On Our Passing from Death unto Life

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

All of Eastertide have we heard the teachings of Saint John, known in Tradition both as the Evangelist and also as the Theologian, because his writings are so deeply imbued in theological fragrance. Saint John is teaching us today how we know that we have passed from death unto life. In other words, the blessed Evangelist and Theologian is teaching us how we can realize the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6—that if we have been united together in the likeness of Christ’s death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. John is talking about passing from death into life—that is, participating in the Resurrection of Christ in the here and now, imperfectly but truly, as well as in the life to come after we pass through our transitory life into the next phase in Paradise, where as we grow in our love of Christ our participation is perfected.

John the Theologian says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” It is through loving the brethren, the very fact of our loving them, that we can know that we have passed from death unto life—that is, that we are participating in Christ’s resurrected life. His phrase “loving the brethren” means our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, of course, to love all people as well; we are to know that God dwells in them and is fighting for their hearts as he is fighting for ours; and because of this knowledge, we are to seek and serve Christ in the hearts of all people. Yet firstly, as a matter constitutive of the Christian life, we are to love our Christian brothers and sisters, learning to love them as we love ourselves—indeed, because through baptism, they are ourselves, we are members one of another in Christ; all members of the one Body of which Jesus Christ is the head. A primary task of Christians is just this: learning how to love our fellow Christians as ourselves, and this is the parish reality, for a parish whose members do not love each other certainly will not be able to evangelize to their neighbors around town. Whereas a parish whose members are united together in mutual love of Christ in each other will achieve spiritual power that will overflow into the world and pervade the neighborhood. Indeed the more we practice our love for our fellow Christian, the easier it is to love the world ruled by the Prince of Darkness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ echoes all of this when He teaches us “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Because of His resurrection we have life. Now, we are all given life through our mother’s womb; but “life” in the Christian sense has a more specific meaning. Life in the Christian sense means the light of Christ, as John says in the prologue of his Gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” To be alive is to be lit up by Christ—lit up by His presence, lit up by His mercy, lit up by His nearness, lit up by the Mystery of the Cross, which is at the heart of it all. Because of Christ’s resurrection, our hearts can have the light of Christ, thanks be to God. And we allow this light to shine (not that we make it shine, but that we allow the heavenly light to shine) the more we keep Christ’s commandments, meaning, the more we pray with His words, treasure His words, and abide in and live in His words. The power of the Holy Spirit through His words lights us up, lights up our heart, lights up all our being. We receive Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, by inwardly digesting our daily bread of Scripture, to warm our hearts while we are on our life’s journey, as the two disciples were on their journey to Emmaus.

The key to it all, John tells us, is the commandment of Christ. He says, “We should believe on the Name of Jesus Christ, and love one another.” We have reflected already on the necessity of practicing love upon our fellow Christians (which is what “love the brethren” means). Here also we have also the teaching about the holy Name of Jesus. Again it is an emphasis on the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. The Name of Jesus Christ must be central and fundamental to our daily prayer life. And I mean this in the most practical sense: the Name of Jesus must be constantly on our lips, constantly in our mind, constantly in our hearts. We must say with the Tax Collector, with the blind men given sight by Jesus, with Peter, with Paul, and with the other apostles, we must (the Church teaches) say the holy Name of Jesus, the Name above all other names. The apostle Paul affirms this is the way to receive most directly and most simply the Holy Spirit—to say the holy Name Jesus Christ, for in Paul’s teaching, our praying of His Name only happens through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Praying the holy Name of Jesus is how we receive the Comforter, and how we use His presence to give glory of God. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to use the prayer the Church developed for this very purpose, the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart: Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy upon us. It is through this prayer that we most practically and most simply participate in the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

On Christ Destroying the Works of the Devil

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

Hope, real hope, is woven into the Easter greeting we so joyously use in this season; the greeting: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus became man in order to give us this hope, this real hope—as opposed to the false hopes that so often are tempted to cling to, as the children of Israel, even as Moses was on top of the holy mountain communing on their behalf with God and receiving the Ten Commandments gave into their temptation toward false hope and fashioned an idol, the molten calf, around which they danced and sang; the people of God are ever tempted to do this very thing, to turn false hope into an idol. The real hope of Jesus Christ is ever-lasting communion with the triune God—that is, communion within the eternal community of Father, Son, and Spirit. Beholding God face to face, in the words of the Apostle Paul; and seeing Him as He is, because we have become like Him, in the teaching of S. John heard today.

