Author Archives: Matthew Dallman

Homily: “On Keeping His Words”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Seventh Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

We find ourselves this morning within the in-between time—after the Ascension of Our Lord and before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus promised would come to teach us, guide us, and lead us into all truth. This is a time of prayer, and indeed our nine day period of prayer, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, emulates what Mary and the disciples did during this time—devoting themselves with one accord to prayer. The picture of the first Christian community is given us by Luke: the community together in prayer, accompanied by Mary, waiting together in prayer for what God has promised them. Although there are many times throughout the liturgical year that we are aiming outward and explicitly focus on the relationship of the Church with the wider world, this time of Ascension, the final days of Eastertide, has us focused on Jesus and His relationship with His closest disciples, including His mother Mary.

Today in our Novena we petition the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of Understanding. Whereas yesterday’s petition of Wisdom asked God to make us aware of the mysteries of divine things, today’s prayer asks God to help us understand them, that we may be enlightened by the mysteries, and know and believe. We are asking God for the ability to discern how the divine mysteries are at work in the world, and see the world around us with the eyes of Christ. Would Christ look around at our world today and see the same things that we see? It is a question always worth asking, for it is a question that challenges us to allow ourselves to be stretched into seeing things beyond our normal pattern of perception. Teach us, O Holy Spirit, to see with Your eyes, that we might apply our heart unto wisdom in this life and be made worthy to attain to the vision glorious in the life to come. Continue reading

Homily: “On Abiding in Him”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A, 2017.

I would like to draw our attention again to the Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I would like to look at it again because by it we are expressing something very important to the Christian life, and we are asking Our Lord Jesus for something very important, particularly as we look forward on Thursday to the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and the nine-days of prayer that follow on the Ascension, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first line of the prayer begins: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” In bringing God to mind, we bring to mind something about God that He has done for us, something about Him that lifts our hearts in praise for His love for us. What hope we express in these words, and these words call to mind our Gospel from last Sunday when we heard that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, a house with many rooms. Jesus knows this because of the love he shared with the Father, since before creation. His Father dwells in Him, and when we dwell in Jesus, Jesus dwells in Us, and through Him dwells the Father in our hearts. As we abide in Jesus, He abides in us. And when He abides in us, the Holy Trinity abides in us, the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The God of all creation dwells in our hearts, and continues His saving work through us. Of course these surpass our understanding, so Jesus teaches us with a commandment that we can understand and endlessly apply: “Abide in me.” If we abide in Him, and continue to actively grapple with what that means, God will work through us. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

Near the end of Saint John’s Gospel, in the last verse of the twentieth chapter, we learn that what was written in this book was included so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in His Name. And this applies to all four of the Gospels, and all of the Epistles—that is to say, the entirety of the New Testament, all twenty-seven books. In other words, the purpose, as Saint John states it, is the building up of faith in those who in some sense already possess an experience of God however that experience might be named. And so having that experience, we might be better able to understand it through patient reflection on the biblical books. The Bible supports our experience of the divine mysteries of God, feeds our experience of Jesus and His saving grace, and draws us deeper into the divine mysteries. The words of the New Testament are intended as logs to throw on a fire that is already lit in our hearts. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Good Shepherd”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

“The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” Again we have the theme today in our Scripture that has been present and available to us since Easter Sunday—of hearing the voice of Jesus, and being led to truth; indeed even hearing Him only speak a word, and souls being healed. Undoubtedly this teaching was one of dozens spoken by Jesus which echoed around in the community of disciples during Jesus’s three years of ministry, and this teaching—this word—came back and was remembered by the community as they struggled to understand the resurrection and how Jesus, dead on a cross and laid in a cave, was alive and completely available to them, indeed available to them in a joyous, healing, and yet transformed way—Jesus, still with His wounds, His wounds glorifying Him and showing Him to be authentic. Continue reading

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, parts 1 and 2

By Martin Thornton

PART ONE
There is good reason for dividing this lecture into two unequal parts. I must first offer a brief resumé of what I take the Anglican spiritual tradition to be; then I should like to look rather more fully at the contemporary impact of our tradition, concluding with a somewhat dangerous game of attempting to read the signs of its future unfolding.

Pedantic haggling over the meaning of words is not the most exciting exercise, but it is apparent already that some attention must be given to that most ambiguous and abused term “Tradition”; paradosistraditio, literally a giving-over, or handing-over. Handing-over be it noted and not handing-down. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Road to Emmaus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Third Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

We come to Saint Luke’s account of the Road to Emmaus and the two disciples who journey with a third person they did not recognize seven miles from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus and how, when they arrive, they come to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ through the breaking of the bread, and in looking back on their journey with eyes of faith, were able to recognize that Jesus was present as well in the proclamation of the Scriptures, opening them, thereby burning their hearts. Indeed, looking back is what the Lectionary has had us do these first three Sundays of Easter—looking back at how Jesus first made His resurrected presence felt and known to the disciples on the first Easter day. Here it is with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; last Sunday it was to the eleven disciples; and on Easter Sunday it was to Saint Mary Magdalene in the garden by the empty tomb. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Peace of Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Second Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

Our Gospel passage this morning begins where the Gospel left off last Sunday. There, Jesus appeared first to Saint Mary Magdalene, who being weepy and lost, heard her Lord say only a word, and her soul was healed. By hearing, by listening, by obedience in the pure sense, she was able to see, and indeed see so as to run and say to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” And so in our moments of feeling lost, our moments of feeling disoriented, our moments when our tears flood the room, we must let God speak to us, we must keep our ears open to His voice, that He might say our name like He said Mary’s, that He might only say a word, that we will be healed, as well. Continue reading

Martin Thornton: Farmer, Priest, Author

1. Biography
Martin Stuart Farrin Thornton lived from 1915 to 1986. He was the youngest of three boys born to Alfred Augustus Thornton and Ida Beatrice (Farrin) Thornton on 11 November 1915. He was born in Hockley, England, and his name was chosen because his day of birth was that of the feast of St Martin. His father established and owned a patent law firm, and the family’s home was a Georgian style house on grounds of two acres, with a 7-acre field part of the property as well. Martin was baptized in the following Spring 1916.

