Living Baptismally, pt 15: On Wearing the Wedding Garment

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 23), 2020.

The Lord of Hosts has made a feast for us, and for all peoples. Our Lord Jesus teaches us this today that we would know that the peace which passes all understanding is available to us in the feast of the heavenly banquet prepared for us. This is a feast described by the prophet Isaiah as a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. For wine to be “on the lees” means it is protected from spoiling. Fat and marrow refers to nutrients the body needs to be healthy. A robust and nutritious meal is prepared for us, prepared by God for His people. God has spread a table before us that our cups might run over.

The feast God has made for us is a feast of Himself. God has made all things, and He has made all things through His Son that in receiving His Son we receive God. The feast of God is a feast of receiving Him—that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. And He gives Himself to be received. “Take, eat,” Jesus says. “This is my Body, which is given for you.” And He says, “Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which his shed for you.” We His servants are called to the marriage feast to receive His Body and to receive His Blood, to receive what God has made everything ready so as to give and be received. He has taught us how to pray, so as to make us ready to receive. He has taught us how to find Him in Scripture, so as to make us ready to receive. He has engrafted us in His Body in Baptism and given us His Holy Spirit, so as to make us ready to receive what the Father has prepared for us. He has made all things so that as our mind learns to see, as our mind learns to hear, we might behold the Light who is the expression of God—that we might behold the holy Face of Christ, Who already knows all our desires, our thoughts, our actions, and our sins.

Brothers and sisters, we must always seek to wear the wedding garment, our Lord Jesus teaches. It is the wedding garment that allows us to discern Our Lord’s Body present among us. Saint Paul taught the Corinthian church on this when he wrote, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body east and drinks judgment upon himself.” The person who eats and drinks without discernment is a person whose mind does not see, a person whose mind does not hear. We are all made blind and we are all made deaf by our sins—this is why we must repent in prayer, why we must turn to God in humility saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This prayer—the prayer not of the Pharisee but of the tax collector—is the prayer of a heart that yearns for God.

A heart that desires God. The yearning for God and the desiring of God is the very fabric of which the wedding garment is woven. How often we are tempted away from wearing the wedding garment! How often we are tempted, in the words of loving Jesus, to make light of the Gospel through our disbelief; how often we are tempted not to go the Altar in prayer, but one to his farm, another to his business—that is, to allow other activities to take priority over the holy Mass, to allow other activities to take priority over receiving the daily Bread given to us from heaven through the Scriptures. How often we are tempted to ignore the voice of Moses, to ignore the voice of the prophets, to ignore the words of God’s Mother—for Moses, the Prophets, and Mary all teach us about Jesus, all teach us about the heavenly realities beyond time and space, all teach us true meaning obedience, which is having a listening silence of wonder at the feet of God Who is always on His heavenly throne and closer to us than our own breathing.

As Saint Paul teaches us, “The Lord is at hand.” And because He is at hand, let us give our anxiety and worry to Him, let all our requests be told by us to God, that we might have no anxiety about anything. Let us put on the wedding garments of humility, that Paul’s words may ever be our own: “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me,” and thereby be continually given to all good works through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Living Baptismally, pt 13: On Sin and Forgiveness

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 19), 2020.

There can be no doubt that forgiveness is central to the Christian life. Plenty of passages of scripture show that—obviously our passage today from Matthew 18; but also in the only prayer taught by Jesus to His disciples (the Our Father) forgiveness is key; and even more so with the Eucharist, when in the Upper Room with the Twelve on the night when He voluntarily gave Himself up to be betrayed, He said, “Drink ye all of this; for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins.” Jesus gives us Himself in His Body and Blood, and His giving of Himself is for the remission of sins, the forgiveness of sins. Given that the Eucharist is the summit of Christian experience, and forgiveness of sins is central to its purpose according to Our loving Jesus, there can be no doubt that forgiveness is central to Christian life.

Saint Peter’s question to Jesus echoes this. He says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” The practicalities of following in the footsteps of Jesus for Saint Peter and the disciples already we bound up in the seemingly unresolvable problem that sin abounds all around them. And that should no surprise us in the least, not if we pay attention to our daily human life, and know anything at all about the human condition. We live in a fallen world, and all of us sin against our sisters and against our brothers. And likewise, our brothers and sisters sin against us. But let us be clear about what the Church means by “sin.” We often might think, because wider society thinks this way, that the word “sin” is simply a Christian term for “wrong-doing,” and basically synonymous with it.

We see this demonstrated in what used to be called “sin taxes,” that is, taxes government would place upon the purchase of, say, cigarettes or alcohol—taxes on things society preferred people not so (at least publicly) and saw as wrong behavior. But the Christian meaning of sin has nothing to do with this. The Christian theology of sin begins in the recognition of the absolute necessity of the Cross to salvation. Or put more simply: sin in its primary sense is the condition of being in need of a Savior. Every human being is born in sin, because every human being is born in need of a Savior from the first breaths and cries of life. Adam and Eve were always in need of a Savior, therefore from their creation, and even the creation of Adam which preceded the creation of Even, Adam was never not in need of a Savior. Adam was born in sin, prior to any specific act of sin. Adam and Eve were in sin, in other words, before they choose to go against the will of God and eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Yet this specific act of sin, or occasion of sin—the choice to eat the forbidden fruit, and then the eating itself, for that is two sins, the choice and then the eating, with other sins to immediately follow—springs from the human condition of always, from birth, being in need of a Savior, being in need of Christ. It was because Adam and Eve were in need of a Savior—were in the condition of needing a Savior—that their act of sin occurred. And it is important to notice as well, that according to the economy of salvation which is God’s overall plan for His creation, through their act of sin, grace abounded, and they began on the hard road of living consciously within the condition of sin, the condition of needing a Savior. And, for themselves, we can reasonably speculate that they committed more acts of sin before they ran the full course of their mortal life—each and every time of committing an act of sin tied irrevocably into the prior reality of their sin, the condition of always needing a Savior. This is a condition that no one can avoid—we are never not in need of a Savior, and we can do nothing to escape that fact. All specific acts of sin by our brothers and sisters against us (and all acts of sin we commit against others) are anchored in the condition of sin we all find ourselves in, as Paul did at his conversion—prior to which he regarded himself blameless with respect to the law; after which and after being convicted by the Cross which is the glory of God, he regarded himself as the greatest of sinners, able to do good thing despite wanting to.

This is why forgiveness is central to Christian life; this is why forgiveness is central to Christ’s voluntary self-offering of Himself, His precious and holy Body and Blood, to us for the remission of sins. He gives us the heavenly reality of Himself to ever wake us up to the deepest reality of sin and the deeper reality of salvation only through Him. Knowing that we are filled with Him through the Eucharist, we are Him, for He is in our bodies. And our minds are transformed into the Gospel: that where sin abounds, which is everywhere and in all persons, grace abounds much, much more.

Baptismal Living, part 6: Shining like the Son

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 11), 2020.

Those attentive to our Gospel passage today may have noticed that Our Lord shifted the definition of the seed as compared with the Gospel passage we reflected upon last Sunday. In that passage, it is clear is that the seed is God’s eternal Word, indeed Christ the Word, in us. The seed of 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.

In the passage we hear today, the good seed is defined by Our Lord as the sons of the kingdom. Christ the Word is now the man sowing good seed in His field—sowing good seed in the world—sowing sons of God in the world. Immediately let us hear this and see that God always puts us where we are for a reason—wherever we find ourselves in life, we are there as part of God’s plan, and that God intends His plan to be fulfilled through us. Being His seed, He desires that we grow up—that is, grow into deeper relationship with Him, grow more into spiritual maturity (for mature trees and bushes bear fruit, and those immature do not), and grow in spiritual height and width and breadth so that the weeds of the world—that is, the devil’s temptations in the world—become weaker from lack of nourishment, crowded out by God’s mature trees and bushes, which is us, being spiritual mature baptized persons.

This is why, in the words of the Apostle Paul, the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. All of creation needs the redemption of God, and God’s chosen vessels of redemption of creation are human beings who are baptized and take on the responsibility of sanctification by constantly seeking to cooperate with God’s grace. Christ said to the prophet Isaiah “Those who hold fast to Me shall possess the land and inherit My holy mountain.” Possessing the land means redeeming the world for God, and inheriting God’s holy mountain means living each day with reverence and holy fear that the eyes of Our Lord are always upon us. The world is unable to redeem itself—it is only human beings who are endowed with the capacities necessary for to be agents of God’s redemption in the world.

In our Psalm we asked God to keep watch over our lives, for we are faithful; asking Him to save us His servants who put our trust in Him. This really encapsulates our daily prayer, indeed it articulates why we pray at all. We also in the Psalm ask God to teach us His way, that we might walk in His truth; also asking Him to knit our hearts to Him that we may fear His Name. In these two verses is everything of what it means to live a baptismal life. In asking Him to keep watch over our lives, we abandon ourselves to God’s providence, acknowledging He, not you or me, is always in control. In pledging to be faithful, we promise that through thick and thin, we will flee to Him, talk with Him, and know that our lives are always in His hand. In asking Him to save us, we acknowledge that we can never save ourselves—that His grace is not optional but a necessity to true life. In asking Him to teach us that we might walk in His truth, we put ourselves with humility at the throne of His Wisdom, asking to be shown the Truth about ourselves so that the impediments that keep us from recognizing Him might be removed. And in asking God to knit our hearts to Him that we might fear His Name, we express our desire to live out the baptismal life: for in being knit to Him, we are incorporated into His Body, dwelling in He Who is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. The fear of the Lord is always the beginning point for wisdom.

Brothers and sisters, for about the last month sunflowers have been in bloom in the gardens around us. These are glorious and grand flowers for the strength and beauty that each one radiates. Our loving Jesus intends that each one of us, in being transformed into His likeness, shines like the sun in the kingdom of Our Father—indeed, intends us to be Son-Flowers, that God’s economy of salvation, His redeeming of all creation, may be accomplished through us, through the baptized members of His Body, who knowing His great love towards us, radiate His wondrous things to the world.

Baptismal Living, part 2: Saint Paul and Psalm 69

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after Trinity (Proper 7), 2020.

The season of the Sundays after Trinity constitutes the time the Church spends year after year reflecting on what it means to be a baptized Christian, and what as a result we should do. Each year, there are over twenty such Sundays between Trinity Sunday and the beginning of the Advent season. One might wonder, isn’t that plenty for the subject of Baptism? And the answer in no uncertain terms is, if Baptism is properly presented, no, it is not. In the words of probably the most consequential Archbishop of Canterbury of the modern era, maybe even ever, Michael Ramsey, “The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” It is a cause of, in the words of our Collect, “perpetual fear” of God, that is to say, perpetual awe—for in being made a member of Christ’s Body in baptism, we are permanently joined with He Who is in Heaven. Through Him, we are already alive forever in God, even if during this portion of life, quite imperfectly. Unpacking but the meaning of that fact, as well as what we ought do as a result of that fact, could occupy an entire life of reflection—not twenty some Sundays before Advent, but twenty times twenty thousand, and yet the riches of Baptism would be inexhaustible.

In our Epistle, Saint Paul speaks of the “free gift” and here he is referring to Baptism, which, he teaches, brings justification—that is, Baptism properly fits us to begin to process of sanctification, of being purified of our sinful ways, then illuminated by God’s presence in the world and in our lives, ultimately to be unified with God, at one with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

And there is perhaps no better person in the Church to teach about the free gift that God desires to bestow upon human beings than Paul. His biography even demonstrates his teaching in basic outline. He went from being the greatest persecutor of the Church to its greatest public advocate—not only in his preaching and writing, but in the many churches he planted. Before his conversion, he regard himself “blameless” before the Law, that is to say, sinless as a faithful Jew. Yet after his conversion, he regarded himself, in his first epistle to Timothy, “the foremost of sinners.” From among the best to the worst.

It is a remarkable shift in his self-identity. And yet I think Psalm 69 provides a treasury of images that make clear how Paul, by God’s grace, made such a remarkable shift.

The Psalmist begins, “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.” Here let us bear in mind the shame and guilt that must have tormented Paul till the end of his days, for the terrorism and evil he inflicted upon the Church before his conversion. “I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet,” the Psalmist says, because in persecuting the young Church, Paul was persecuting Christ Himself, as Our Lord even said to Paul as he was knocked to the ground by the thunderous, blinding light: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

“I am grown weary with my crying,” the Psalmist says, “my throat is inflamed; my eyes have failed from looking for my God.” Paul was made blind by God at his conversion, and did not receive his sight until his Baptism—this was a direct teaching to Paul by God that despite his training in the Scriptures by the hands of Rabbi Gameliel, he was blind to the truth: blind and unable to find God until God found him. “O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you,” the Psalmist says. And here is where Paul would be haunted, as many of us are, despite knowing we are forgiven our sins, our past actions haunt us—and I believe God intends them to, as a warning not to fall from the faith and again practice sinful ways.

Can there be any doubt that Paul, despite coming to know that he was forgiven, nonetheless was haunted by the people whose lives he terrorized, and even killed? He watched as Saint Stephen was stoned and martyred, and he was zealous for the same fate to befall other Christians, whom he regarded as blasphemers. What caused this change? It was He Who is the Blinding and Thundering Light of the Cross. The Light of the Cross opens the dark, closed off places of our soul, our conscience, our lives. What God had told Paul in the dark, Paul loudly uttered in the light, through preaching and teaching. What Paul heard whispered as he prayed Psalm 69, he proclaimed upon the housetops. And this is a teaching about baptism par excellence: For baptized people, the Cross shines a new light upon who we are, and, often shockingly, who we have always been.

The Psalmist concludes our portion of Psalm 69 with these verses:

“But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord: In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters. Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me. Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me.”

This is Saint Paul’s prayer after his conversion, while he was yet blind before baptism, then after baptism when he regained his sight, during the time he spent with Peter and James; and it remained his prayer in the three years of solitary life Paul spent in the desert of Arabia—because the Cross changed his entire way of thinking, being, and living. Realizing how naked he was before God brought forth his perpetual awe of God, each and every day of his life.

Brothers and sisters, the Song of Paul in Psalm 69 be our prayer. Let our prayer with this Psalm be an occasion, in the words of Alcuin, to “find an intimate way of confessing your sins, and a sincere mode of pray for the divine mercy of the Lord.” And through it, let us know again how immeasurable God’s love is, and how boundless His grace and forgiveness truly are.

On ‘Neither Shall You Touch’

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

We have now truly entered into the great season of Lent, after passing through the first four days of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Saturday, four days that are often called the “porch of Lent.” The analogy is apt: if we visit a friend out of town and upon arriving they meet us on the porch and because say it is a sunny summer afternoon you and your friend first hang out on the porch and spend time catching up, you have in a real sense arrived at your friend’s house in a meaningful way; and yet, much more emerges in your experience of the house after you finish on the porch and enter inside. The door to Our Father’s house has been opened by Christ on His Cross and we have responded to His invitation to cross the threshold and enter in.

As we reflected on Ash Wednesday upon the story of Jonah, I suggested that an apt characterization of Jonah was that he was a hot mess. He is a hot mess because he knows God’s will and yet is constantly resisting it; he is a hot mess because he knows God’s loving-kindness yet constantly overlooks it; he is a hot mess because despite constant evidence shown him that God’s power and glory reaches beyond time and space, such as should throw one into a sense of profound awe and selflessness, Jonah thinks primarily about himself, selfish and self-centered—not God-centered. And it was in interpreting the story of Jonah in these terms that I suggested that all of us are closer to being like Jonah—closer, that is, to being a hot mess—than we might care to admit. Brothers and sisters, admitting it, however, is to cross the threshold of the door opened to us by the Cross. And rather than praise the well-composed entryway or the beautiful living room of this house, the proper response as we enter into this great Lent is the response not of the Pharisee but of the Tax Collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, nothing qualified with caveats or comparisons to anyone else: the simple words, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” which became through slight modification what the Church grew to call the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”), is the prayer of Lent, is the prayer of creature toward Creator.

The world around us confronts us not only with the beauty, truth, and goodness of God, but also with temptation after temptation. Temptations to all the capital sins: temptation to pride, envy, gluttony, covetousness, lust, sloth, and anger: these capital sins being the pattern that underlies all specific acts of sin. Adam and Eve were tempted by serpent, that is to say, the Devil taking the form of a serpent. And like Jonah, there is a clear sense overall in the narrative of the Adam and Eve’s sin with the fruit of the forbidden tree of both being well aware of God’s power yet reverting to self-centeredness. That is the basic lesson to be convicted by—we are more like Jonah, Adam and Eve than we care to admit. But there is another aspect I want us to consider.

That aspect comes when we notice a detail in the Genesis narrative that is easy to miss. The detail is what Eve adds in her dialogue with the serpent to the words first commanded by God to Adam. Eve tells the serpent that God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,”—and then the addition, “neither shall you touch it.” God never said those specific words to Adam; He never said, “neither shall you touch.” Now, I think it is implied in what God told Adam: He told Adam he is not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and in order to eat of its fruit, one must touch the fruit and then bring it to one’s mouth. Eve adds this detail, and I think this demonstrates that she, like Blessed Mary, has been pondering God’s word, taking it to heart: not merely following an order like a robot but being a thinking human being, which is a great credit to her. She is stronger than Adam, which is why the Devil attacked her and not the man.

Eve’s fleshing out of God’s teaching brings to light truth that is useful to us as Christians facing temptation upon temptation: to notice something, to be aware of something, is not a sin. It’s the touching of it, the grabbing of it, that is the sin. Feelings, thoughts, emotions that come through our mind and heart, these are never sins. But when we touch them—that is to say, act upon them, follow through on the fleeting thought, feeling, or emotion either in word or deed—that is where the sin occurs. Eve noticing that the tree was good for good, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise—that’s not the sin. Noticing that another person is physically beautiful and attractive, for example, or that a material object would be nice to have and possess, these are not sins. “Touching them”—that is to say, committing adultery with that person (whether actually or as Our Lord teaches, even in our heart and imagination)—that is the sin. Or recognizing that new car or computer or jewelry or house would be nice to have, that is not a sin; touching these things, whether by actually stealing them or by improperly and unwisely spending money upon them that should have gone to something else—that is the sin.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord knows that we will be faced by these temptations: the temptations to touch and grab hold of passing thoughts, feelings, and emotions that, if acted upon, are sins. And so He in His infinite love for us gives us the example of what to do: and again the method is simple—flee to Him. Bring Him to mind. And bringing Him to mind can also be through bringing to mind scripture as He did before the Devil. And this is why, in Lent as well as through the whole year, the Church exhorts us to regular and daily meditation upon the scriptures: that we will be equipped to confront temptations by our ability to flee to Christ as revealed in the scriptures. Because when we do so, the Church teaches that as they did for Christ, angels will come to us and minister unto us.

On Entering into Lent

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

The story of Jonah is one we all know so well that thinking of it as food for our Lenten journey might be difficult. The story begins by telling us that “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amit′tai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nin′eveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’” But instead of the obedience of Our Lady, Blessed Mary, who despite having questions about how to cooperate with God, nonetheless answered God, “Let it be unto me according to Thy Word,” Jonah fled. He fled not to Christ, as we are always to do when faced with temptation. Rather, Jonah fled not to, but from, the Lord. Confronted by the Light of God’s guidance, by His Word as a lantern under our feet, and a light unto our paths, Jonah chose instead to turn to his shadows and dwell in them. He chose to pretend his conscience did not hear God’s call. He pretended to forget God’s law.