The hope of Easter—the hope given only through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who in dying on the Cross for our sake trampled down death by death—the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation. This is what S. John tells us today: “every person that hath this hope in Jesus purifies himself, even as He (Jesus) is pure.” In Jesus, John also adds, is no sin; yet in us is sin: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, John so memorably teaches. This is why the hope of Easter demands our personal transformation.

And this is why Jesus did what He did in becoming Man. For this purpose, John teaches, the Son of God was manifested: that He might destroy the works of the devil. And as the works of the devil are destroyed in our hearts, we are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. The two tests of growth in the spiritual life are a greater desire and capacity to pray, and, even more practically speaking, committing fewer sins. We commit fewer sins (and, of course, our desire and capacity for prayer increases) as the works of the devil are destroyed in our heart. The human heart is God’s chosen battleground to fight the devil, who is the prince of this world. When we commit sin, John reminds us, we are of the devil—dancing with the devil around the molten calf. But for this purpose the Son of God was manifested—for this purpose He showed forth Himself within the economy of God: His incarnation not only in human flesh, but His incarnation in the consecrated bread and wine, His Precious Body and Blood carry on His incarnation as well—that through His death He might destroy the works of the devil, all of which lead to death (whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual): all this is so His incarnation can reach fruition and completion: in our hearts.

And note how directly Saint John ties together destroying the works of the devil with Christ’s incarnation: again the verse: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” For this purpose (destroying the works of the devil) and not others, at least not primarily. The primary or main purpose of the Incarnation, John is teaching, is to engage the battle happening in our hearts: for God’s chosen battleground to fight the works of the devil is the human heart. It is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can live in comfort; it is not that the Son of God was manifested, that people can read and write theology; it is not even, primarily, about being good people. Now, all of these might result. But these are by-products, of Christ’s chosen battle (against the works of the devil) in His chosen battleground (the human heart).

My dear brothers and sisters, our primary concern must be allowing Christ to accomplish His mission in our hearts, and asking daily, hourly, even moment to moment, for His mercy upon us. He is the good Shepherd, we are His sheep, and it is for this very reason that He laid down His life for us: that He might destroy the works of the devil in our heart, and thereby in the choices we make, and thereby in all our  lives. With God nothing is impossible, for the power of His Name makes the Devil quiver in fear.

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 Blessed Mary: The Soul of Every Christian

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

With the major exception of none other than Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who is the Eternal Word of God, and Whose Name—Jesus—is the Name above all other names, can there be any doubt that the most significant words ever spoken by a human being in the history of human existence have come from the utterance of Our Lady, Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin? Most blessed Mary is the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Church, and Our Lady of the Upper Room—her words, although some may say we have so few of them recorded by the Evangelists, drip with greatness, with sanctity, with humility, with wisdom. She herself who is the beginning in time of Our Lord’s works, was brought forth before mountains were settled, before the hills were made, even when Christ prepared the heavens, she was there—blessed Mary, Our Lady, is the soul of every Christian.

Mary is the soul of every Christian because her greatness consists in her absolute selfless devotion to Jesus her Son and Lord. To her cousin Saint Elizabeth at the Visitation, after her greeting (which made John Baptist in utero leap for joy, along with the heart of his mother, Elizabeth), Mary sang: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” She was wholly devoted to the Lord. To the place of poverty she willingly went at Our Lord’s Nativity; to the place of shame she willingly went at our Lord’s Crucifixion and death; and to the place of promise in the Upper Room she willing went as one of the 120 apostles in the first Christian parish for the Coming of the Holy Spirit of her Son and Lord.

