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 the Conversion of S. Paul

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle (observed), 2020.

Today we are celebrating the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, it being the patronal feast of title for our church [in Pekin]. It is truly a celebration of the whole Church, because so much of the life of the Church has come in being because of this moment when, at midday, Paul along the road to Damascus on yet another mission of persecution saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around him and those who journeyed with him. And when everyone had fallen to the ground, Paul heard a voice speaking to him which said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Why are you kicking against the goads?” To which Paul responded, “Who are you, Lord?” and then heard, “I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.”

And Jesus clearly states His purpose with Paul again by saying that through Paul’s ministry the Jewish and Gentile people “may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” It is this moment from which so much of the life of the one Church of Christ has grown, and continues to grow. This heavenly vision altered the course of human history immeasurably, and we Christians will for all times savor the mystery of this moment, live in the mystery of this moment, and be guided by what the mystery of this moment continues to reveal to us, that we can witness to the mystery in our lives in the world.

Our Collect affirms the sturdy belief of the one Church of Christ that the preaching of Paul cause the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. This is why it is so fitting to keep this holy day during the season of Epiphanytide. For it is during this season in particular that in reflecting upon the mystery of the Word made flesh (the broader theme of the Nativity of Christ, not only of Blessed Mary but also how Christ is born in our hearts) we give thanks that our heavenly Father hast caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of the Father’s glory in the face of His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord. Celebrating the Conversion of Paul fits perfectly in this because, just as in Paul’s heart Christ was born through the presence of the Holy Spirit and the words of God deeply heard, we too have the beginning of Christ being born in our hearts at our Baptism at which the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of the baptismal font along with the words of God.

Yet our baptism must never be thought of as a one-time saving event, which remains efficacious no matter how sinfully we live our lives afterwards. Our salvation is not a transaction that happens at our baptism; rather, baptism is the beginning of the process of salvation (the name for which is sanctification), an ongoing journey in which we grow into deeper relationship with Jesus and, through Him, deeper relationship with the Father all by means of the Holy Ghost. We see all of this dramatized in Paul’s life. The Pharisee Paul knew the Scriptures very well, yet he could not properly interpret them. He had a relationship with God, but only barely. It was not until the holy Deacon and Martyr Saint Stephen was on trial did Christ begin to soften Paul’s hardened heart. In Stephen Paul saw the face of an angel, and in hearing Stephen’s testimony, Paul not only heard the proper interpretation of the Scriptures—in which page after page Jesus is found if one knows how to look—but also heard Stephen’s account of the heavenly vision Stephen was given. Paul’s heart softened still more, despite signing off on the stoning of Stephen. The seed planted in Paul’s heart by the blood of the martyr Stephen finally popped forth with its fragrant bloom as Paul was along the road to Damascus. And now Paul knew Christ, because Christ knew him, and shortly afterwards Paul received the Sacrament of Baptism, and began to preach the faith he once tried to destroy.

It is the movement of the Spirit in Paul’s heart that for us and for the whole Church is such an example. From incorrectly knowing the Scriptures to preaching in unfathomably profound ways about it once Paul truly knew Christ—which was catalyzed by Stephen’s witness, when Stephen undoubtedly was given to words to say by the Spirit of the Father, words Stephen proclaimed being on the edge of death, words so pregnant with transformation that Stephen’s murderer became the primary Apostle of the Church in her first decades.

Brothers and sisters, let us constantly have Paul’s wonderful conversion in remembrance, that the icon of it may quiet our minds and through that stillness, increase our awareness of the power of God to transform our hearts the more we open ourselves to Him in humility, and abandon ourselves at His feet, that we day by day might also hear the still, small voice of God.                   