Thornton’s initial exposure to Christianity through his family life appears to be of largely unspectacular and commonplace. All of the children were baptized in the local Church of England parish church (Hockley Parish Church of St Peter), and Thornton’s elementary education followed broadly the Church of England ethos. His older brothers went off to college when he was eight years old, so he was something of an “only child” until age 15 when he went off to boarding school. Hence he described himself as “imaginative, because solitary”.

Thornton’s formal education began in the field of agriculture and began adult life as a farmer. His father had acquired property (in Finchingfield in Essex) which Thornton then managed and farmed pigs, sheep, and sugar beet. He is said to have innovated a style of ploughing that is not straight lines but round and round in decreasing circles, and he was an early adopter of what are now called “sustainable/organic” farming practices.

In My God: A Reappraisal of Normal Religious Experience, Thornton describes a spiritual, or numinous, experience that he had as a farmer in Finchingfield. It appears that part of this land was previously a Cistercian grange (or satellite farm of the monastery). Here is a brief excerpt of his longer description of what happened as he walked in the field, working out a sense of personal anxiety about his direction in life:

It was mid-November, dark, dank, negative, and I walked through a swamp and across two meadows. . . . Then the fog descended, and so did the Spirit, all-shrouding is better than all-enveloping, because the former words hints at death while the latter has the false (in this case) connotation of comforting protection. If you want to make shallow jests about omnipresence and holy fog, then go ahead; I shall not be amused, not shall I be abashed. The presence of God was disclosed through the total foggy environment; and the disclosure pointed to the Father transcendent, to a Providence who brooked no opposition and no argument. It was very frightening, very uncomfortable, and very real.

It was also very confusing: no dialogue, no prophetic pointer, no answer. Then the fog cleared off, almost at once, in a most spectacular fashion, and a series of integrations, contemplative syntheses, took place. Creation through which God spoke, in which he dwelt, concentrated itself into a single beech tree. As befitted the occasion it was straggly, in a sinister way ugly, not especially significant compared with many of its fellows. But herein God took his stance, herein he disclosed. I, too, experienced a personal integration, a contemplative awareness. The beech tree spoke. . . .

A few weeks later a near-hurricane swept through the valley, but doing surprisingly little damage. I took the same walk, not to recapture the presence because that does not do; that would be Schubert Ogden’s semi-idolatry. There was nothing sacred about the beech tree: once it had been a pin-point of a total creation in which God dwells, a medium for his disclosure, that is all. I crested the hill and the tree was not there, only a gap making visible transcendent uplands beyond. The tree had succumbed to the gale, uprooted and straddled across the lane; a farmer friend was clearing a way through and cutting it up to burn. He could not understand it, for it was a healthy tree, and it was surrounded by decrepit elms which are especially susceptible to high winds, shallow rooted and brittle. Beeches do not readily fall. There were no more casualties within sight. . . .

Am I seriously contending that God intervened, intruded, destroying a beech tree for my personal benefit? No, I don’t think I am. It is more like Noah’s rainbow, just an ordinary rainbow, but nevertheless a specific disclosure at that point. Or who moved the stone? The holy women worried, but they need not have done. I worried, deep-down I think I was frightened of that tree: I need not have worried!

Everything came to pass as I knew it would. Now I am glad: Benedicite, omnia opera. O ye Winds of God, bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever.

Whether this experience of the “numinous”, as well as his farming background, sheds light on Thornton’s subsequent theological method and approach appears to be intriguing answered in the affirmative. Themes that connect doctrine and theology with the natural world of creation appear in his first book through his last.

Thornton graduated from King’s College London with a degree in Theology in 1946, and was ordained a priest in 1947 by the Bishop of Norwich. He published his first book a year later. In 1949 he began at Christ College, Cambridge to read theology, receiving his M.A. in 1955 having studied with the likes of Ian Ramsey. In 1955, he professed full vows to the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. This non-residential order employed a rule that called for daily Eucharist, private recitation of the Office, celibacy, intellectual study, fellowship, and stewardship. In 1962, he accepted a teaching post (warden) at St Deiniol’s Library in Harwarden, Wales. A residential library, it trained ordinands and laity, and he additionally authored seven books while stationed there.


In terms of his personal life, Martin and Monica Thornton were married on 11 September, 1968, at St Mary Magdalene Parish, Loders, Dorset. The decision to marry meant that Thornton had to leave the Oratory. Nearly a year later, Monica gave birth to their only daughter, Magdalen Mary, on 23 July 1969. The photograph above of the three Thorntons was taken in May, 1985.

Subsequent to St Deiniol’s Library, Thornton was a visiting lecturer at The General Theological Seminary in New York (receiving an honorary doctorate in 1966; see photo, Thornton is 2nd from the right), and later at Philadelphia Divinity School. He almost became a professor at Nashotah House, but by the time the position was offered in 1975, he had returned to England to begin what became his last position. This was Canon Chancellor at Truro Cathedral in Truro, England, where he was responsible for the cathedral library and school, various administrative duties, and regularly presiding at Cathedral liturgies; additionally he developed a four-year course to train spiritual directors.

He died on 22 June 1986 in Crewkerne, England, where he is buried. He had authored a corpus of 13 books, a variety of contributions to other books, four substantial journal articles, and a variety of book reviews. His audience appears to be more centered in the United States than in the UK, although his book, The Purple Headed Mountain (1962) was named the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book of 1962, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey authored its Foreword.


