they are emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually—is the hard labor of God’s harvest. This is where the rubber meets the rad. How true are the words of Our loving Lord Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Meeting people around us where they are is filled with ebbs and flows, missteps, miscalculations, and above all it can simply be draining.

And it is for this reason that we not only have the Eucharist every Sunday for spiritual replenishment through the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacred Scriptures, and our fellowship, but also the Saturday Sabbath. The Saturday Sabbath is a tradition that has been obscured, weathered over, and even utterly forgotten in our day. Why it has been obscured or forgotten might have something to do with our general attitude towards creation itself—an attitude that too often seems to emphasize exploitation of creation rather than stewardship of creation. Yet for the Church today, a Church that finds itself still in the hands of our Loving Lord, and indeed challenged by Him to make stronger commitments to local mission, to local evangelization, the old tradition of the Saturday Sabbath is long due for a return.

Why do I say so? For two reasons. The first is that the Sabbath is the weekly occasion to remember and meditate upon God’s creation. It was on the seventh day that God rested from His work. And He blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it. On this day, God venerated His creation, venerated His creatures, saw in them their profound goodness. All creatures are very good in the eyes of God.

And this is what it means for Jesus to teach, “The sabbath was made for man.” God made the Sabbath—to use contemporary parlance, he “modeled” the Sabbath—so that in being a model, His children would follow in His behavior. It is God’s will that we find some meaningful time on Saturday to emulate Him: to meditate on God’s wondrous creation, to give thanks to God for His wondrous creation, to simply witness His mighty acts of creation. This is perhaps the simplest way to receive the gift of Holy Fear: to marvel at what God has made, and to do so on any way that inspires you: His acts mighty and broad, His acts small and local. The little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun. He gave us eyes to see them, and it is most fitting to do so on the seventh day of creation each week: Saturday recapitulates all of creation, and God made Saturday for man: that we might revere Him and His actions.

Because—and this is the second reason for recovering Saturday Sabbath— doing so cultivates peace; the peace that springs from thankful recognition for what God has done for us, for His people, for all of creation; the peace that flows from the Eucharist into our hearts; the peace we need for right relationship with God; the peace we need for mission, because we are God’s agents of peace in Tazewell County—indeed, the peace of God that passes all understanding, that our hearts and mind might be kept in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ. God, ever grant us this peace. Amen.

Icon of the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Day of Pentecost, 2018.

In terms of centrality to the Christian experience, everything we do, indeed everything we are, revolves around Easter and the resurrection of Christ crucified. For if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, and all who have fallen asleep are truly perished out of existence. Without Easter, much of what we do would be better characterized not by “Let us pray,” but “Let us play.” The rite of baptism would be an ineffectual ceremony of water, the Eucharist would be an empty symbol of bread and water, and on and on. Read more “Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost””