Category Archives: Featured Posts

Homily: “On Being Called to the Vineyard”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year A), 2017.

It is typical to preach on the appointed Gospel Lesson of the day, and if possible to touch base as well with the other appointed lessons; and as you know, I typically like to frame my preaching in the context of the prayer of the Collect of the Day. Today, however, I will devote nearly all of my sermon to our Old Testament lesson and more broadly to what the Book of Jonah can teach us. I said the word “nearly” because I did want to make a couple of points about our Gospel lesson because it pertains to our Mission to Tazewell County. Notice that it is God who recruits workers into the vineyard, not the other workers. They go about their work as God would have them do in the vineyard, and while they are doing so, it is God who is finding more workers. This should be a great relief to us. It is God who gives the increase, who sends more labors into the harvest, who recruits workers for the vineyard—not us, at least directly. When God decides that He needs more laborers, more workers, our all-powerful Lord Jesus will call people to that work, to join us. This should relieve all Christians of anxiety they might feel as they look around and see fewer people in the pews.

Now, to the main part of my homily. Continue reading

Guest homily: “On Rebuilding the House of God”

Offered to the Saint Benet Biscop Chapter of Oblates, Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville MN, by the Rt Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, September 16, 2017

“Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, … Also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God … be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3,5).”

Way to go, King Cyrus! What a great idea he had to rebuild the house of God. Or rather, what an incredible plan God had to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and what a great idea it was to use King Cyrus in its implementation. If only we could be so blessed as to be chosen to be used in God’s plan to rebuild the house of God.

The Venerable Bede, commenting on this sixth chapter of Ezra, wrote: “All the writers of sacred Scripture, promise good things for the builders of the holy church if they do not tire from adversities and cease from their holy labor. For divine help will be present, by which the Lord’s house that has been begun may be brought to completion in the heart of their listeners by their believing and living well.” It sounds like Bede had internalized wisdom from the Rule of Benedict.

A little over a week ago, in my Facebook feed, there appeared a post which stated: “Bishop Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter recommends reading this fine lecture by Prof. Tracey Rowland on ecumenism today and its future.” And so I read the lecture, and, Bishop Lopes, you were right, it was worth the read.

Professor Rowland is an Australian and she writes about what she calls “receptive ecumenism” and “re-weaving the tapestry ecumenism” and how she sees both types in the Ordinariate. What caught my attention, however, was when she notes that many Christians find themselves divided across rather than along, confessional lines because of very different answers to fundamental theological questions within a particular community.

For example, “a Catholic who believes that scripture is normative for one’s faith and practice is closer to a Sydney Anglican in matters of belief and practice than he is to a fellow Catholic who says that what is written in the Gospels needs to be re-contextualized with reference to contemporary social theory.” If you know anything about Sydney Anglicans, that is a remarkable statement, and a sign that the house of God is truly being rebuilt.

But I’m sure the very same could be said about those of us here present, whether we identify as Roman Catholic or Anglican. There is probably less theological difference between us than between us and fellow members of our respective communions. Part of our mission as members of the St. Benet Biscop chapter of St. John’s Abbey Oblates is to foster ecumenical dialogue and prayer between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Is it possible that the Lord might just use us in some way to rebuild the house of God?

Whether, from a Roman Catholic perspective, we value the temple’s “gold vessels” of the Anglican patrimony, or from our Anglican view of cherishing the restored “silver vessels” of the English school of catholic spirituality, we share much in common. And now we share our holy father, Benedict.

Jesus reminds us again this evening that the one who hears his word and believes in the One who sent him, has eternal life. We, my sisters and brothers, are on a journey from death to life (John 5:24). As St. Benedict writes in the Prologue of his Rule: “As we progress in the way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” May it be so for us, and may the Lord use us to rebuild the house of God. Amen.


[In the photo, L to R front row: Bishop Steven Lopes; Fr. Jack Augustine Barker, Obl.S.B.; Bishop Michael Aidan Smith, Obl.S.B.; Fr. Matthew Cuthbert Dallman, Obl.S.B. Back row, L to R: Fr. Bill Thorfinn Brenna, Obl.S.B.; Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.; Mr. Stephen Aethelwold Hilgendorf, Obl.S.B. For more information, go here.]

Homily: “On Forgiveness”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19, Year A), 2017.

We have in our Lessons today a coordinated presentation of the scriptural basis for the Church’s doctrine of Forgiveness. There are other biblical passages that could also be looked at if one were to want to fashion a comprehensive and detailed list of all verses that relate to forgiveness. But certainly for purposes of our understanding of the Faith and our prayer life, these passages more than suffice.