2. Reflection
It is fascinating that Thornton is both so known and so unknown — a presence in Anglicanism beloved by many and invisible to many more. Martin Thornton was a man whose work was endorsed by the likes of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, John Macquarrie, Eric Mascall, and Donald Allchin. Given his wide variety of experience — a parish priest in the Church of England for many years, visiting lecturer at The General Theological Seminary and other theological schools, ten years Canon Chancellor at Truro Cathedral, specializing in spiritual direction — and despite the fact that he was recognized and celebrated during his life, it is curious that he said that he felt like he was something of an outsider in the Church of England.

Few now know that he was first a farmer and was an early adopter of organic/sustainable agriculture. Later, he was an early adopter of the theology of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, as well as contemplative practices for ordinary Christians. I would still further and say he was an early adopter of an “ecumenical Catholic Anglicanism” and ressourcement well before the Second Vatican Council, and he was an early adopter of the brilliant theology of John Macquarrie, whose “existential-ontological” dogmatic writing deeply impacted Thornton’s theology, starting with The Rock and the River, published in 1965.

Through it all, Thornton’s voice is that of the Catholic imagination, rooted in sanity, balance, and honesty. His writing is by turns erudite, witty, “homely”, and prophetic. He’s been described as “strictly orthodox and strictly radical,” but that only begins to describe him. For him, to be “orthodox” is to be “devoutly experimental”, and vice versa. His career began just after World War II, and he absorbed the impact felt by the entire western Church of emerging existential philosophy, the Liturgical Movement, the Second Vatican Council, the fall of “Christendom” and rise of “post-Christianity”, increasing secularization, and the reality of smaller and smaller average Sunday attendance in English pews.

Intellectually, one would situate his work with that of John Macquarrie, Michael Ramsey, the ressourcement theologians, C.J Stranks, A.M. Allchin, Karl Rahner, Eric Mascall, as well as following on from G.K. Chesterton and Evelyn Underhill. He is certainly among the most well-read Anglican theologians of the last 150 years, particularly given the scope of his theological interest.

Without question, all of his books are brilliant. Yet in English Spirituality, his magnum opus, he offered a comprehensive interpretation of the theological roots and dynamics within Anglicanism the likes of which have never before or since been expounded with as much clarity, detail, and thoughtfulness. Margery Kempe: An Example in the English Pastoral Tradition grew out of Thornton’s research and writing of English Spirituality and should be seen as its partner, and Spiritual Direction is a prequel to both despite being published twenty years later. The Purple Headed Mountain is the best introduction to his theological approach, and Pastoral Theology, philosophically, biblically, and theologically meaty, is the seed-bed for his whole corpus. All of his books form a mission statement for the future of Anglican theological study, in seminaries and in parishes.

He reinvigorated, even revolutionized, the discipline of ascetical theology, seen not merely as the “theology of ascetical practices” but more inclusively as the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience. This is evident his exceptional commentary on the works of Sts Augustine, Benedict, Bernard, Aquinas, and Anselm, as well as the likes of Hugh of St Victor, William of St Thierry, the Ancrene Riwle, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor and other Caroline Divines, John Keble, and many more — the whole point of which is to demonstrate that the following statement is not idyllic speculation but simple fact:


In other words, his objective is to reinvigorate Anglicanism through the teaching of how it came to be in the first place — in a sense, the history of its prayer life — and how it can continue to live, thrive, and offer itself to the wider Christian community. For within Anglicanism, Thornton argues persuasively, there is the English School of Catholic spirituality — one of many schools within the historic Holy Church — and it is high time Anglicans actively claim this spirituality: because doing so is plainly the best response to the needs of our pastoral situation today.

Yet what he was all about was simple: he wanted to teach people how to teach the prayer life. He lived and wrote so that ordinary Christians could grasp the richness, profundity, humility, and rightness of faith in Christ Jesus as expressed and developed in the English lands, from the first days of Christianity all the way through into the 20th century. Although he never rejected the provocative formulations of early career (inspired by E.L. Mascall, Rudolf Otto, and Evelyn Underhill, among many others) by the end of his life his articulation of the Christian prayer life had grown, matured, and deepened into one thoroughly ecumenical, contemplative, biblical, creedal, and exciting. He believed that the primary pastoral need today is for competent spiritual direction, and for him, Anglicanism properly understood is perfectly suited to that task with its bulk of amassed spiritual riches, anchored in the Prayer Book, and a deeply ingrained DNA of Benedictine “family” life in the local parish.

In my view, he is a true Doctor and Saint of Holy Church, and will come to be recognized as such by more and more people as the exposure of this work increases.

Be that as it may, Thornton’s writing is simply unparalleled in all of Christianity. A substantial dimension of my God-given vocation is to help make all of this evident not merely to academics and bishops, but to ordinary, heroic Anglicans who live, breath, and grow in the Christian faith every day.

Matthew Dallman
Feast of St Gregory the Great 2014

 

Homily: “On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Easter Sunday”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sunday of the Resurrection, Year A, 2017.

It is a great joy to share with you all in the heavenly peace brought into the world by Jesus Christ, on this the day of His resurrection. I want to welcome especially our visitors to this holy space on this most holy of occasions. It is a blessing to have you with us. You are always welcome to pray with us in worship of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And we invite you to pray for us, as this church and our sister church continue to discern in joy and humility the mission that God is calling us to perform in Tazewell County and in the world.

The Church as a whole—all two billion plus of us Christians alive today, along with the great cloud of witnesses of the faithfully departed along with the countless Christians yet to be come—is always on mission. Our mission is to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Right Hand of the Father—in the words of Saint Paul, to proclaim “that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Our mission indeed is to be alive to God in Christ Jesus — alive to God as He lives and moves and has His being in and through all of His creatures, both great and small. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Easter Vigil”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for Trinity Episcopal Church, Lincoln, Illinois, on the Easter Vigil, Year A, 2017.

Alleluia—Christ is risen. He is risen indeed—alleluia!