Mary is the soul of every Christian because unto a seemingly impossible vocation, she said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.” Facing the incomprehensible, she said Yes, according to thy will; facing the utterly paradoxical, she said Yes, according to thy will; facing the most tremendous mystery (the mystery of reality Himself), she said, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” To the opportunity to be given to the Temple at age three, as her parents Anna and Joachim had promised God, she danced (which is a Yes if there ever was a Yes); to the prospect of leaving the Temple (in which she grew up into her teenage years) into marriage to Joseph the carpenter, she said “Yes.” As she heard announced to her by Simeon at Our Lord’s Presentation “And a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,” in wonderment and courage, she said “Yes.” And to the final words of her Son on the Cross, Jesus telling her to behold her Son—words she heard from her Son, words now about her Son in a radically new way—she said “Be it unto me according to thy word,” and behold in the beloved disciple John not a resemblance to her Son, not a mere likeness to her Son, not a kinship to her Son: indeed, in John, Mary behold Jesus, her Son.

Should it surprise us at all that Mary is the soul of every Christian when within her heart from the first was her Son’s Name; within her heart from the first was the Name Jesus, the Name above all names, the Name which is a fortified tower to which the righteous run and are safe; the Name we will walk in for ever and ever; the Name which saves everyone who calls on it? Just as among the first things known to Blessed Joseph about Mary’s Son was His Name, so was it for Mary: the Angel Gabriel giving both Joseph and Mary not merely knowledge of the Son of God, but the true knowledge of Him which is His Name. Can we doubt that Mary would say His most Holy Name all the days following her most holy Annunciation? Can we doubt that each time she said His holy Name Jesus, her heart pondered the Mystery of all Mysteries, and was filled with the awe from which comes true wisdom? Can we doubt the joy she shared with Blessed Joseph, her most chaste spouse, in the Name of their Son—a joy in His Name they knew was not only theirs, but would be the joy of all creation?

Brothers and sisters, let us be strengthened by the Name of Jesus like Mary and Joseph; let us be emboldened by the Name of Jesus like Mary and Joseph; and let us be obedient and humble to the Name of Jesus, like Mary and Joseph—that with them, we might learn to ponder and watch and keep long silences, thinking of the deep, tender things of Jesus.

On Passion Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Repentance

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

Our Lenten journey today reaches its halfway point. We have three Sundays in Lent under our belt, and three more to go before we celebrate Holy Easter, and the eternal life made available to us through the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The word that begins our Mass today is “rejoice,” and this is always the word that traditionally begins the Mass on this the Fourth Sunday in Lent, popularly known in the western Church as “Mothering Sunday.” Rejoice, the verse from Isaiah reads, “all ye that have mourned.” And what are we mourning for but for our sins: the sins that we have committed, we mourn for, wishing we would not have committed them. And indeed we mourn that we commit sins at all, and we mourn that we seem unable to not commit sins. This is captured so poignantly by Saint Paul is last week’s Epistle, when he wrote to us saying “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” The reality of this hits us like a ton of bricks. Paul’s lament is our lament. And it seems there is little if anything we can do about it.

The reality is there in fact there is only one thing we can do. And that one thing is, we can repent. This is Jesus’s first teaching in Saint Mark’s Gospel account: Our Lord says, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the first teaching of Jesus after His Baptism in the River Jordan is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” All of which is echoed by Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost, on the day when after nine days of liturgical prayer and fellowship the womb of the Upper Room went Boom, and the Holy Spirit pouring forth from the 120 disciples of Jesus Christ, when his first teaching after his Pentecost sermon was “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” There is almost nothing we human beings can do about the muck of our sinful lives. Yet the good news is that the one thing we can do—repentance—is so powerful that by doing so, God’s grace transforms our mind and emboldens our heart.

The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia.” And it means a transformation of the mind, through which greater clarity and insight are obtained. Before repentance means anything else, it means great understanding. When we repent, we turn our selves around, from facing away from Him to facing toward Him. And the Church was her members to be very clear as to what it means to face toward God, and specifically Who is it that we are facing when we repent. When we repent, we turn to Him who, in the words of the Apostle, is rich in mercy. Him Who out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. When we repent, we face Him Who has raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And when we repent, we face Him Who desires more than anything else to show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.

And when we repent, let us always know, and never forget, that it is not towards us that God’s wrath is directed, but rather towards Satan, who ever presents to us the endless temptations which we so struggle to overcome, and often find ourselves giving in to. His wrath at our sins is towards the Devil; His tough love at our sins is towards us. Tough love—because He knows we are fully capable of growth in His Spirit, and fully capable of progress in the life of the Spirit whereby we commit fewer sins and express our life of prayer with more consistency, clarity, and fullness of heart.