Almost. All I would want to remind us is just how central forgiveness is to the Incarnation of Christ, indeed the whole mission of Jesus of Nazareth. It is central because He said it is, when after supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. To see the relationship between the Church’s doctrine of forgiveness and the Eucharist is not intuitive, but must be seen as a strong, even profound relationship, because of the actions and words of Jesus on the night before He died and the authority that moment receives in the liturgy of the Church. Continue reading

Homily: “On Serving God in Others”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year A), 2017.

Let us hear words from the Book of Proverbs: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.” Those words from the end of chapter 3 form the basis for our Collect this week. It is an ancient Collect, dating at least from the 7th century. Through the workings of translations over the centuries, that proverb shows up in our Collect as, “As you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

This also shows up in the Epistle of James as a succinct and useful summary: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The proud have closed themselves off from God—God does not love them any less, but the proud have opposed themselves to God in their self-centeredness. We cannot be self-centered if we hope to enjoy God’s grace, and be led by grace in our lives. This is why we ask in our Collect for God to give us the ability to trust in Him with all our hearts—trusting in Him in a way that leaves nothing out; trusting in Him in a way whereby we give ourselves, our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. Continue reading

Homily: “On Loving the Name of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year A), 2017.

We have asked this day in our Collect for God, the author and giver of all good things, to graft in our hearts the love of His Name, to increase in us true religion, to nourish us with His goodness, and to bring forth the fruit of good works. If one had to find a single prayer that summarizes the Christian faith and our total life in it, this Collect would be it. It is also a very old prayer. It goes back at least to the eighth century, making it at least one thousand, three hundred years old. But that is only when the prayer was written down, so it is probably much older than that. It lived in England as one of the Collects of the Day (although earlier in the liturgical calendar than our use) before the English Reformation, and it lived on in the first Book of Common Prayer, and in Prayer Books ever since, including those of the American church. I point this out so as to invite you to reflect on the fact that in our praying of it this morning, we are doing something very ancient, indeed, with words well seasoned with the sweat and devotion of untold numbers of souls. Continue reading

Homily: “On Saint Peter and the Rock”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16, Year A), 2017.

We hear in both our reading from the prophet Isaiah and from the Gospel according to Matthew the word, “rock.” So from Isaiah: “Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn.”. And from Saint Matthew, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” Let us see again that when God calls someone by name, something important is happening, as for example, when Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name at the empty tomb, when but the word He spoke was “Mary,” she was healed. But that said (and this could be a sermon unto itself), with regard to the passages from Isaiah and Matthew, in order to properly understand these passages, we must ask whether there is a unique, biblical understanding of “rock” that is distinct from its regular, secular meaning. And in fact, the answer to that is, yes, there is. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Canaanite Woman”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year A), 2017.

We have asked God in our Collect to give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of His redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. The entire petition is a fitting one for today, as we are beginning today a long, mostly uninterrupted period of Sundays which focuses on the life of the Church as we savor the life of Jesus Christ and how His life, and acts, and words provide fruits for the Church’s Mission in the world and teach us how to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. Let us hear as well in our request to God an echo of our request to Him that begins every Mass—that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. The journey of the Christian life is a journey in which we learn how to walk. Continue reading

Homily: “On Saint Mary the Virgin”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, 2017.

This is the day when we recognize and venerate the Mother of God under the title “Saint Mary the Virgin.” It for The Episcopal Church is the central feast of Mary in the Church year. Now, this is fitting because it is also the central feast of Mary of the universal Church, although our sister churches use different names for it than we do.

In the Church of Rome, that is the churches of Roman Catholicism in communion with the Bishop of Rome, this day is celebrated as the Assumption of Mary. That term, “assumption,” is a technical term that refers to the understanding that upon reaching the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken by God—“assumed”—body and soul into heaven; meaning, her whole person and personality is alive and forever adoring God almighty in the Church Triumphant. Now, although when the Church of Rome made this an official teaching there was at that time, and it remains the case today, some controversy at their doing so, we must keep this in perspective. Just as siblings in a family are forever finding ways to be irritated at each other, members of the Christian Church family do the same. Yet this teaching, and specifically the technical term “assumption,” says nothing more than what we profess each Sunday during the Nicene Creed—that we believe in the Resurrection of the Body. We could substitute the word “assumption” for “resurrection” without changing any of the meaning. Continue reading

Homily: “On Saint Mary Magdalene”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, 2017.

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. Let us ask a basic question: Who is Mary Magdalene? There is much that might be said about who she is; and in truth much already has been said, particularly if you have paid attention to popular books and movies of the last thirty years, because a person named “Mary Magdalene” has often been a major character in such works. Yet popular culture has pushed this to an extreme, has it not? As is often the case with the human condition, we tend to take things to their extremes before finally pulling back. The Church’s mechanism for such pulling back is often Holy Scripture, and making sure that our understanding about the faith accords with it. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Good Soil”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10, Year A), 2017.

In our Collect this morning, we petition God to receive the prayers of His people who call upon Him so that they may understand and know what they ought to do. It is a simple request, but we should not be deceived by its simplicity and think it a mundane sort of question. Rather, let us regard this petition as a noble inquiry, one we should always be making, even daily—after all, our Collect contains the two central questions of serious discipleship asked by the first disciples to Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The first was, “What does this mean?” and the second was “What shall we do?”

We could do far worse than make for ourselves a habit of asking these two questions whenever we are in prayer, or reading the Bible, or reflecting on a sermon. Asking these two questions are part of our responsibility, our responsiveness, to God and His loving initiative of coming to us with His Word. The first Christians’ response to God’s initiative on Pentecost was to ask these two questions—What does it mean? What shall we do?—and so we can see that part of the Gospel pattern we are to perceive and make our own is to ourselves ask these questions when we are presented with, or caught by, God and the claim He makes on us and our lives. Continue reading

Homily: “On Resting in God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year A), 2017.

Today’s Lesson from the Book of Zechariah is a perfect example of the kind of Scripture the first Christians of the early Church would have used to understand who Jesus of Nazareth truly was. I have spoken previously about the practice of “mystagogy”—of being led into the mysteries of God, of revisiting our experiences to find in them a still greater depth and significance—and the prophet Zechariah provided the early Church, and provides us, with just that kind of opportunity. To do mystagogy is not merely to look at words on the biblical page, and not merely to think about a superficial reading, but rather mystagogy is to enter into the space evoked by the scriptural words. It is deep listening with all of our human faculties, listening for resonances with other parts of the Bible, with our Liturgy, and with our own experiences. Continue reading

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. See how prominent he is in the New Testament. 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. Continue reading

Homily: “On Corpus Christi”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2017.

The Church has celebrated and experienced a dramatic turn of events over the last month. We celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord to the Right Hand of the Father. We prayed for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and indeed with the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, God gave them to us in His abundance. We then celebrated the revelation of God as Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which orders our prayer life and worship. And today, we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, Latin for the Body of Christ; indeed, we celebrate, we reflect upon, and we adore the Eucharist. Continue reading

Homily: “On the most blessed and holy Trinity”

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

I have said previously and will say again in the future that the Collects of the Anglican tradition, including those in our 1979 Prayer Book, are a goldmine. They are a goldmine for both theology and prayer, and even moreso are a goldmine for the proper balance between theology and prayer that found in the language. It is because the Collects are so important that they are to be prayed not just on Sunday at Mass, but prayed, along with other Collects, every day of the week that begins on Sunday, particularly in the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

It is not every Sunday that the Collect perfectly matches with the Readings. But on this a solemn day, the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, a Feast celebrated throughout the western Church within the Catholic tradition, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, the Collect of the Day is composed in relationship to the Readings. Let us hear again the Collect and then consider how it helps us understand the readings provided us by the Lectionary of the Church. Continue reading

Homily: “On Pentecost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Pentecost, 2017.

Although the Church in the West over the last century or two has not always treated this way, the Day of Pentecost is a celebration in the church year the theological importance of which is only surpassed by Holy Week culminating in Easter. Granted, its festivity usually comes in behind that of Christmas. Christmas even outpaces Easter Day in that regard. But just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Easter as a whole ends up taking the prize because whereas Christmas is twelve days, Easter has fifty.

The culmination of those Fifty Days is the Day of Pentecost, a day on which God taught, and teaches in the present tense, the hearts of His faithful people by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit. Again it is worth bearing in mind that the biblical understanding of the word heart is much more than our emotions, but indeed refers to our entire being, the arena in which we encounter God—where He lives in us and where God speaks to us. Continue reading

Who Am I, a motet for three voices

I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have desires, but I am not my desires.
I have emotions, but I am not my emotions.
I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts.
So—
Who am I?
Who am I?

Composed by Father Matthew Dallman.
Voices: Christine Kelner (soprano), Doug Kelner (tenor), and Bill Chin (bass).
Sound engineer: BSR.
Recorded in 2004 at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.

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