It is a great honor to be here with you all tonight sharing this most holiest of occasions—remembering, celebrating, and in a real sense experiencing the raising from the dead of Jesus Christ by the glory of the Father, that we too may walk in newness of life. Joining me this evening is my family, my wife and our four daughters, and all of us bring greetings and prayers to you all from our parishioners back in Tazewell County, where I am the Priest-in-charge of both Saint Paul’s Church in Pekin and All Saints’ Church in Morton. Indeed I ask your prayers for us as both churches continue to discern what it means, and might yet still mean, for the two churches to become in an official sense the Parish of Tazewell County, serving all residents of Tazewell County.

I mentioned a moment ago that we are not only remembering and celebrating the resurrection of Our Lord to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, the Church Triumphant—but also in a real sense, experiencing it. We have witnessed and shared in the first light of Easter, indeed the first flickers of recognition by Mary Magdelene and the other Mary of the great mystery that was upon them, and upon us—and the first flickers grew to a holy fear and great joy. Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part seven and conclusion”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Good Friday, Year A, 2017.

The seventh and last word to be uttered by our most loving Jesus from the Cross is, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The meaning is clear. But why did the Son  of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, why did Jesus commend Himself publicly into the hands of His Father in this way, when He knew that He would nonetheless have received commendation had He not spoken as He did? Surely He who, only a little while before, had said, “The ruler of this world,” that is, Satan, “is coming. He has no power over me,” knew that His most holy spirit had already the Father’s commendation? Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part six”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Maundy Thursday, Year A, 2017.

The sixth word of Our loving Lord Jesus Christ from the Cross come right on after the fifth word. Like the fifth, it was recorded by Saint John, so let us return to the moment we experienced on Palm Sunday. Again we are close to the very end of Jesus’s life on earth. He has been mocked, spat upon, tortured and crucified on the Cross. His garment torn, His Body emaciated—yet the loving words to His Mother and to John the Beloved Disciple have been uttered, along with the words, “I thirst,” that fifth words that reminds us that Jesus always thirsts for us. And then Saint John tells us in his Gospel these words: “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” That is the sixth word of Jesus from the Cross: “It is finished.” For John, this is the final utterance, for as he tells us of Our loving Lord Jesus, then “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part five”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Palm Sunday, Year A, 2017.

The fifth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus was recorded by Saint John in the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel. We are close to the very end of Jesus’s life on earth. Mocked and spat upon, crucified on the Cross, His garments torn, the words to Mary His Mother and His Beloved Disciple John having been bestowed upon them, John tells us that “knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture,) “I thirst.” This, the fifth Word of Jesus—“I thirst.” Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part four”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

The fourth of the Seven Last Words of Jesus echoes about the hearts and minds of faithful Christians as we approach the events of Holy Week. This word from Jesus is plain, and it is unadorned. It is: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was Saint Matthew who recorded these words in his Gospel. Saint Matthew tells us this happened at about the ninth hour of the day. That sort of reckoning of time began at what we would call 6 am, or thereabouts. So the ninth hour of the day would be about 3 pm in the afternoon, and has traditionally in the Church been a holy time each day for prayer and recollection of Our Lord’s crucifixion. Saint Matthew also tells us that in speaking these words, Jesus cried with a loud voice. He wanted this to be heard by all close enough to hear, indeed with ears to hear. He did not want there to be any mistaking what He said. He cried with a loud voice so that what He was saying would be clear.

This fourth of the Seven Last Words is a direct quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22. We will pray with this Psalm at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass as the Altar is stripped bare of all candles, linens and decoration to bring to our minds that Jesus, the Last Supper having been Instituted and given to us in tremendous glory, is now beginning to enter into His humiliation—first in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then to His Passion and death on the Cross. As the Altar is stripped, Psalm 22 will be chanted, so that we share in the feelings that Jesus Himself was experiencing during this unspeakable time. Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part three”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

In the Western Christian liturgical tradition, the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent has five more names. That one—the Fourth Sunday in Lent—as well as Laetare Sunday (because the first words of the Mass used to be “Laetare Jerusalem”, meaning “Rejoice, Jerusalem”); Rose Sunday, both because Popes used to bless a gold ornament in the shape of a rose and because rose-colored vestments are permitted on this day; mid-Lent Sunday, because it falls halfway between the beginning of Lent and Easter Sunday; Refreshment Sunday, because those keeping the Lenten fasting practice were encouraged to take a break, such as by eating sweet or rich foods; and finally, this day is called Mothering Sunday, which is the origin of our Mother’s Day. A lovely tradition of Mothering Sunday still widely observed is the Simnel Cake, a delicious cake blessed during the Mass and enjoyed during coffee hour. There are in fact more names for this day, which attests to its popularity among the laity; but I think six names are enough to mention at this point.

I have a particular fondness for the association of this day as Mothering Sunday. God commands us, of course, to honor our mother, as well as our father. The particular bonds of deep affection a mother has for her child are something no mother needs explained to them, and no father best question.

And the same applies toward our spiritual and baptismal Mother, who is Blessed Mary. Can there be any doubt that Mary loves the Church with profound affection? The Church is made up of those people we are baptized into the Body of Jesus—baptized the Body of her Son. A Son whose nature and parentage were revealed to Mary, announced to Mary, by the archangel Gabriel; a Son who when still very young was proclaimed to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel”, that a sword would pierce through Mary’s soul also, an image that led Mary to the foot of the Cross. Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

As I spoke last Sunday, there are seven sayings by Jesus from the Cross in the four books by the evangelists. These seven sayings are also called “the Seven Last Words,” and each of these, individually and as a group, have been the subject of much reflection, speculation, and prayer over the course of the nearly two-thousand-year history of the Christian Church.

If we recall the image of Jesus Christ given to us by Jesus Himself—that He is the true Vine—then these Seven Last Words can be thought of as seven “leaves” of the Vine. We can carry the image still further when we remember that a vine, such as grow grapes, are fastened to a structure, even a wooden structure, both so that the vine develops properly and so that its leaves provide shade to the fruits, to the grapes. Indeed our Jesus, the true Vine, was fastened to the wood of the cross, and Christians have been finding shade under His leaves, His Last Words, ever since, even as we are in this season of Lent. Continue reading

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part 1”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

Our Lord tells Nicodemus that “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Our Lord hung on the Cross, nailed to it, as the true Victim, as God’s love for us, that we might be saved by His love. It is for this reason that everything in the Church’s life and prayer revolves around the Cross, itself an inexhaustible source of grace.

As is well known, Jesus spoke seven sentences from the cross as recorded in the Gospels. These seven sentences are called “The Seven Last Words of Jesus,” it is a common tradition to devote preaching and reflection to these Seven Last Words on Good Friday services. I will be doing so today and over the remaining Sundays in Lent, tying these Words into the appointed Gospel readings and the ongoing life within the Parish of Tazewell County.

The first word uttered by our most compassionate Jesus, as he hung on the cross, was, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” There can be no more dramatic demonstration of the centrality of forgiveness to the Christian life than this first word. Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the actions of His murderers, to overlook their deeds. Jesus knows that His Father always hears Him. He is saying: Look, Father, at the love of Thy Son, not their behavior. Through the Son’s plea, indeed through the Son Himself, those who were responsible for nailing Jesus to the Cross are made present to God the Father, and God the Father made present to them, through Jesus. Forgiveness has everything to do with presence—and particularly with the presence of Jesus. Continue reading

Homily: “On Temptation”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

The key moment in the episode in the Garden of Eden where Eve (and I think Adam as well) were with the serpent has do to with choice. What will Eve, speaking for Adam, choose? She starts out as God would have them be, repeating more or less perfectly the command God had given them: “You may freely eat of the every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Notice that God could have not created this tree in the first place. He could have put it somewhere else entirely. But God chose not to.

So let us see that in the nature of reality, in the very order of creation, and in such order whereby humans are actively listening to Him—for we can and should understand Adam and Eve as being called by God and in all situations save one obedient to Him—God in the nature of creation has knowingly placed objects that tempt us. He intentionally puts things in our lives that He knows full well the sign to “keep out” can be a trigger to “go towards.” Continue reading

Julian of Norwich and Regula

In the sixth chapter of the Revelations, Julian teaches the following:

For our soul is so specially loved of Him that is highest, that it overpasses the knowing of all creatures: that is to say, there is no creature that is made that may fully know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loves us. And therefore we may with grace and His help stand in spiritual beholding, with everlasting marvel of this high, overpassing, inestimable love that Almighty God has to us of His goodness. And therefore we may ask of our Lover with reverence all that we will.

This is a remarkable passage in several respects. Let us focus on Julian’s teaching about the doctrine of God, especially how she describes the Holy Trinity in the three dimensions of transcendent, incarnate, and immanent. Each of the three dimensions are alluded to in these ways:

  • The transcendent orientation is alluded to in the words “overpasses the knowing of all creatures.” This is the dimension of radical Otherness.
  • The incarnate orientation is alluded to in the words “we may with grace and His help stand in spiritual beholding.” This is the dimension of divine mediation.
  • The immanent orientation is alluded to in the words “how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loves us.” This is the dimension of intimate immediacy.

These three dimensions correspond to how we understand and pray toward God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We speak of these dimensions as a way of making sense of the inexplicable and boundless mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Following Martin Thornton’s guidance, let us see that the primary value of the threefold Regula—Office-Mass-Devotion—is that in the doing of it, as the beating heart of our prayer life, we are regularly exposed and oriented to all three dimensions of God:

  • The Divine Office exposes and orients us to the transcendent dimension where we join the whole Body of Christ in the threefold Church to praise the Father Almighty: “high, overpassing, inestimable.”
  • The Mass exposes and orients us to the incarnate dimension as we behold, commune with fully, and receive into our bodies, the food of Christ’s love, Himself.
  • And Devotion (“private” prayer plus baptismal ministry) exposes and orients us to the immanent dimension as we are sent from the Mass to seek and serve Jesus Christ in all people and things according to our gifts and circumstances in our ministry based upon our personal relationship with Jesus through the Bible.

As the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God, our response to Him is ultimately all one prayer life, and one total response to God and His boundless identity. Regula organizes our response to our Triune God within the conditions of time and space. It applies the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—in fact, arranges the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for prayer, embracing the grace of Pentecost. Regula is “the participation in the divine life of the redemptive organism, is not clerical but the supreme example of the real work of the whole Church comprised of predominantly lay people.” (Thornton, The Rock and the River, p. 150.)

And result or outpouring of this redemptive work must be, as Julian teaches, more and more love of God, a more fulsome Catholic imagination, more and better prayer of intercession and petition—that “we may ask of our Lover with reverence all that we will”—knowing that those who comes to Jesus, He will not cast out (Jn 6.37).

Homily: “On ‘To Die is Gain'”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemn Mass of Christian Burial for Terry Young, 2 March 2017.

Jesus actively loves all His creatures completely and absolutely, and upon His creatures Jesus also makes an active demand. He loves and keeps all his creatures—angels, human beings, and all the way down the biological chain of animate and inanimate creatures—because through Him all things were made, and without Him was nothing made that is made. Jesus Christ is the Artist through Him the eternal Father spoke the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the whole universe is His canvas, and every brushstroke on this canvas of reality expresses the love between the Father and the Son. And this means every single detail of creation, the littlest of things in our lives, matter a great deal to God, for all the details express the relationship God has with His creation—a relationship of love, of reconciliation, of stewardship, and of peace.