After all, as Paul teaches us, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. And what’s more, He gave Himself for us on the Cross, that we might receive Him in the Sacrament and be fed by Him, that our mind might week by week by transformed by the knowledge of Who our Savior is, what He has done for us, and what He always desire to do for us. Let us rejoice as we repent, brothers and sisters, for the Kingdom of heaven truly is within our heart.

On the Publican’s Prayer of the Heart

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

We hear from Saint Paul an invitation to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Here Paul refers to our discipleship, our journey into deeper relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. A part—in fact a very significant part—of our running with perseverance this race is, as he writes just before that, realizing that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses.” Paul here refers to both senses of the term “saints”: with a lowercase “s” meaning all baptized Christians; and the capital-s, which are the martyrs, confessors, and fully sanctified Christians whose witness to the Gospel of Christ is commemorated over the course of the Kalender (which one such feast in one week’s time: the Feast of Saint Mathias the Apostle).

And this is important because the Christian journey—the Christian race, which like any journey or race demands discipline to complete—is one we never do alone; there is no such thing as a private Christian, and it is impossible to be a Christian alone in an absolute sense. In our baptism, we are made members, one of another through and in Jesus Christ: and just as the foot has a living relationship with the shoulder, each member of Christ’s Body has a living relationship with all of the other members—meaning, we have a truly living relationship with Saint Mathias and all the capital-s Saints; and a living relationship with all the lowercase-s saints, and this relationship is entirely built on God’s grace and is impossible to undo. Our task with the Saints like Mathias, Mary, Joseph, Stephen, Theresa and all the others, is not to create a relationship with them, but to realize the relationship already given unto us—made available to us—in our Baptism. Baptism establishes our living relationship with all the Saints; learning to comprehend the relationship with the Saints we already have is our task: and all of the Saints are as alive to us as anyone alive today.

I mentioned a moment ago that the Christian race, the Christian journey, demands discipline. By “discipline,” the Church firstly means the life of daily prayer. Just as there is no such thing as a truly private Christian, and no such thing as not having a living relationship with the Saints, there is no such thing as a Christian life that only asks of us one hour per week of our time and attention. Paul’s teaching of discipline, and all the teaching of the Church about discipline, establishes very clearly that the Christian life is an every day religion—Sunday mornings, but also Sunday evenings, all the way through the week to Saturday evening (which is traditionally when time is set aside to examine one’s conscience and be aware of any sins committed recently). But that immediately raises the question, in the broad sense: in the life of discipline, where might one begin?

Just such a beginning is described by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We have in Our Lord’s teaching a very clear contrast: the wrong such beginning, and a right such beginning. The wrong beginning is demonstrated by the Pharisee, who in his pitiful attempt at prayer immediately compares himself to other people—embodying the sin of Pride. Not only does he regard himself as better than others, but he things he can thereby order God around because he thinks he can earn righteousness through his works of fasting and tithing. Now, of course, fasting and tithing are holy practices, but they should never be done with any idea that doing them earns us anything. Why do Christians fast and tithe? Most fundamentally, it is to give honor to God, because He is God and is owed everything.

Our Christian discipline should constantly be on the lookout for imitating the Pharisee, because Our Lord is showing He is well aware of a very common temptation in the Christian life. This is why after describing the Pharisee, Jesus contrasts him with the Tax Collector (often called the Publican). The Publican could not be more the opposite of the Pharisee—he looks at no one, stands far off, not even raising his eyes to heaven, meaning a stance of humility. And all he says is: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. It is honest contrition, honest sorrow for sins, and honest petition to God Who always forgives the sins of the humble and contrite.

And brothers and sisters, it is always by the example of the Publican that the life of Christian discipline takes its fundamental root, and it is from the Publican’s example that the life of discipline grows. So much so this is the case that the most ancient prayer of the Church, after the Our Father prayer, is a prayer that includes the most and sometimes all the words of the Publican, along with words from Saint Peter, guided by teaching both of Saint John and Saint Paul. This ancient prayer is called the Prayer of the Heart, and also called the Jesus Prayer. There are variations on the wording, but the basic prayer is this: “Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on me.” Often it ends “…have mercy on me, a sinner,” just like the Publican’s prayer. This prayer—the Prayer of the Heart, the Jesus Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on me—is not only a simple prayer with simple words, but it is the fundamental building block of Christian discipline.

