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.

Living Baptismally, pt 15: On Wearing the Wedding Garment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptismal Living, part 7: Domestic Life in the Spirit

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Proper 12), 2020.

With the return starting next Sunday of eucharistic worship in the Mass with Holy Communion, the elements that make up the baptismal life of the Church will all be again in place for us. The elements of Christian life are fellowship in the apostles’ teaching and doctrine (which is our overall devotional life loving God and neighbor according to Scripture), the breaking of bread (which is the Mass with Eucharist), and the prayers (the daily liturgical praying of the Church). This is the Christian way of life revealed on the Day of Pentecost, empowered in all moments of the life by the Holy Spirit, as the way to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is the promise of the Father. This threefold Regula (or Rule) is everything that is meant by Christian discipline, and it is the sure means for everything that is meant by Christian repentance, that is, turning to God.

While the Christian life obviously demands commitment, it is not in any way complicated. It is not the province only of those with intellectual gifts, or of certain personality or temperament. Rather it is an everyday life of discipline and repentance meant for all, available to all, and benefiting both all of the baptized, as well as, through the local worshipping community, the whole world. The Christian life is far more domestic, quiet, and even mundane than it is spectacular. It is picking up your Bible and Prayer Book and praying when no one is watching; it is tending responsibly to the Christian duties of life, when no one is watching; it is loving God in our neighbor when no one is watching, and even our neighbor is unaware.

It is in the unspectacular life of fully loving Jesus when no one is watching where Our Lord teaches the kingdom of heaven is often found. The mustard seed, growing into a mustard bush—not a very large bush, not beautiful or itself awe-inspiring; but just as in a small seed and small bush nonetheless a whole world can be found for those with patience and quieted mind, so as God’s glory can be found in the normal domestic life of tending our garden, keeping our homes, protecting our family life through prayer and humility before God.

And Our Lord teaches that the kingdom of heaven is as everyday unspectacular as leaven that is hid in flour. Flour by itself is lifeless and inedible, as we are without God’s grace. But just as a little leaven leavens the whole of the lump of flour so as to become delicious and enriching loaves of bread, so as God’s grace, being the heavenly reality of Christ’s sacred humanity, grace which teaches us how to pray and calls us ever closer to Him, this grace raises up our pitiful, sinful, unfulfilled lives that we might become the Sacrament of Christ’s heavenly bread for the world.

And Our Lord teaches that the kingdom of heaven is as treasure hidden in a field, and in which a man sells all he has and buys that field. The treasure is the daily bread of God’s Word in Scripture, and the field is the world. The man selling all he has signifies placing nothing in our lives before God, above God, or with greater priority than God. For when we do that over the course of our growth in the Spirit, which is the process of baptismal living called “sanctification,” the world is seen as full of grace, and we receive the world as in all ways made by God through His Eternal Word which is Christ. And while this may sound spectacular, extraordinary, and even mystical, such recognition of God’s grace permeating the whole of creation is captured so well and in such earthy terms in the hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”—for all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. God’s endless grace fill all in all—and He does so in ways miraculously ordinary.

Brothers and sisters, the Psalmist as he often does captures all of this poignantly when he sings “When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The baptized people of God are not asked to be anything but simple—people who fear God, and as a result live an uncomplicated, largely unspectacular domestic faith that knows the eyes of Our Lord are upon all who love Him, and that His grace is hidden everywhere in the world to seek, find, and treasure like the pearl of great price. We are people seeking light—light which can only be found through the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread, for it is only through the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread that the Christian God is revealed in Jesus Christ.

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.”

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the  Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle, 2018. That through the preaching of Saint Paul the Apostle, God has caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world—there can be no doubt. Roughly one quarter of the books of the New Testament were written by Paul, and it is likely that all of the letters were completed before the first Gospel was written, the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Then, he travelled around the known world preaching and teaching, exhorting and inviting—that all should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance. In a very clear way, Saint Paul imitated Saint John the Baptist. Read more “Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle””

Homily: “On the Wedding Garments”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23, Year A), 2017.

Our Collect this week dates from at least the 8th century, and it is the shortest, most concise of all the Sunday Collects used throughout the year. But despite its brevity, it contains in concentrated, devotional idiom what has been called the first principle of sound theology. And because of its brevity, it can be easily memorized and used throughout one’s life, almost as a mantra or personal refrain.

That first principle of sound theology is found in the first half, in these words: “Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us.” What that says is, God acts first, and anything we do is a response to grace manifest and present, rather than being of our own design and origin.  Earlier in the church year, we acknowledged to God that in our weakness we can do nothing good without Him. It is grace before, during, and after each and every godly encounter in which we participate in our lives, from the most mundane to the most grand. It is for that reason that we must evermore be praising Him, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts (of power and might). We can do nothing good without God, without grace. What a humbling fact! Read more “Homily: “On the Wedding Garments””

Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, 2017.

We heard these words in our second reading: “Before His coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” This is what Saint Paul tells us, as recorded by Saint Luke, the author of both the Gospel by His name and the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus was coming into the world—coming into relationship with the world (he already was in relationship because all things are made through Him, so we mean coming into relationship in the sense of being able to be recognized and to be available through sure and certain means); He was coming into relationship, and coming into the hearts of people. And before Him, ahead of Him, as the forerunner, was John, son of Elizabeth and Zachariah—indeed, a holy family the members of which the Church has long venerated as Saint Elizabeth, Saint Zachariah, and Saint John the Baptist, the nativity of whom we celebrated today.

Saint John is a major saint of the Church. He plays a major role in the economy of salvation—that is, how salvation actually works not as an idea or good-feeling sentiment, not as the theme of a social club, but as an actual reality that has happened, and is happening, and, God-willing, will continue to happen to actual people in actual lives. Saint John is the first person we meet in the Gospel of Mark, he is introduced at length in the Gospel of Matthew, he is prominent in the Gospel of Luke, and his ministry is raised to the status of a mystic in the Gospel of John. Read more “Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist””