On Waking Up

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

Saint John’s account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead perhaps strikes us as a passage of scripture that belongs as a Lesson during Eastertide. The story, after all, is a kind of resurrection story. Lazarus is dead, Jesus hears. And after being dead four days, he is raised from the dead, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. This parallels, closely but by no means exactly, the account of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ—not four days for Him, but three. We can be sure that the young Church in the Upper Room were inspired by the Holy Ghost to remember this miracle—and in John’s account of the Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the seventh of seven miracles performed by Jesus. But for us, the Church, we encounter this story not in Eastertide, but in Lent. And the reason is because of what the passage from John, along with the especially the passage from the prophet Ezekiel, teaches us about what the Christian faith means when we speak of “being dead.”

It is a detail we are apt to miss, especially in such a length Gospel passage—44 verses. But before leaving to go to Lazarus, and to Martha and Mary Magdalene, Jesus says to His disciples with Him: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” The disciples miss Our Lord’s meaning, for they respond, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Saint John underscores their missing of Jesus’s subtle teaching when the evangelist adds, “Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.” What has Our Lord’s subtle teaching here? It was that what eyes of the flesh perceive as death, the eyes of Our Lord, and presumably the eyes of Christian faith, see in fact as sleep; that physical death, the end of the course of our moral life, is not the end. This is captured in our funeral liturgy; the Preface for the Eucharist read, “for to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” When we die, we fall asleep in the Lord, but our life is not ended. Jesus knew from the first that this episode with Lazarus provided Him a true teaching moment: It is all for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it; and, as He says later, that all those witnessing the moment in faith may believe that Jesus was sent by the Father.

Lazarus was not dead, despite the stench of four days in a tomb. And likewise, the house of Israel were not dead, despite them saying of themselves, “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.” What was the house of Israel but slaves to sin, in Saint Paul’s words to the Church of Rome? Sin leads to death: physical death in many cases, to be sure; but from the perspective of Christian faith, one can be perfectly alive and functioning in a physical sense but dead to God through sin. Dead, and enslaved, which means unable to free ourselves from enslavement. As the Apostle says, “the end of those things is death.” Physically alive but spiritually dead is enslavement to sin, and also asleep, yet to be free is to wake up to enlightenment through Christ.

And yet, we rejoice because of the free gift of God, His gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And we receive this gift through resurrection. But whose resurrection shows the gift? Certainly our Lord’s, for His resurrection was made manifest to the young Church in the forty days after the empty tomb, experiences the young Church carried with them into the Upper Room before the Coming of the Holy Ghost. But I ask again, whose resurrection shows the gift? In the story of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus was alive: the gift of resurrection was entirely shown through the resurrection not of Jesus but of Lazarus. And in the same way, for us, Jesus is already alive—and has never not been alive, for He was begotten of His Father before all worlds. And the gift of resurrection is not shown by Him—for He is always risen—but through us.

And so this is the teaching for us to carry with us into the last days of Lent and Holy Week: The resurrection of  Christ is shown to the world not through the resurrection of Christ but in His resurrection through us, we being raised in a resurrection like His, showing ourselves to the world as Him, as His ambassadors, His agents, as the Sacrament of His Hope for the world. Our Lord, through His resurrection, puts His Spirit within us, and raises us from the graves of slavery to sin—that we shall live, and know that the Lord has spoken, “Let there be light,”—and that we have responded in kind like Blessed Mother Mary did: Let it be to us according to Thy Word.

On Being Peace for the World

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

Well, our world has turned upside down. And despite our present difficulties and uncertainties, we will get through this. I am not saying that to minimize any of the hardship, suffering, and anxiety many if not all of us feel in our own ways. I have no crystal ball. But we will get through this, because  Our Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed death by His death, and has redeemed us through His Holy Cross. He has beaten down Satan under His feet and forever opened eternal life to those who believe in Him.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus loves us. He gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God—He did this so that in walking in His footsteps and following His ways, would who once were in darkness would be able to walk in the Light. In these days of darkness around us, the Light of Christ shines through. It shines through in our ability to continue to pray, which we must do, daily and unceasingly. It shines through in our loving of one another, our taking care of ourselves and one another during this difficult time—which we must do, and that is why I am calling on each and every one of us to take it upon ourselves to call other members of our parish, and to call them regularly—and not only those whom we might already regularly call, but to reach out to members of our parish you might have never reached out to before over the phone. A simple message of “I was thinking of you and wanted to make sure you are hanging in there,” goes a very long way during a time of social distancing. Our simple message becomes a message of light that lightens the hearts of the person we are calling. So let us take it upon ourselves, each and every one of us, to love one another, and Christ Himself loves us.