Allow me to be bold: it is my firm view that all Christians should be taught the Prayer of the Heart, and be shown how to be able to say it all day, every day, in moments that allow it to be prayed—said out loud, or said silently, before falling asleep and when first waking up; in quiet and reflective moments whenever these appear. All Christians should say the Prayer of the Heart—this most basic prayer taught by our Lord as the prayer to gain what is most basic and essential to Christian discipleship: humility.

On the Transfiguring Name of Jesus

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Last Sunday after Epiphany (Quinquagesima), 2021

As our prayer moves into the season of Lent, Saint Peter wants us and all the Church to know that the experience of Christ transfigured was for him, James and John truly first-hand. They were eyewitnesses to the majesty of Jesus Christ. Just as during the Eucharist, the priest holds up the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” the Father held up His Son Jesus to these three apostles and said, behold, “This is My beloved Son.” And then to make clear what the Church is always to do, the Father adds, “Listen to Him.”

And we must always listen to Him, for we know that Our Lord need only speak a word, and our soul shall be healed. Just as Peter writes of having a prophetic word made more sure, we have that same prophetic word: and the word is, “Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy on us.” This word is our rock; this word is our castle; this word is our guide; this word leads us; this word is our defense against the temptations of the world.

Saint Peter continues his teaching to us by saying, “You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” He means this as to our daily personal devotion, our prayer in private. In our personal prayer, Peter with all apostolic authority advises us that we will do well to pay attention. How often our attention is not on Jesus, Who is Light beyond all light, indeed through Whom all physical light comes into being? Jesus is a lamp, Peter says—a lamp shining in a dark place. Imagine being in a dark place and not using a lamp to make your way? But this is exactly what we do when in going about our lives our attention is not on Jesus and His ineffable glory. When our attention is elsewhere, when we are distracted by the countless things that distract us, we are like a person in a dark place, who turns away from the very light that guides them and gives direction to their journey. When we choose to put our attention elsewhere, we are choosing confusion, we are choosing our suffering, we are choosing to be lost.

Our Lord knows our temptations. He knows the human condition, having Himself become human for our sakes and to truly reveal Himself to us. He knows there is a war in our hearts for our awareness—awareness of God’s presence, and the Devil who uses any means necessary to keep us from looking at the uncreated Light of Christ. The Tempter turns anything he can into enticement to give up our attention to Christ and turn not towards God but away from God. Food, which we need for nourishment and fellowship, can be turned by the Tempter into temptation; means of communication (especially smart phones) which often are necessary means to exchange information that needs to be exchanged with others, can be turned into an endless source of distraction, and even means to give into hate, anger, and lust (which we all know can also come from the television; a smart phone being really a miniature television).

Again, Our Lord knows we face temptations; He allows temptations to exist because overcoming them with the help of His grace makes us stronger in faith, makes us more aware of how totally dependent upon God we are, and how lost we can be without Him, when in our dark place we turn away from the Light. But just as after the overshadowing cloud and the voice of the Father, all that remained for the three apostles on the holy mountain was Jesus only, so also all that remains for us on day to day is the Holy Name of Jesus. Let us this Lent, brothers and sister, renew our commitment to the Holy Name of Jesus. Let us say His Holy Name every day, more and more following the Apostle’s teaching to pray unceasingly.  For with His Holy Name comes His Light and Salvation; with His Holy Name comes His strength; comes His fair beauty; comes His protection; and with His Holy Name comes comfort for our heart—that our heart is not hardened and arrogant, but open and receptive to the Light we need every moment of our life, and in every breath.

On the Fever of the Passions

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Sexagesima), 2021

The healing of Saint Peter’s mother-in-law must have been a pretty big deal to warrant its coming down through the decades of oral tradition after the Passion of Christ all the way to Saint Mark. Many biblical scholars suggest Mark’s gospel dates from the early 60s; some even as late as the year 70. Even at the earlier date, we are talking about 30 years of oral preaching and teaching about a healing of a fever. It seems like a rather mundane problem to have—which is not to diminish how serious a high fever can be from a physical perspective, of course. I mean that, this episode is one of the first healing miracles of Jesus, and it is a healing of a woman, which is significant for a reason I will mention in a moment.