On Fleeing to Our Transfigured Jesus

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

One of the main points of my preaching last Sunday was that the Gospel teaches us that whenever we feel wronged by another person, flee to Christ and ask Him by prayer for help. And to be more specific, ask Him in your prayer for help to pray for the person who you feel wronged by. When we feel wronged, we are hurt and wounded. It matters not whether the incident that caused the wound was today, last week, last year, last decade, last century—it matters not whether the incident that caused the wound happened in our adulthood, our adolescence, or even our early childhood: we often try to forget what all went into the moment that caused the hurt (and psychologists call this repression)—what was said, how it felt, and the rest; but when we call it to mind (“unrepress it” you might say) real hurt is often as painful today as it was when it happened. And for this hurt, for this wound, the Church teaches us to flee to Christ, and to ask Him by direct prayer for help to pray for the person who you feel wronged by.

This is so very important for many reasons: doing this acknowledged God’s power and sovereignty as Creator of all; it puts us in right relationship with God through our humility as His creature; and this simple act in effect is a profession of faith in the Resurrection of Christ, because it is only through the Resurrection of Christ that our hearts can be lifted, that our hearts can be filled with charity and peace—and this goes also for the person who caused the wound in our heart, to ask God for help in praying for the person who wronged us we are acknowledging that God is active in the perpetrator’s heart, and through the Resurrection soften that person’s heart. Praying for another person is the primary way we seek and serve Christ in them.

But what comes prior to asking for help to pray for the person is fleeing to Christ. That simple phrase—fleeing to Christ—means we call Him to mind, and the most direct way to do that is to call an image of Him, an image we have gained through our life in the liturgy and having the scriptures opened and the bread broken. There are so many images or icons (“icon” means image; “image” means icon) that we have in our memory, moreso the longer we are active Christians growing in the faith. Since the season of Advent we have had the icon of the nativity, the icon of the Wise Men from the east bringing gifts and worship, the icon of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan which reveals the holy Trinity, the icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the icon of Jesus preaching His sermon on the mount—and now, as we enter into the season our Lenten observance, the Church provides us with the stunning and mysterious icon of Christ transfigured on the holy mountain.

The Psalmist David gives us the words “Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God; he is the Holy One.” The transfiguration of Jesus is the experience that lies behind those words. In the transfiguration the Church find what the great of God feels like, and what holiness looks like. Before the apostles Peter, James, and John Jesus was transfigured, His face shining like the sun, his garments white as light. Let us be able by grace to flee to this image, this icon of Who Jesus truly is. I am talking about imagining ourselves on the holy mountain with Peter, James, and John—and Moses and Elijah.

Undoubtedly that was another question the three apostles had for Jesus as they walked down the mountain: “by the way, Lord, who were the two on your right and left that you were talking to?” “It was Moses and Elijah,” Jesus must have said in response. And to help the disciples to be able to enter into the transfiguring light of Christ after His Ascension, the very first acts of Christ Resurrected was to teach how the scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms speak of Him: He did this on the first Easter morning with the two disciples walking to Emmaus, and He did that that Easter evening with the disciples gathered back in the Upper Room.

And this remains today the way to experience the transfiguration of Christ: to read the scriptures commonly called the Old Testament properly, as Christ Himself taught—in John’s gospel Jesus says, “Moses wrote of me”—is to be caught up in the stream of redemption by God Who has never not been speaking to men, women, and children, never not been guiding men, women and children into His likeness and the image of true humanity given us by God: speaking and guiding people from the beginning to help them understand the Christ has made all of us His own, and that by learning how to hear His guiding, loving, healing voice through the scriptures, we would ever be drawn closer and closer toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us this Lent flee to Christ—flee to the heavenly image of Christ, Whose face shines like the sun, with garments white as light. Flee to Him, because from His Face of Light in our heart and mind comes love, comes peace, and comes healing.

On Being Salt and Light

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

Our Jesus said “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” And He adds: Till heaven and earth pass away, nothing—not iota, not dot—will pass from the law until all is accomplished. About the centrality of the law and the prophets, Our Lord and Saviour is unambiguous. And this was underscored on the very day of His Resurrection, when in walking with the two disciples towards Emmaus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets—that is, the Law and the Prophets—He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself, and how they described and gave explanation of how Christ needed to suffer in order to enter into his glory. He underscored this again later that evening when the young Church was gathered in the Upper Room, again emphasizing that everything written about Him in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.