Jesus, the perfect lover, also makes an active demand on us. One of the many ways this demand upon us finds expression is in what are known as the “Hard sayings of Jesus.” These are verses in the New Testament that confront us, and have confronted the Church for two-thousand years. We cannot avoid them, as much as we might want to. These hard sayings include: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” and “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Another is “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There are many more. Now each of these would require separate homilies to begin to rightly interpret, and I am not going to do that here. And in truth, it is often the case that some of the hard sayings display Jesus of Nazareth with a rather dry but deadly sense of humor. His demands upon us are sometimes made with a subtle smirk and slightly raised eyebrow. Continue reading

Homily: “On Ash Wednesday”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Ash Wednesday 2017.

Since September the three Adult Study Groups in our Parish have been reading the book The Process of Forgiveness by Father William Meninger, who is an American monk in the Cistercian order who is alive today and actively teaching. We have been slowly working out way through the book and how Father Meninger presents his thesis that forgiveness is a process, the important part of which is to begin by the help and grace of God.

In a lecture that one can find on the internet, Father Meninger is discussing forgiveness in front of a large group of people at a Roman Catholic parish in Texas. At the beginning of that lecture, he tells the following story, a true story that he had collected during his research for the book: Continue reading

Homily: “On Transfiguration”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, 2017.

When relationships take a turn, there is often a feeling of loss. This applies to the regular, even every day, moments such as when a person leaves in the morning to go to work or leaves on a several-day long trip; the other person not leaving has that bittersweet feeling. On a larger scale, when a person changes jobs or retires from a job, the people remaining often experience a sense of loss or even a disorientation. Still more this is true about when a loved one dies—even the most faithful Christian will experience a profound sense of loss, an emptiness, some sort of vacuum. To provide some sort of offset to loss, we try to compensate with expressions of love. Kisses and hugs abound before the person leaves for work or a long trip; a going-away party often ensues for those changing or leaving their job; and in the case of death, a visitation and proper funeral are the means for the family and friends to express their love for the deceased as well as for each other in this time of grieving and loss.

The Church is taking a turn starting this week, the turn to the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday. We are moving from the glowing, light-filled seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphanytide into something starker, even grittier. Here too, though in a different way than the other examples, there is a dislocation. The wee baby Jesus, beheld in supernatural admiration by His Mother Mary, gives way to the fully mature and adult Jesus who is squarely facing his mortality, firmly on pilgrimage to Jerusalem by way of Cross. Continue reading

Homily: “On Holiness”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

After today’s Mass, we break from our reading of the Sermon of the Mount as recorded by Saint Matthew. We have read four portions of this extended teaching, among the first words of Jesus. Lent this year begins later than most, yet not late enough to hear a final portion of the sermon, when Jesus teaches about the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field. There is also the teaching to seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, which is captured in the hymn we have been singing before the proclamation of the Gospel. So although we will not read this portion during Mass this year—for with Lent nine days away, the final Sunday before Lent is always devoted to the first of two readings of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the other being on the actual feast day of the Transfiguration during summer on August 6—through that hymn, we have been savoring at least an important aspect of it. The wonder of the liturgy is how many different ways we can experience the biblical revelation and indeed experience Jesus—through song, through all five of our senses, through prayer, all the ways we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

That word, holiness, is a primary theme we can find in each of our three readings. In a memorable and often quoted statement from Saint Paul: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” God’s Spirit is His loving holiness, and it can dwell nowhere except in hallowed, sacred space. The People of God are His temple, for it is in the People of God, incorporated into Jesus through Baptism, that the Holy Spirit dwells in a particularly focused way. Although God is present in all creatures, because through Him were all things made, human beings, as far as we know, are the only of God’s visible creatures that can be His temple. That is because while all creatures rejoice in the splendor of God’s radiance, human beings are the only ones that do so out of our choice, because we have free will. We are the only created beings, as far as we can tell, that pray, that contemplate, that reflect on God and choose to follow Him.  Continue reading

Homily: “On Responding to Sin”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

It is always worth remembering that the Gospel of St Matthew was written around fifty years after the death of Jesus on the Cross. This writing down happened after what must have been a robust oral tradition of passing down the sayings of Jesus within the community of Apostles and close disciples. In fact biblical scholars today continue to postulate the existence of a written collection of the sayings of Jesus available to Saint Matthew as well as Saint Luke as a source for the composition of their respective Gospels. This source, of which there is no actual record but is a theory supported by a consensus of mainstream New Testament scholars, is called “Q,” which is short for quelle, a German word meaning “source.” So according to the mainstream theory held widely by scholars, it was both Q and the Gospel of Saint Mark that were used to craft Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

While the theories of biblical scholars can often make for fascinating reading, what is notable for our use as a worshiping family is that Saint Matthew’s Gospel is not a documentary, straight rendering of the words of Jesus as He actually said them in real time, but the result of an oral tradition filtered by prayer. We are to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, as always authoritative and definitive to be sure, but not as if we are hearing the written transcript of an audio recording, but as fruits given to us by the very first Christians, many of whom knew Jesus in the flesh, and all of whom knew Him as He lived and moved and had His being as the Risen and Glorified Lord within the life of His Body, the Church. The biblical accounts in the New Testament crystallize in literary form the experience of the living Church—and the Bible’s purpose within a worshiping community is to feed, inspire and articulate this experience. Continue reading

On Marian Imagination

Doctrine and dogma have consequences for our prayer life, that is, our relationship with God, and how that relationship is concentrated and focused into acts of prayer—normatively the threefold Regula, including private prayers myriad in variety.

What, then, is the consequence on our prayer of the Assumption of Mary? There are many, for Our Lady is a true panoply of grace. Yet fundamental to our understanding of Mary’s importance to our prayerful living is one that has to with what I have previously called the “Marian mode of perception.”

Because it is not just the “idea” of Mary, or her merits narrowly, that have been assumed into Heaven—but in fact her body—then despite how difficult that notion may be to get our heads around, what it must mean is that it is Mary as a totality, as a unity of body-mind-soul, who is in heaven as the Queen of Heaven as Lady of all the Angels.

