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

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

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

Probably the most common image of Blessed Mary and Jesus Christ together is that of the arrival of the three kings who followed a star, and found the Child and His family, giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Often that bright star is seen depicted over the small gathering. There are countless paintings, icons, and songs—we all have this image deeply ingrained in our imaginations. This image been fueling imaginations for two thousand years. Epiphany comes on the heels of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which completed last night with the Twelfth Night, an image also deeply ingrained in society for many centuries, even so through Shakespeare and other ways, one tradition of which we will celebrate in a small way after this Mass with the traditional King’s Cake.

So what is going on in all this? How do we understand all this through prayer and prayerful reflection? In our Collect, we are asking God to lead us, like the Magi were led. We are asking God to manifest Himself so that through faith we know Him, just as the Magi knew Him as manifested in His physical presence with His Mother—that we may know Him in His glory, and even face to face. “Glory”—that word is used in the Bible to tell us something of which cannot easily be spoken. Glory is always a sign of the presence of God, the presence of divine holiness. That something sacred, something wonderful is taking place. So we see that even simple reflection on the words provided by our liturgy beckons a mystical reflection on this, the Epiphany of Jesus. Continue reading

Homily: “On the Holy Name, the Mother of God, and the Circumcision”

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

The Father of all of creation, of all that is, seen and unseen, has given His only begotten Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the holy Name of Jesus. This holy Name is for us the sign of our salvation. And what a wondrous Name Jesus is! Look at all that it includes: Jesus means Lord, both merciful and gracious; a Lord slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; Jesus means forgiveness and yet firm in right and wrong; Jesus means holiness, yet a Name that demands obedience—that is, demands our deepest listening; it is a Name that means wonderful counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. It is a Name that echoes in all the joyful noises made by infants and children. It is a Name that means oil poured out.

The Holy Name of Jesus includes all this, and more, and yet it also transcends our ability to define this Name. When anything is praised, the most truest and profound sense of that praise is the Name Jesus. Jesus is a mystical Name—a Name that changes our wills, a Name that does not destroy who we are, but perfects who we are. This is a Name that works wonders, in whose light we see Light—a Name that counsels us to repentance and the ordering of our lives. This Name, this Jesus! He fought and won against all the forces of evil. This Name, this Jesus! He is the Father and Mother of the world to come, and this world to come will live in endless peace through His Name. A mystical Name above all names.

Each of the major Catholic traditions of the holy Church today give this Holy Day, the first day of the new calendar year, a distinct emphasis. The Church of Canterbury, that is to say, Anglicans, today emphasizes the holy naming of Jesus. The Church of Rome today emphasizes the revealing of Blessed Mary as the Mother of God. Mary had already known intuitively through the angelic Annunciation of Gabriel that his Babe in swaddling clothes is the Son of the Most High, and she knew His Name was to be Jesus; Joseph also knew through an angelic greeting in a dream this Babe’s Name. That lowly shepherds flocked to them in haste and told them they heard the same thing, also from angels, must have thrown both Mary and Joseph into a deep contemplation, indeed that they were a Holy Family; and Luke tells us Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. To the shepherds, Mary is thereby revealed as the Mother of God. Hence the devout emphasis given by our sister Church of Rome.

The oldest tradition, which used to be the universal pattern for all Catholic traditions, is to celebrate today the Circumcision of Jesus, a moment we hear in our Gospel in these words—“At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he we conceived in the womb.” Today, the Church of Constantinople—the Eastern Orthodox traditions, also our sisters—continue to celebrate the Circumcision. Why was Jesus circumcised? It was not because he needed to be purified or to prevent Him from sin, for He was the Son of God. He chose to be circumcised to establish solidarity with God’s covenant with Abraham and with his posterity. He chose to faithfully fulfill and conform to divine ordinance, “conform in all respects to the rites and ceremonies of Judaism, to everything hitherto accounted sacred and binding.” (source.) His circumcision proves for us that Jesus is not illusion, no apparition. He is a real person, then a small baby of flesh and blood.

And in this circumcision began His passion, His suffering for our transgressions, for which He lived His whole life. In His circumcision is the first shedding of Precious Blood, the first overshadowing of the Cross. Christ was circumcised to that His Previous Blood would begin to flow to soften the hardest hearts of sinners. We too are circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ, being buried with Him in baptism. May we continually receive our circumcision, which by baptism is of the whole human person and hence a more mature circumcision, and may we receive it through our disciplined prayer life. By grace may we experience the daily circumcision of our hearts.

Indeed this Name is a sign of our salvation—for through it, behold what is revealed: a real person in Jesus who bleeds preciously, yet He is divine; a real Mother in Mary, who gave birth yet remains ever a Virgin; a real man in Joseph, not a father yet a genuine protector. Mysteries abound on this day! Heavenly God, let all them that put their trust in You rejoice; they shall ever be giving of thanks, because You defend them; they that love your Name shall be joyful in You. Amen.