God has chosen us to be ambassadors for Him, like God chose and anointed David, to be an icon of Him, to be a living Sacrament of His love—an icon for others to behold, and when they behold, they behold not us, but Christ through us; and a living Sacrament of His love, that when they receive the love, they receive not us, but the peace of Christ through us.

And let us also during this time take advantage of as much as possible the encounters we do have with others, I mean outside our parish membership. Surely let us keep our social distancing, but we can still reach hearts from a distance of six feet or more. Knowing firmly that Christ Jesus is our rock, the temple from Whom living waters flows—and this is why daily prayer is so important, to daily remind us of God, daily renew our offering of ourselves to Him, and daily be replenished by the living Word of His daily Bread—and being so renewed and replenished, and with an open heart, let us with joy and love speak with whomever we see, speak with them even if the conversation lasts but a few seconds or a minute. Having an open heart of love offered to everyone in their time and need, however they may need it, opens people’s eyes. As Christ made clay and anointed the eyes of a blind man, let us meet people where they are, and with our “good morning, hanging in there?”; our “crazy times, eh?”; our “anything I can help you with?” we spread Christ’s anointing and healing love through our attention, openness, and genuine concern for others.

Brothers and sisters, this love which Christ has chosen us to spread to others is heavenly. When Christ comes down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world, He bestows upon us through Word and Sacrament His heavenly peace which is available to all those we choose to make it available to in our lives. The world may not always receive this peace, the world may reject this peace offered by us to the world; but our Lord taught us to offer it anyway. He taught us to always offer to others the peace which passes all understanding—the peace that keeps our hearts and mind in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ. Peace He gives us freely, that we offer it freely to all.

On Being a Sacrament of Hope

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

We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. We hear these words in our Collect, and for many of us these might be difficult words to hear, difficult words to take seriously, difficult words, that is, to believe. Of course I have power to help myself, we might think to ourselves. I can be a responsible person; I can live morally; I can take care of my family and provide for them as I am able; I can clean up my room and my house; I can cook and clean; my gosh, I can dress myself; I can read books or whatever in order to improve my mind; I can make sure I am in relationship with others in case I need their help, or they need mind. What do you mean, holy Mother Church, that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves? Has God given me nothing?

And of course, God has given us the faculties to help ourselves, in all those ways I just listed. And we are to use them, use them as best we are able, even when it hurts. And we are to remember that God has given them to us. God has given us bodies to live in; God has given us morals towards which to aspire; God has given us a sense of responsibility to our family members; God has given us hands and legs to do the cleaning and cooking; God has given us a mind, and He has given us a conscience. And underneath it all, God has given us the very reality of love—true love, what is called charity, self-less giving of oneself for others. And He has given us His peace, which is what His love feels like when it is received. We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves because the power of peace and love by which the world even exists comes only from God.

Through our faith—that is, living relationship with God—we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, is what Saint Paul teaches us. Through Him, Paul continues, we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoices in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Through our faith, our living relationship, we participate in the redemptive Body of Jesus Christ; and through Him, we have obtained access to the grace by which we stand—and, Paul might have added to elaborate—the grace by which we breath, the grace by which we move, the grace by which we think, the grace by which we listen and pray and love and sleep and serve. This grace is called by Jesus “living water,” and the living water has been poured into our hearts. If we would drink of it, let us not harden our hearts, brothers and sisters.

Although our translation of scripture is often very good, the translation of the beginning of our lesson from Saint John does not quite capture the sense of the original. It reads that Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey, sat down beside the well. No—it is literally that Jesus sat down not beside the well, but that Jesus sat down on the well. The water of the well, in other words, is no longer the water that truly quenches thirst. Rather, Jesus is the Temple, the Temple is His Body, and the living water flows through the Temple which is Him.

His sitting upon it is deeply symbolic, in that His doing so recapitulates, or sums up, all of the well-scenes of Scripture: Isaac’s servant and Rebekah in Gen 24; Jacob and Rachel in Gen 29; Moses and Zipporah in Ex 2. And note, too, each of these well scenes have something to do with marriage, as does this scene with Our Lord. Living relationship with Jesus means marriage to Him, Who is the Bridegroom, and the Church His Bride; and this is the deepest meaning of baptism: through the waters, we are married to God. And there is symbolism in the location. On this mountain where the well is, is where Abraham sacrificed Isaac, where Jacob had his vision, and where God revealed Himself to Moses. Images of Christ nailed to the Cross often have at the very bottom of the Cross a mountain—it is all one well of grace, it is all one mountain of pilgrimage. By His holy Cross has Christ redeemed the world.

And note as well that it is the Samaritan women who so shares the Gospel with her people that her people believe in Jesus through her. She has no power of herself to help herself or help her people find Truth—but Jesus works through her, being fully present in her proclamation of Him.

Brothers and sisters, what are we to make of all this? In this time of plague and uncertainly, we are to make of it this: in our love for others, Christ makes Himself known through us. The living waters that flow between Him and the Father flow through us in our service to the lonely. We have no power of ourselves to help the world—but when we recognize that, we have at our disposal the power of heaven, the living power of God Almighty, His heavenly peace and love. Let us be this Sacrament of Hope for the world.

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 Fleeing to Our Transfigured Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Stations of the Cross in our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, 2019

We have entered today into a contemplation of the mighty acts of God whereby our salvation comes: an experience that we will spend the next 68 days reflecting upon—the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Our Lord’s Passover from life to death, from death to resurrection, from resurrection to ascension, from ascension to the coming of His Holy Ghost, and from the Coming of the Holy Ghost finally to the Eucharist, the primary means of His presence among us today. The portion of the liturgical calendar over those 68 days is today, Palm Sunday, through the feast of Corpus Christi, always on a Thursday, this year on June 20. This is the mystery of God, and within His mystery—a mystery that is transcendent of time and space, transcendent of our categories of thought, transcendent as once for all time, a mystery that being transcendent of time and space, has no beginning or end, but is happening right now and in all moments—all moments of reality have within them the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecostal and eucharistic truth of Christ—all of Christian reality being made sacramental by God’s actions—within this mystery of God is the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of prayer, and the mystery of our spiritual lives.

When we proclaimed at the beginning of our liturgy, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we joined the angels—for this is always their song proclaimed to God as the thousands and ten thousands of them are gathered around the heavenly throne. “Holy, holy, holy,” the angels sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Our liturgy indeed is a divine liturgy of the angels.

And it all begins with Jesus, riding on a colt. It begins with the King of all creation—Who was King of all creation at all moments in His life, the King walking among His creatures, the Light through Whom all creatures are made, the Light among the darkness, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not—the King riding not on a magnificent horse-drawn chariot bedazzled and bespeckled with gems and jewels befitting a secular king, but riding in His humility. He enters in humility into the City that had been the center of His human existence from the beginning, because to Jerusalem His parents brought Him every year at the Passover; He memorably stayed back one year when He was twelve, to teach us all that the sacred house of prayer—for Him, the Temple; for us the Parish church—is where the truth of the Father is made known to us through His Son.

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He taught Mary and Joseph, and through them, us. The mystery of this house, which is the mystery of the Church, is one in which we ask how we are a part of this house, indeed a member of this house, for as baptized people, we are members of His Body, the Church. And as Jesus entered as a horse, so too the beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was brought to the inn on a horse—the wounds of the beaten man were physical and of the flesh: the wounds of Christ spiritual and of the soul, and soon to be physicaland of the flesh, as we. He knew He was entering into His death, by His Father’s will.

Saint Paul teaches us to have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This mystery—which is all fact—this mystery we are always to have in mind among ourselves; when Saint Paul exhorts the parish at Corinth to imitate him in being stewards of the mysteries of God, the Apostle exhorts us as well. Our identity together is not through friendship, kinship, shared hobbies, life pursuits or interest in sports teams. Our identity together is entirely rooted in this man Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross—Who in utter humility reveals transcendent righteousness and our salvation.

Throughout Lent we have prayed the Stations of the Cross at both of our congregations, and many of us in our own homes. At each station Our Lord becomes poorer and poorer, debased and deformed at each station so that by the end, He is unrecognizable. And when Saint Mary Magdalene meets Him at the empty tomb, His unrecognizability is taken yet further: He looks not like Himself but like a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walk the whole way there not recognizing Jesus with them. Our Lord chose for His human likeness to be deformed and removed so that He could be found again after His resurrection—found in many ways, but especially so that He could be found in the poor, the abandoned, the suffering—found in people today who are suffering in loneliness, the worst human disease.

We made our Stations of the Cross, the fourteen of them around our church, not so that when we reach the fourteenth we would stop, but so that we would continue to make our stations of the cross in our lives. There are men and women and children in our county who today are suffering, and in their suffering, Jesus lives His passion. Each lonely person is a Station of the Cross, are we there? And people when they fall, because they stumble in their troubles, that is a station of the Cross—are we there, to help them pick up their cross as Simon of Cyrene was there? And the lonely people we see in our neighborhood—will we be the those who look and do not see? Let us look and see.

And as we make our Stations of the Cross, as Jesus taught His disciples they are to do—to love the least of His brethren—let us always have the joy we share at Jesus entering into Jerusalem—hosanna in the highest. All glory, laud and honor—this is our joy, for the joy that empowers of loving of the lonely is Jesus, and all we do, we do for Him. Because He did everything for us.

On the Vineyard and Wicked Tenants

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

It is necessary to have in mind the context in Saint Luke’s gospel in which our loving Lord Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants. Jesus has already entered Jerusalem upon colt, the road upon which He entered covered with garments in honor of Him, and the whole multitude of the disciples rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And yet approach the city Jesus wept over its condition—not its physical condition but its spiritual condition: a city made by God for His glory and worship, in a Temple made by God for that same reason.

This is why he then precedes to cleanse the temple, driving out the money-changers with the teaching, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” as it was when Mary His mother and Joseph is guardian found Him at age twelve sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions—if Jesus asks questions then we are to, as well—and all who Him were amazed at His understanding and His answer. And within the religiously collapsing Temple, Jesus taught and yet His authority was questioned by the chief priests and scribes—those, we must remember, were then only nominally religious and had sold out to Roman authority because—well, we know what money and power can do to people. Despite the jostling, Jesus fends off His foes, and then taught the parable.

“A man,” Jesus said, “planted a vineyard.” Although parables usually are to be freely interpreted and lived-with often with multiple meanings within the single parable, in this case we must start with the primary interpretation: that this man symbolizes God and the vineyard symbolizes Israel. These are strong and consistent symbols throughout the Old Testament: in Isaiah, to take but one instance, we hear: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” And we hear similarly in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and the Song of Songs. In this long tradition, God creates a vineyard that He loves. He is sometimes angry at it, but in the end God always restores it. God’s mission with His people is always just that: restoring that, and who, He has made, that we attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Him, to the measure of the stature of fullness of Him.

Who then are the tenants? The word “tenants” suggests those who have a commercial interest in the property, not a personal or religious one. The tenants are described as quite distinct from “servant,” as well as the “beloved son,” and that is very important. Our Lord most immediately wanted to direct His parable against not Israel but those who would destroy it. Israel—God’s vineyard, is fruitful, but hostile tenants are preventing the harvest. And so Jesus says, the man “will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others.” We have, then, a critique of the corruption of the Temple by Rome and its Jewish collaborators—the chief priests, scribes, and their associates.

This is emphasized by Our Lord’s quoting of Psalm 118: “The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” This was a Psalm that was sung—all of the Psalms were originally sung, and remain best experienced through singing and chanting—at Passover as a way of rejoicing that Israel, the enslaved people, had become the cornerstone of a nation in covenant with God. Jesus fully stands in solidarity not with political Israel of His day, but religious Israel of His day. As He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.”

This is what God is doing when He is doing a “new thing.” God’s actions always have a dual characteristic—creating and restoring. Saint Paul said, “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come,” and yet in becoming a new creation, our personality remains, our uniqueness remains. Paul’s passion, and Mary Magdalene’s passion, were not extinguished when they were called and remade by Jesus, but rather rightly ordered to God. God is always remaking us more into who He created us to be, and Why He created us in the first place, and keeps in alive now.

And yet this dual character of God’s action takes on a poignancy when we think of the suffering that God allows to happen to Paul—who suffered the loss of all things, and let us hear in his words at somewhere a profound existential dread and grieving—what God allowed to happen to many of the apostolic men and women of the early Church—martyred for their love of Jesus—and what God allowed to happened to His Son, Jesus our Lord and Savior. Jesus knows that in the parable, He is the beloved Son, He is the heir—that He will be cast out of the vineyard and killed. Let us, who are soon to enter again into Holy Week and the mysteries of the Sacred Triduum, enter know into the mind of Jesus, telling a parable in which the central character is killed, and knowing it is about Him. And let us hear the final verse of our Psalm in just this way: “Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed”—our Lord in His passion—“will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves”—our Good Shepherd Jesus, carrying us remade on His shoulders with joy.

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.