Jonah fled by boat, and while on the boat, the great wind of the demons made for a mighty tempest on the sea. His conscience began to gnaw at him, and he offered himself up, to be thrown off the boat. Better to become suicidal than to simply say yes to God, Jonah evidently concluded. God saw all this, for His eyes are always upon those who fear Him—and, deep down, Jonah did fear the Lord, deep down, Jonah was in awe of God’s majesty and power, despite his attempts at avoidance—and taking control of the great fish, God’s working of love and protection kept Jonah in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights. And during these three days and three night, Jonah prayed to God—when left to his own devices and free-will, Jonah filled with pride and chose his own will not God’s will; but put into a three-day, three-night time-out by God, Jonah remembered that he was a creature, and God creator of all. His prayer while in the belly of the whale deserves to be heard this day:

“I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice. For thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all thy waves and thy billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am cast out from thy presence; how shall I again look upon thy holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Indeed, deliverance does belong to the Lord. And this refrain is taken up into the third Psalm, which reads, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord, thy blessing be upon thy people!” And after this glorious prayer by Jonah, upon being vomited out of the fish upon the dry land—and vomiting is indeed a rich metaphor for what it means to purge our sinful ways—Jonah again heard the word of the Lord; and this time, he began to imitate Our Lady’s “Let it be.” He arose and went to Ninevah, according to the Word of the Lord. And in the city, he cried, “Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!” And in a great surprise to Jonah, the people of Ninevah believed him, and began to repent of their sinful ways. And because they were honest about themselves—because they were reality-based, which is another word for “humility”—God did not destroy the city, but continued to keep it afloat in the ocean of His grace.

And yet, instead of rejoicing, Jonah was exceedingly displeased, and he was angry. His prayer to God takes a remarkable turn: “I knew that Thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.” But then, “Therefore now, O Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Again, suicidal! And to prove his petulance, out of the city he went and sat under a plant God made for him out of His love to provide shade. Then to prove again His power, the plant withered the next day from a God-appointed worm. Again in anger Jonah asked for suicide.

Brothers and sisters, it is fair to say that Jonah was a hot mess. He knew God’s will, He knew God’s love, He knew God’s power, and was constantly fighting it, then embracing it in odd ways, and the fighting, embracing, back and forth. Now we might find the story of Jonah comical as to be a farce. And yet, brothers and sisters, how far away from Jonah are we really, in our lives? Are not we closer to Jonah than we might care to admit? Saint Paul wrote these words to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Is this not us? Are not we, too, a hot mess?

The appropriate response to recognizing this difficult truth, revealed to us by God’s grace through the shining light of His Son Jesus on the Cross, is the response of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The Church turned the words of the tax collector in a prayer that is now ancient, called the “Jesus Prayer”: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. There is nothing more that needs to be said this Lent than that; no need to make it more complicated or qualified than those simple words. For if we make it more complicated and qualified, our prayer is not the prayer of the tax collector, but of the Pharisee. Let us this Lent, held up by God’s love in the ocean of His grace, not even lift up our eyes to heaven, but beat our breast, and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

On Being Angry with Your Brother

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

Our loving Lord Jesus speaks to us today about being angry with others and being insulting towards others. He says, “Every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” And He adds, “Whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” And so Jesus is speaking to us about ordinary emotions and reactions—emotions and reactions we experience in our normal, work-a-day lives. Being angry with another person; speaking to them in an insulting way that ignores their dignity; and then going yet the next step and calling them a name—you fool, you idiot, or something I heard a lot growing up around Jewish friends and schoolmates, you schmuck. Anger, insult, name-calling—these are all sins, and committing them is to act contrary to Scripture, which teaches clearly that God has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and He has not given any one permission to sin.

This is the immediate context of our Lord’s next teaching: “So,” He continues, “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brothers, and then come and offer your gift.” Our Jesus is giving spiritual direction to His disciples, knowing that there will be moments in the worship of Him that will develop after His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension that His disciples will feel convicted by their own sin. When we follow the light, we see our shadows. When we walk in the footsteps of He Who is utterly clean, without sin, we see how much we need cleansing to truly walk in the law of the Lord. And so Jesus gave this teaching which was remembered by the young Church and preached about for decades before it was written down by S. Matthew, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brothers, and then come and offer your gift.”

Certainly this is a teaching to us. Every Sunday, week by week, we offer our gift at the altar: we offer and present unto God our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God, Who did the same for us on the Cross. And so in our life within the Liturgy if we remember moments when we have been angry—not righteously indignant, for that is another matter and not sinful—rather, that we at some point let our anger go, to make ourselves feel better at the expense of another person (for that is the sin); if we in offering ourselves to God as gift remember that we have derided another person and treated that person in a less than dignified manner, insulting to honor owed them; and if we have name-called another person, either to their face or to the television or radio or smart-phone—Jesus has given us spiritual direction about what to do: first, be reconciled to the person.

But, it bears asking, how? How shall we be reconciled to another person. And here let us see how important it is to remember the words of our Collect today: “because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us to the help of Thy grace.” In other words, we are not able to reconcile with our brother or sister on our own. We can do no good thing on our own. Rather, all we can do that is good comes through the grace of God empowering us by the peace of Christ.

Brother and sisters, 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. Often our anger comes from an unresolved issue in our past—unresolved because we have not allowed God into the hurt, into the pain, into the embarrassment, into the wound. But the peace of Christ brings health to our wounds—this is what “salvation” means. When we let God into our pain, and being very honest with Him about exactly how we feel—God responds with His grace, and then and only then does the wound begin to heal. We must listen to the pricks of our conscience reminding us of persons we harbor anger towards—because in praying for people towards whom we are angry, we love them. And by loving them, we are loving God; for God always looks upon that which He has made with love that passes all our understanding.

At the Foot of the Cross

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Last Sunday after Trinity (Christ the King), 2019.

We ask in our Collect today that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under Christ’s most gracious rule. Rightly understood, this Collect expresses concisely the Christian understanding of the fallen world and why we Christians are in the world with an apostolic mission. To a sinful world we are to bring a way of life centered on the glory of the Cross; a way of life empowered by our knowledge of Christ both crucified and resurrected. The knowledge of Truth—that is to say the knowledge of Christ Crucified and Resurrected—is knowledge that is lived out; is knowledge that is embodied and enacted; is knowledge that must, if it is true knowledge of Truth Himself, be expressed through a general attitude or disposition toward all the world, and as the premise of all our relationships in the world with God’s creatures, especially our relationships with the human ones. It is this ennobled way of life that is the true meaning of “Christ’s most gracious rule”—Christ’s most gracious way of life; Christ’s most sacred humanity.

The world is full of disorder and disharmony, our Collect rightly declares. The image of God that remains in all people is obscured because their likeness of Him is defaced by sin, by evil doings in the phrase from Jeremiah. The flock has been scattered. Instead of surrender to the way of life anchored in Truth Himself, separation from that way of life—and this separation is sin properly understood—is what causes a life of darkness: a life of spiritual darkness that cannot see the uncreated Light Who reconciles all creatures to Himself and Who leads us not into temptation but out of the darkness of evil and toward salvation.

And so God became Man in order to attend to the world full of evil doings. And the way He attended to it was to die on a Cross. Heaven was no longer far away or unreachable. With God on a Cross, dying for our sins, to remove our sins, to remove our separation from the true way of life, heaven was no longer far away or unreachable: heaven is found by being at the foot of the Cross. Our King is found when we are at the foot of the Cross and behold Him, when we look up and behold His kingly power. Our kind is found when we are at the foot of the Cross and look up and behold that the righteous branch of David loves us from the Cross and loves us to the end. Being at the foot of the Cross demands our stillness—of mind, of thought. There is no other way to be at the foot of the Cross but to be still, for in being still, then and only then can we truly behold the loving Jesus on the Cross out of His inestimable love for us—only when we are still can we know God.

This is why all of the epistles of Saint Paul are really about being at the foot of the Cross beholding Christ suffering for us—all of his letters are about Christ’s free choice to suffer for us, and the glory that comes of this unfathomable action. The image of the invisible God, in whom all things are created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all things being created through Him and for Him—He Who is before all things and in Whom all things hold together: He who is the head of the Body, the Church; the beginning, and in Whom is the fullness of God—the image of the invisible God is Christ in extreme humility. The image of the invisible God is our Lord treated like a criminal. The image of the invisible God—Whose Name is “The Lord is our righteousness”—meaning, “The Lord is our right relationship with God”—is Jesus scoffed at, spat upon, and mocked Who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” From His extreme humility comes His extraordinary forgiveness, that this is what Saint Paul and all the apostles teach as the source of strength, endurance, and joyful patience.

Brothers and sisters, let us in all this be stirred up. God’s thoughts are always thoughts of peace and not affliction, despite the sinful ways of the world, sinful ways that killed our Lord. Only the heavenly peace of Christ overcomes death, and overcomes sin. And in our King, this is accomplished.

On the Prodigal Son and Love

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

The parable of the prodigal son is the third of four parables told by our Master, our Lord Jesus. The occasion for his teaching with these parable was the fact that tax collectors and other sinners were drawing closer and closer to Jesus so that they could hear Him. Christ’s message is an infectious one—His teaching is magnetic; even His presence draws people in who are walking in darkness because He is the true light, which lighteth every person who comes into the world. It is only by our intimacy with Jesus that we are able by grace to cut through our delusions and gain true self-knowledge.

Because tax collectors and other sinners were drawn to Jesus, Saint Luke tells us that Pharisees and the scribes murmured. And not only did they murmur (which in and of itself can be sinful, because of the harm it can cause within the Christian community), but we know what they said: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus was ruffling the feathers of proper society of His day; He was breaking social conventions—He was hanging out with the “wrong people,” those people. That He was receiving them means Jesus was truly present to them, listening to them, honoring their dignity (because they were made also in His likeness, He was honoring, we must remember, His presence in them), and seeking to serve them—because Jesus came not to be served but to serve. That He ate with them indicates to us true and complete fellowship—to eat with others means companionship and total welcome. Fundamental to the attractiveness Jesus exudes is His hospitality.

That Jesus was so lavish in His giving of Himself in love was the teaching He wanted to impart to His disciples. Each of the four parables teaches about love—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the dishonest steward: all about love. But this is most dramatically brought out by the parable of the prodigal son.

The father in the parable is so eager to love his son gone astray that when the son even was at a distance, the father came to Him. He ran and embraced him and kissed him. He did not scold him, or harbor a grudge against him, or make the son jump through some hoop before sharing his love. He just loved him and ordered a feast with the fatted calf be held in honor of his return. Let us run to the lonely in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces; run to them and embrace and kiss them with our presence, our attention, our selfless care.

The prodigal son is also an example of love, we must also see. He too is also eager to love, but his ability to love selflessly is buried under his sin and shame at having wasted the gift that he was given. Instead of using the gift he was given for the glory of God, he used it toward idolatry. And so his love for his father is first expressed as a selfish love for himself, so that he could live at least at the level of his father’s hired servants. His father does not care—and indeed our heavenly Father does not care either: God can work with any kind of desire for Him, even if it is first expressed as selfish desire—and slowly turn a selfish heart into a selfless heart. Whatever kind of contrition we might have, bring it to God; give it all to Him.

And other son, he is jealous. He loves his father out of pure duty—but pure duty is not enough. We must love for the joy of loving. The other son must learn joy by the grace of God, and perhaps the father’s extravagance towards the first son is intended also as a lesson to the second son—much like Jesus’s extravagance towards tax collectors and sinners was a lesson in loving intended not only for them, but for His disciples watching Him, that they would learn how to love.

Mother Teresa taught the world that this is what Jesus came to do: to teach us how to love. In order to love others in the example of Jesus, and that example is described in the Bible, and as that example is replicated in the lives of the Saints—in order to love we must realize how profoundly we ourselves are loved by God. Our lives are always in His hands—and is daily, ongoing love for us goes as deep as keeping us in existence moment to moment, breath by breath. He loves us like a mother loves her son—like Mary loves Jesus. No matter how often we have sinned, we turn to God and we are loved by Him—He receives us and eats with us: so much so that He gives Himself to us as the true bread which giveth life to the world.

And in knowing how much we are loved, we are able to love others with the joy that we are loved by Jesus. And so let us again imitate the father in the parable, who is the image of God’s love for us: let us run to the lonely men, women, and children among us in Tazewell County. Let us bring out best selves to them: and make merry and be glad.

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.