The cover image “The circumcision of Christ, Preobrazhenski monastry, Bulgaria” by Preslav is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Prologue to Votive Mass for Holy Mary, Mother of God

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County as the prologue to the Votive Mass for Holy Mary, Mother of God on December 31, 2016.

With Christmas, we celebrate the long-promised “fullness of time” when God would be, and now is, definitively revealed. Christmas is a time for the warm feelings of family memories and wonderful song, yet at root it is about two things: God has come to earth and Mary is the Mother of God.

The intention of this Mass is to celebrate the wonderful and inexpressible mystery by which the Father of all love sent His only begotten Son from heaven into the womb of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin to be His saving Word and our Bread of Life.

Mary—a real, genuine human being just like you and me, with parents named Anne and Joachim, both Saints of the Holy Church—was immaculately from her conception highly favored and full of grace. We celebrate the faith and humility with which Our Lady conceived God’s only Son and bore Him in her womb. And so grace itself is taught by Mary: it has to do with the attitude and habit of faith and the necessity of humility.

Mary is set before us as an example: like her we are to receive the Son of God by treasuring His words in our hearts and celebrating with deep faith the mysteries of our redemption, and to reveal Him in the holiness of our lives. Mary teaches us how important it is to reflect and ponder who God is as He is revealed in our experience of Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Apostles.

It was through her humility, her saying Yes to God’s will for her as He revealed it, that Jesus, our Savior, was born of a woman, born of Mary. And, so, I invite you to ponder this: Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb.

Cover image “The Burning Bush” photographed from the personal collection of Father Dallman. The icon can be purchased from here from Skete.

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

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2016.

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by His most loving presence, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man.

These words that I chanted before the Mass—what wonder they hold! What mystery they tell! What invitation they extend! Brothers and sisters, we must never weary of giving our deepest contemplation to their meaning. For amid all of the warm memories of Christmastide that we all have with our families and friends, which we recall and live again in this holy season, let us also savor above all else the fundamental reality of this moment: that God has come to earth and Mary is Mother of God.

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Homily: “Even of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by the Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2016.

This indeed is a moment of tremendous holiness. For to us a child is born; to us a son is given. And in this birth of a child, on this night when a son given to us, let us not overlook the truth, but celebrate it. Let us not lose focus amid the warm moments of Christmastide—the family feasts, the exchanging of presents, the sugar cookies—but keep our attention firmly on the fundamental reality of Christmas: that God has come to earth and Mary is Mother of God.

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Homily: “Advent and Acceptance”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

I hope not too many of you were thrown by the inclusion of our first hymn, Joy to the World, on this, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. If you were, let me say a couple things. First, it is perfectly understandable to have been thrown. As a child and particularly a teenager, I would have wondered what is going on to sing this obviously Christmas hymn at church before Christmas Eve. Not a theological objection, but an objection along the lines of the “church’s national anthem”—but that’s the way we have always done it.

Secondly, if in singing this hymn you are brought into the spirit of Christmas—well, there are much worse things to be brought into, and with Christmas a week away, I do not suspect this feeling is out of line in the eyes of God. After all, we are surrounded by reminders of Christmas everywhere we look in Tazewell County and elsewhere, everywhere we listen in grocery and department stores.

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Homily: “Advent and Joy”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In my homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, to all of you I said the following words:

“Let us continue to seek harmony with each other through prayer. For when we do so, God will send forth to us His increase. The increase of the harvest is completely up to God—he will send new disciples not when we think we are ready for them, but only when God decides—when He judges—that we are ready to receive new disciples, when we show the fruits of our prayer and harmony.”

I said those words last Sunday, and I repeat them again this morning, and I probably will repeat them again in the future, because they reflect accurately the Gospel as the Church has received it from Jesus Christ. The theology of those words is derived primarily from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, when he appointed the Seventy for mission, “two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” And when he appointed them, Jesus said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Jesus sends us out as lambs in the midst of wolves. We are lambs by virtue of our baptism, being incorporated into Him, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are lambs because we hear the voice of our shepherd, we hear Christ’s speech, we hear His voice. And hearing His voice, we are filled with joy—the real joy, against which all other joys are secondary. This joy protects us, it shields us, for it is the shield of faith. This joy is our breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of our salvation, the sword of the Spirit. This joy is true peace.

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Homily: “Advent and Hope”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

What does it mean that God will judge? We hear from Isaiah the words, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Judgment is also described by Saint Matthew from the words of Saint John the Baptist: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

What’s more, our Collect from last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, has these words: “He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.” And of course those words are carried into two important and authoritative statements of the Catholic faith, first into the Apostles’ Creed and later, historically speaking, incorporated into the Nicene Creed, and point to, and thereby express, what is called the doctrine of God’s judgment. And so we have yet another layer for our Advent prayer and reflection—the intersection of the Bible and creedal doctrine with liturgical season.