It is a fairly iron-clad rule of the New Testament that what is included in the four Gospel accounts is not mundane or unremarkable, but rather what is included is included for a very specific purpose: that is conveys spiritual knowledge about Jesus Christ and how He is the Messiah and Eternal Word of the Father; and on a practical level this means that what is included in the Gospel accounts of Jesus has spiritual meaning for us that feeds our desire to be transformed by the Holy Spirit—transformed heart, and thereby a transformed life. The Gospel details from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are included to, in the words of our Collect, set us free from the bondage of our sins, that we might receive the liberty of that abundant life which the Father manifested in His Son Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

So, we must ask, given this iron-clad rule, might it be the case that the fever described by Saint Mark might indicate something more than Peter’s wife’s mother having a temperature higher than 98.6 degrees—that the image of her having a fever represents not a physical condition, but one spiritual?

It turns out there is plenty of support for just that interpretation, and it shows up early in the life of the Church (the early Church being generally referred to as the “patristic era”). A great voice of the Church, Saint Jerome, for example, interpreted the fever as intemperance. In traditional moral theology, “intemperance” refers to lack of moderation or restraint, and an excessive indulgence of any passion or appetite. More recently, the term is used to refer to an addiction to intoxicating beverage (that is, to alcohol), but in the Church it means an addiction to anything at all. The Venerable Bede, another great patristic voice, interpreted “fever” in the same way, and also included under its category addiction to sexual gratification. Many other voices could be cited here.

Now, we do not know (because Mark does not specify) which particular form of spiritual malady Peter’s mother-in-law possessed. For Mark, it is not an important detail to include. What is important, however, is that whatever the specifics, Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. And of course, we all are sick, from time to time: spiritually sick. Being unable to exercise restraint over some sort of addiction is something every human being suffers from, at least from time to time. Addiction to television, addiction to cell phones, addiction to gossip, addiction to control, addiction to victimhood; but also addiction more broadly: addition to anxiety, to judging others, even to family (putting family before God), addiction to politics is a prevalent one today, addition to laziness; and, of course, addiction obviously to food, as well as addiction to things we normally speak of as addictive (drugs, alcohol)—these are part of the normal human condition of being fallen, and the Church generally calls these “passions” and what is named in our Psalm as “prison.”

And what spurs our giving into our passions (our addictions) are, in the language of the Church, of course demons. We should note in this passage that Mark uses the word “demons” four times in this passage. When sick, look for demons. Within the Christian faith, being sick has everything to do with our inability to exercise restraint against our common human impulses and human addictions: that is, unable to resist temptation dangled before our eyes like the serpent dangled the fruit of the paradise Tree in front of Adam and Eve. Being sick, in short, results from giving into our passions.

And yet, it is to provide healing from our human weakness that Christ came as the Light that lighteth all human beings. That is what we see right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel: immediately we see Jesus healing, and in our passage today, Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. And again, Mark means “spiritual healing,” and that is indicated by the fact that as the fever left her, after Jesus “lifted her up” (itself a signal of spiritual healing), she served them. Now, it is easy to overlook the significance of this act of serving, but in the Greek the word is of the same root as the term we today use for an ordained Deacon. Older English translations often use, “the fever left her, and she ministered unto them,” which is closer. Ministering is the activity, of course, of Jesus: and the significance I mentioned earlier of this episode involving a woman is that this woman, Peter’s mother in law, after being healed of her spiritual fever, of her spiritual “passion” (meaning addiction), is the first person in Mark’s gospel to imitate Jesus. Jesus came that His disciples would imitate Him. To be healed, which is what salvation means, is not just to receive relief (or absolution) from Jesus from our sinful temptations, but it is to lead a different way of life thereafter—to walk from henceforth in Christ’s holy ways. It is to lead a transformed life with an illumined heart, guided by grace.

Brothers and sisters, as we continue to approach Lent with the knowledge of the new light of Christ shining in our hearts, let us understand that if we say we have no sin (that is, no passions), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins (our giving into passions), the Father is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.