The consequence, then, is this: it is Mary’s whole way of being that Christians aspire to achieve by the grace of God. This is the deepest meaning of “Mary, pray for us”: we ask her to be in relationship with us so that we may grow more like her, she who lives in the most perfect unity with Jesus, entirely through His grace, which filled her being from her conception immaculately—that is to say, vocationally. Being more like her, we are more like Jesus—this is but “sanctification” in Marian terms. (For more on the many meanings of “Pray for us,” see this homily.)

The more we are like Mary, the more our own souls might be overshadowed, our own spirit enlightened, that, in the words of Jeremy Taylor, we might conceive the holy Jesus in our heart, and may bear him in our mind, and may grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ, to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus. Hence Mary is crucial for our understanding of Theosis.

Perhaps, then, what is often spoken of as “Catholic imagination,” sometimes called “sacramental worldview,”or more technically “analogical imagination”—perception of reality based upon countless profound analogies between ultimate divinity and creatures/creation, all anchored in Christ, our sole Mediator (i.e., the fundamental root, the cantus firmus, of all analogies)—might be more pastorally called “Marian imagination.”

Marian imagination seeks and serves Christ in all persons. Our exemplar in being a baptized Christian, Mary was the first person able to name divine reality as “Jesus,” the first person able to ask what it means to perceive the world as Jesus perceived, and the first person able to reconcile explicitly all things to, and by, Him—to see Christ as the telos of human beings fully alive. Marian imagination—Marian “awe,” Marian “heart”—is empowered by angelic injunction to live completely toward, and for, the Cross: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk 2:35) becomes the actual corporate reality of the first Christians at Pentecost: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). We grow into this “Marian imagination,” just as Mary grew into full realization of who her son was—indeed, the episode of Jesus at age twelve at the Temple is crucial for safeguarding the fact that we, like Blessed Mary, grow into mature Christian sensibility.

Marian imagination sees all things as potential mediators of Christ’s love, the Holy Spirit revealing unity between creatures and God. It is a Marian imagination, then, that can recognize sacramentality whether in the sacred or the mundane, which is then lifted to the sacred. It is through Marian imagination that we lift our hearts to God, during Mass and everywhere else. “The core of Christian living in its fullness is an habitual awareness of Being, a constant but unforced anticipation of the divine disclosure.” (Martin Thornton, Prayer, p. 95.) And when sin separates us from God—from contemplative harmony with Him and His creation within our conditions of time and space—we can “flee” to Mary as oasis, knowing and finding consolation in the fact that we can never love Mary more than Jesus does.

And Marian imagination requires the daily and habitual oblation of prayer, of emptying ourselves in praise and thanksgiving to Holy God, transcendent and incarnate and immanent, which for the Church is summarized by the threefold Regula, where Divine Office culminates in the Mass and lives out in Devotion. Can we doubt that Acts 2:42, the biblical basis for the Regula, is simply the method the first Christians, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit themselves, were driven to use to begin to emulate Our Lady, who lived fully to be united with Jesus? Because Mary’s life, owing to the Annunciation, is trinitarian prayer itself.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Homily: “On Being Salt and Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

We continue today exploring the Sermon on the Mount. As I said last Sunday, Jesus speaks to all people—which is to say that Christianity is not a secret club of the spiritually elite, but a public religion by which the true light of the world shines forth for all to see by the grace of God. And at the same time, although Jesus died for the sins for the whole world, in His life he barely saw fit to visit much more than 20 square miles of it. He made Himself available to large crowds of people, yet it was to twelve men, along with about sixty additional men and women, that he gave His most potent teaching, His most concentrated spiritual direction. There are always crowds around Jesus, but it is only His disciples that come to Him—those who truly hear the voice of their Good Shepherd, and know Him by hearing His voice.

It is fitting that we are hearing this portion of the Sermon on the Mount in this season of our Annual Church Meeting, a season when, in addition to conducting the canonical business required of us, we are also focusing on Mission. The Christian Mission is to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ—to proclaim Christ Crucified, and do so in our lives, in our families, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces. Indeed it is fitting because the two primary images given to the Church by Jesus in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount are two images of Mission. The first is “You are the salt of the earth.” And the second is “You are the light of the world.” These are to tell us what we are, as therefore what we are to be. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Sermon on the Mount”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

Let us see in this Sermon from Jesus that His first extended teaching, recounted here by Saint Matthew, is explicitly directed to disciples. We know that Jesus was always aware of His audience—whether He was speaking to the crowds in Parables, or whether He was speaking to His close disciples and explaining the Parables and offering intense spiritual direction. Although it seems that some sort of crowd is present, let us understand this Sermon on the Mount, as it has been called, as primarily for those who are seeking to delight in His will and walk in His ways to the glory of His holy Name. We will be spending today and the next three Sundays working through the Sermon on the Mount. Let us understand it not as pronouncement intended primarily for any one merely with ears, but those who have already heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and who have begun to follow Him. Continue reading

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

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2017.

Today we remember and in some sense experience ourselves the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. And while everything we do in our liturgical life is always in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, and of course those whose life is ordered by the Episcopal Church, today we have particular bonds of affection with those churches whose patron is Saint Paul. He is the patron of this Holy House, this church in Pekin, Illinois. Within our diocese we celebrate with the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Springfield, Saint Paul’s Church in Carlinville, and Saint Paul’s Church in Alton. And of course we feel an affection with churches outside of the Anglican tradition also named for this apostle, such as Saint Paul United Church of Christ in Pekin, and Saint Paul Lutheran and Saint Paul Baptist in Peoria. Thousands of churches around the planet owe their patronage to Saint Paul the Apostle. And indeed we pray that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to God Almighty by following his holy teaching.