So what are we talking about when we are talking about the doctrine of God’s judgment? And how does the doctrine of God’s judgment relate, and even enlighten, the themes of the season of Advent — of Expectation in Week 1, Hope in Week 2, Joy in Week 3, and Acceptance in Week 4? And how can we speak of such a doctrine of judgment — apparently which involves winnowing, clearing, gathering and burning — when our God’s very nature is Charity, whose very nature is to give Himself to His creation completely and genuinely?

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Homily: “Advent and Expectation”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In this first week of Advent, the sense of expectation grows. Although the weather outside can often be frightful, nonetheless this is for the most part a season of warmth, for Christmas and all its wonderful remembrances is just around the corner. We are expecting a visit from Jesus—a particular kind of visit, where he visits us in His humility, as the long proclaimed and hoped for Messiah, as a child.

Imagine the feelings, two thousand years ago, of Blessed Mary, now in her eighth month of pregnancy—how she was pondering the real meaning of the words announced to her by the Angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Pondering, and feeling this baby, the Son of God, in all the glory of the eighth month of pregnancy.

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Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, pt. 4”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Christ the King, the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 29, Year C).

I will conclude today with my series of sermons on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It was four Sundays ago that I began in on this area of Christian religion. Recall part of our Collect from that Day: “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.” Well, we do not properly pray if we say words that we do not grasp and have a decent handle on as far as their meaning. And what understanding we might have already of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity can always be renewed and deepened; it is the very nature of Christianity that we continually revisit and in so doing, re-experience, the terms and principles we use to attempt to grasp the revelation about ultimate reality—God—that is in Jesus Christ, and in Him definitively.

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Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 27, Year C).

Today is Stewardship Sunday. This is the day each year when we reflect on what it means to be a steward. A steward is someone who looks after something, protects something. Specific to us, we reflect on what it means to look after this church, and what it means to protect this church. By “church,” we mean certainly the physical structures, care of the buildings, the roof, the furnace, the organ, the windows; we also mean care of the people who worship here; and we also mean protecting and caring for the culture in this church, the “feel” of being here that we often do not notice because it is so obvious, the sense of life, the sense of sacred in this space, the sense of holiness and the active, burning and real presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

No mature or even semi-mature person needs to be told that the care and protection of a church’s physical structures, the people, and sacrality requires an ongoing financial commitment on the part of the members of that church. Later this week you will receive in the mail pledge cards that ask you to tell the treasurer of the church the amount of your pledge for next year, so that the treasurer, along with the Vestry, can make an intelligent budget for our church in the two thousand seventeenth year after the birth of Our Lord.

It is said, of course that we give to the church not only treasure, but also time and talent. This is true, but there is more to it than that. First and foremost, we are to give our prayer. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Our heart must be in our prayer life. Some kind of prayer every day of the week — both using the official prayers of the Church in the daily Offices, and personal prayer through our conversations with God — comes before money in importance to church stewardship. As an aid to healthy prayer, the Church commends the practice of self-sacrifice, of self-denial. We all need activities that bring to us private joy. Yet can we commit or recommit to an activity the sole purpose of which is to give greater glory to God? Attending a weekday service at either of the two churches in this Parish, praying Morning or Evening Prayer at home, finding a godly book to read devotionally, beginning a contemplative or silent prayer practice, are good places to start.

And let us never forget mercy! “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Being merciful is another primary way to practice stewardship. It begins with being kind, forgiving and patient with those in our parish family, and continues of course to those in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces. The classic “corporate works of mercy” —to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, to bury the dead—flow out of our prayer life and flow out of our practice of self-denial.

Our works of mercy, and in fact all of our prayer, sacrifice, and acts of stewardship as I have described, presuppose the virtue of Faith as a growing habit of wanting to learn about the character of God, the nature of Jesus Christ who never abandons us to the power of death, who comes to our help, so that in seeking Him we might find Him. God is a stupendously rich Reality — the alone boundlessly rich Reality. His outward action throughout the Universe — His creation, preservation and direction of the world at large — is immensely rich.

All of this is to say that our works of mercy, our prayer, our sacrifice—our stewardship—very much reflect our sense of Hope. This is true certainly in the common sense of the word, whereby we have trust that goals difficult to achieve can be reached. Can this Parish survive twenty, thirty, fifty more years? It may seem today to be a difficult goal to achieve. Yet Hope in the Christian context, as a theological virtue, as a habit, is based on the conviction that God wants all things to live and is constantly at work to lead us to fulfillment. Hope is the habit of feeling confident in His abiding assistance. If we feel confident of God’s abiding assistance, then we display to some degree a truly Christian Hope. And if we display Christian Hope, then our stewardship—prayer, sacrifice, works of mercy, and, yes, a pledge of money for the next year—is certainly necessary, but also natural, fitting, and joyful. Our stewardship becomes a blessing, because it comes from our love of God, it is filled with God’s Spirit, and received by God to the greater glory of His Holy Name.