The predominant significance, then, of Our Lord’s teaching—“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them”—is scriptural: we cannot understand Christ without the Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament). If the Church could, then there would be no need for Christ in His resurrected Body explaining to the young Church how to find Him in Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. A helpful image to have about the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament, is this: they are a thesaurus. Why do we use a thesaurus? We use one when we are looking for other words to describe the word we have. The thesaurus is a treasury of words and the relations between words in the whole of language. The Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament, is the same: they are a treasury of words and images that the Church has used from the beginning, through the help of Jesus, to find words to describe Jesus Who is the Eternal Word, as well as the relations between the Christ the Eternal Words and all other words and images. So to understand anything about Christ—Who He is, How He lives, How He is the Son of God, what He taught, and so forth—we must look at the treasury given to us to understand Him: that treasury is Scripture.

Saint Matthew records two memorable teachings from Our Lord: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” In this Epiphany season, “light” has been an overriding emphasis in our Liturgy, captured and concentrated in our celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the wondrous words of old Simeon, that our Lord, even as a 40-day old Child, is the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to His people Israel. It is in this sense that we—incorporated into His Body through Baptism and nourished by Him in the Eucharist—are to be light: that in our relationships with the world, God is revealed. God is our light and salvation, so much so that we reveal this saving Light to people we talk to and interact with everywhere we are: that in our Outreach to the world we give knowledge of salvation, that the separation people feel from God is removed, for this is true forgiveness.

How are we to be “salt”? If we look to Scripture, we see that salt is associated with holiness. In Leviticus we read that every offering of grain shall be seasoned with salt; that the people shall not allow the salt of the covenant of God to be lacking; and even more, “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Later in the Temple, any offering included salt. In Numbers, salt is at the heart of covenant between God and His people. Newborn babies even were rubbed with salt, on the very day of their birth, as described in Ezekiel.

Salt, then, is a cryptic image of Christian baptism. In our baptism, we are consecrated—that is, set apart for holiness entirely through God’s grace. And baptism represents both our vow to God to be married to Him, and the culmination of God’s vow to us, which is the gift of Himself, permanently and irrevocably given. Without this covenant, we are not given the gift of the Holy Ghost; and without the Holy Ghost, no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” Saint Paul teaches—in other words, we cannot worship God without being rubbed with the salt of baptism on the day of our rebirth.

Brothers and sisters, by God’s grace and God’s grace only can we truly be salt and light in the world. By God’s grace only are we baptized and incorporated permanently into His Body and married to God; and by God’s grace only can Christ be the Light to the world through us. Make no mistake, the Christian life is a high calling; but let us also remember the Apostle Paul’s teaching, that our testimony which is our lives is not about lofty words or lofty wisdom—it is about knowing nothing else but Christ and Him Crucified. That fed by the Eucharist and guided by the Holy Ghost, we can follow Saint Teresa’s example to be Christ to the world, and to every person we meet.

On Saint Paul and the Opening of Scripture

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle, 2020.

There can be no question that Saint Paul the Apostle is among the group of Saints whose life and intercession for us is most fundamental to Christian life. Alive in Christ’s resurrection along with the all the company of heaven, Saint Paul’s witness and martyrdom—which, it should be known, are two words that say the same thing: the word “martyr” means in Greek “witness”—is a perpetual icon of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, of following Our Jesus’ teaching to be sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves, wise as serpents and innocent as doves. His writings are inexhaustible, the significance of his life for us is inexhaustible, and of course being a Saint in heaven, in the Church Triumphant, his daily intercession and prayer for us and on our behalf is inexhaustible. To be a Saint means that one’s whole existence is so taken up into Christ that all their words and deeds—everything about them—is Christ and leads to Christ. As I have said, it is not theologians or clergy who are the most reliable interpreters of scripture, but rather the Saints: because their lives live-out the Gospel, and the Spirit of the Father speaks through them.

In our Collect we ask God that we, having Paul’s wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto God for his conversion by following the holy doctrine he taught. And if we set out to consider all the holy doctrine he taught, we would have a very long list indeed. The doctrine of being a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God comes from Paul and is derived from his doctrine of the Cross. He is known as well for doctrine about justification, predestination, the Sacraments especially Baptism and Eucharist, and even what might be called “doctrine of the parish,” of what it means theologically to be a parish, and what being part of a parish demands of us. And Paul is the articulator of yet more holy doctrine I have not mentioned. He is the teacher of glory beyond words, after all.

It was in reflecting upon the speech captured by Saint Luke that Paul made to King Agrippa that I was struck by yet another doctrine taught by Paul, although not taught through his words themselves but taught by his life: taught not explicitly, but implicitly. It is his doctrine of holy scripture (commonly called the Old Testament). Paul said to the king, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” What convinced him was the interpretation of scripture that he had come to have and live-out through the education he received from the rabbi Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of his fathers, being, Paul also tells us, himself extremely zealous for the tradition of his fathers. According to the interpretation of scripture that he had, in looking upon the man Jesus of Nazareth, Paul saw not savior but blasphemer. According to his scriptural interpretation of what is commonly called the Old Testament, in Jesus Paul saw not Son of God but Son of Satan. And because of this, Paul not only shut up many of the saints (that is, shut up many of the baptized Christians) in prison, but when they were put to death Paul case his vote against them. He had a raging fury against Christians, and he persecuted them even in foreign cities. He was infamous.

It was having set out to do so in the foreign city of Damascus that the direction of Paul’s life changed. Like the Magi who after their encounter with Jesus Christ through Mary His Mother set out for home by a different direction than by which they came—the direction of Paul’s life was permanently altered when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Christ shown through a bright light from heaven, brighter than the sun because Christ is the icon of the invisible God, and He spoke to Paul the words, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Speaking to Paul was Christ Crucified and Resurrected, persecuted by Saul and so therefore Christ spoke to Paul from His Cross, still nailed to the Cross upon which Christ was persecuted.

And it was from this moment that Paul’s whole interpretation of scripture changed, although the transformation took three years to begin to fully mature. Before this, Jesus was just a man, Paul was not fallen through original sin, and a great many of the words of the Prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest—made no sense whatsoever. But now, through his conversation, with the eyes of his heart enlightened, the scriptures broke open like never before. The scriptures now opened, and soon the bread broken, everything central to the interpretation of scriptures is changed. Jesus is a man, sure; but with the eyes of scriptural faith even more so He is the image of the invisible God. Paul himself is not only fallen from sin, but all his flesh is corrupt and disordered except insofar as Christ lives in him. According to the old interpretation, Paul could not live with himself without the death of Christ’s followers; now, with eyes of scriptural faith, he cannot live at all without being incorporated into Christ’s body along with the rest of His followers. And even more: in a wonder to him and all the apostles of the early Church, the strange and confusing words of the prophets become clear windows to heaven, for the prophets describe Christ and His presence among the prophets and among us, starting with the words of Isaiah 7:14: “the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.” These words were an utter mystery to Jewish rabbis, but with the scriptures opened and the bread broken, the perfectly speak of Christ—and show that Christ Himself was present to Isaiah, and always present to us as we pray upon this verse with our eyes of faith.

And so, brothers and sisters, let us continue to follow the holy doctrine taught by this great Saint. It is through the Cross that the scriptures are opened. It is through the Cross that the bread is broken. Let us glory in what Paul gloried in, and all the Church: it is in the scriptures that we find Christ. It is in the scriptures that Christ is described. With the scriptures finally opened, the bread can be broken: and for Paul, and for us, Christ is truly and really present among us. Saint Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, pray for us.