It is quite fitting to reflect on Paul’s conversion in this season after Christmas and Epiphany. It is fitting because in Paul’s conversion we have strong echoes of the mystical experiences of Blessed Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds in Bethlehem, the Magi from the East, and Saint John the Baptist. In these instances were profound experiences of revelation. In these experiences was glory unspeakable, glory beyond words. In these experiences God’s revelation provided new direction, provided guidance, provided a deeper level of truth about God and a deeper level of truth about the purpose of the lives of each of these people—truth, direction and purpose revealed to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds watching their fields by night, to the Magi and to Saint John. An encounter with God always changes the direction of our life, and always shows to us something about our self either unknown or denied, and continues to lead us to the very purpose for our creation. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Lamb of God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time) 2017, Year A.

Whereas last Sunday we heard described the Baptism of Jesus in something of a first-person account, Jesus’s own experience of the moment, handed down to Saint Matthew, today the account is from the perspective of John the Baptist, which reached Saint John the Evangelist.

Now, despite that we are told by Saint John that this is the day after the Baptism in the River Jordan, if we consider this account from the Gospel of John while flipping back and forth from accounts of given to the Church by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we can suspect the plausible and even likely scenario that John the Baptist is here seeing Jesus coming toward him after Jesus had returned from the forty days in the wilderness and the temptations concerning the manner of His messiahship. A biblical “day” is often longer than a 24-hour period. In the wilderness, recall that Jesus rejected being the king of satanic magic, rejected being a king outside the natural order of creation, and he rejects being a king of earthly politics. Having battled the Devil in the wilderness—which is a biblical symbol involving contemplative, silent prayer—having battled the Devil in the wilderness, and forever vanquished the forces of evil, he returns to the community, and John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him.

What light must have shined from Him—the Light of all light! Jesus has taken hold of the life of perfect love. Jesus, always the divine Son, from His birth and maturing as a wee baby, then a toddler, then a big boy, then a teenager going through puberty, then young adult, and finally a fully mature man, increased in wisdom and increased in stature—Jesus through it all was the perfect pray-er. He always held His Father in perfect adoration. Jesus’ consciousness was always heightened and expanded, and because of that, His conscience always attuned to reality, and because of that, His compassion always sensitive to those around Him. He knew who He was—He is the Son of the Most High; He is to sit on the throne of David, He is to reign over the house of Jacob for ever, of His kingdom there will be no end—indeed, He is the Son of God.

And He knew that as the Son of God, He was to live His whole life for us, and for our salvation. And in living His whole life for us, He knew that He is to suffer. He was to suffer because He has taken on our sins, He shares our human nature, He would live and die as one of us. He lived His life on earth at all times bearing His cross, knowing somehow that it is His Father’s will that His Son be nailed to it.

John the Baptist, blessed by being born into a family of devout Jews and blessed still more by the presence of Jesus when both we still in the womb, not perfectly but intuitively understands who Jesus is, for John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We hear these words at the moment of eucharistic communion. Jesus, actually and really Him, offers Himself to us in love. The term “lamb” for the hearers of John the Baptist was rich in symbolic meaning. Preeminent among the meanings is that of sacrificial victim—the Passover lamb as well as the lamb of daily morning and evening sacrifice, and weekly Sabbath service. Lamb refers to oblation—an offering to God—for the atonement of sins; a lamb was presented to the Most High has a peace offering and a sin offering. A lamb is offered to make pure that which is impure. Furthermore, “lamb” means innocence, a lamb needs care and nurturing, a lamb is a sign of gentle and serene peace as well as prosperity.

This is why the Church appointed last Sunday the 42nd chapter of Isaiah, and today the 49th. These are two of the four “servant songs” that reflect the prophesy of the “suffering servant.” What it means for Jesus to be the Lamb is described by Isaiah: bringing justice to the nations, not a political but a spiritual king, the Light of light that opens the eyes of the blind and saves those in darkness, a salvation that reaches to the end of the earth. For He takes away the in of the world—He gives us a permanent way out of our self-centeredness, out of our tendency to put ourselves and even those we love before God, before our love for Him. When the resurrected Jesus walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, undoubtedly among the scripture he explained to them were the four suffering servant songs of Isaiah, and how these concerned and described Him.

Brother and sisters, God releases us from the bondage of our sin as we cooperate with His grace, the grace that always goes before us. Yet in the vast majority of cases, this is a slow and even laborious journey. Indeed the true nature of Jesus Christ is revealed little by little. But let us in our imperfect and incremental ways recognize indeed that the Lamb of God walks among us. We sang about the Lamb of God during the Gloria, asking him to have mercy on us and receive our prayer. We will sing again of the Lamb of God during the Communion Rite, asking again for Him to have mercy on us, and also asking Him to grant us peace, a peace which we recognize in those around us, a peace that shows us what forgiveness really means. And then Behold the Lamb of God immediately before Communion itself. We receive the sacrificial offering, and we continue to become that which we behold—that we too may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. Amen.

Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017, Year A.

Brothers and sisters, we have seen a great light, and on us and the whole Church has a great light shined. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son of God is given. He has been given for the salvation of all men, He has poured Himself out richly upon us. Think of what has been revealed to us through the Liturgy and the biblical revelation over the last two months: babes leapt in wombs, the mute and dumb sang joyously, souls have proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. Angels we have heard on high, shepherds and wise men have come to see the Child, and been shown the Child by His Mother, indeed the Mother of God, who bore God in her heart before she bore Him in her womb, a Mother of God who has felt and seen glory inexpressible. And the Holy Name of this Child has been revealed—Jesus, He who saves, He who loves, He who forgives, He around whom the stars and planets and moons arrange, He by whom lives are changed, journeys reordered, hearts opened.

All that has been revealed to us is wonder and awe. All that has been revealed cannot but soften the hardest of hearts, cannot but loosen the tightest of fears, cannot but open closed doors. And through these glorious seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and now into the season of Epiphany, what have we done but sing? What have we done but pray together in joy and hope? What have we done but reminisce of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in our families, in our homes? What have we done but savor the holy? Continue reading