In order to underscore the importance of Hope to Christian Stewardship, I want to read a summary of an event that happened one week ago, on Oct 30. This summary comes from the Times of Israel, on their website. The title of the article is “First Mass in Two Years held in Iraq’s Main Christian town”:

A handful of faithful gathered in a burnt out church Sunday for the first mass to be celebrated in two years in Qaraqosh, which was once Iraq’s main Christian town. Iraqi forces retook Qaraqosh from the Islamic State group days earlier, as part of a massive offensive to wrest back the country’s second city Mosul.

Hear the words of Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, who officiated the Mass with four priests: “After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the Islamic State wanted to destroy. But in my heart it was always there.”

In June 2014, IS jihadists took over swathes of Iraq, also taking Mosul where the archbishop was based. He moved to Qaraqosh, a town with a mostly Christian population of around 50,000 that was controlled by Kurdish forces and lies east of Mosul in the Nineveh plain. But a second jihadist sweep towards Kurdish-controlled areas two months later forced around 120,000 Iraqi Christians and members of other minorities to leave their towns and villages. “We had no other choice but to convert or become slaves. We fled to preserve our faith. Now we’re going to need international protection,” a priest said.

Donning a resplendent chasuble and stole, Mouche led mass on an improvised altar in front of a modest congregation. [Let me add photographs suggest a congregation of about three dozen, standing for the entire Mass around a small altar with tea lights for candles; the church itself is in ruins, blackened and grey, full of ashes everywhere. The scene looks post-apocalyptic to say the least.]

“I can’t describe what I’m feeling. This is my land, my church,” said a local militiaman who attended the Mass. “They used everything against us: they shot at us, they sent car bombs, suicide attackers. Despite all this, we’re here.” The bell tower of the church was damaged, statues decapitated and missals and other books strewn across the nave floor, which is still covered in soot from the fire the jihadists lit when they retreated. But some of the crosses have already been replaced and a new icon was laid on the main altar, where the armed militiamen took turns to light candles.

“This church is such a powerful symbol that if we hadn’t found it like this, damaged but still standing, I’m not sure residents would have wanted to come back,” Mouche said. “But the fact that it’s still here gives us hope.”

And the fact that we are still here gives us hope.

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 2”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints.

I said previously that I would be exploring the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity as a kind of running theme over the course of several sermons. Recall that I said that these three virtues are potentials in every human being, gifts given us when we were knit by God in our mother’s womb, and that the cultivation of these virtues through religious practice makes us not like the Pharisee who exalts himself, but like the tax collector, who humbles himself and can only say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

It is also true that cultivation of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity makes us more like the Saints of the Church. It is very helpful, I think, to recall that the Saints, and not intellectual biblical theologians, are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. The Saints are those of the baptized who have lived out their membership in Christ most fully. Doing that, making that journey, living out our membership in Christ to the fullest extent possible, is really what the Bible is for. The purpose of Holy Scripture is to help us love Jesus more and more; when we contemplate Holy Scripture, we allow the Holy Spirit to throw logs on the fire in our heart. Continue reading

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 1”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 25, Year C).

We should not be too hard on the Pharisee. I say that for two reasons. The first is that although the Pharisee is claiming for himself a high standard of pious observance, and while liturgical evidence from that era does suggest that the Pharisee is acting above and beyond the norm, his fasting, his tithing, and even his comparison between himself and the tax collector is not that far beyond the pale, for that religious context.

The second reason why we should not be too hard on the Pharisee is that if we are hard on the Pharisee, if we regard him too strongly, too rigorously as an undesirable example of loving God, if we decide we are not like this Pharisee, then we are replicating the error ourselves that Jesus invites us to avoid. In too strongly and too rigorously condemning the Pharisee, we do to the Pharisee exactly what the Pharisee did to the tax collector. It is a bit of a trap laid for the too pious among us, and we must avoid it. Remember, God has a wicked sense of humor. Continue reading

Homily: “Religion and the Dark Night of the Soul”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 24, Year C).

Luke’s introduction to this parable is unusually explicit. This is a parable, he writes, about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. I could stop my homily right here because this is straight teaching about religion, straight teaching about parish life, and straight teaching about how to make Mission happen: pray always and do not lose heart. If there is an open secret in the religious life, at the center of it all, it is that.

The majority of the time, teachings about religion in the Gospels requires a bit more work to find. If the Gospels are like a tall tree, full of the most wondrous and delicious fruit ripe on its branches, the teaching that we need to pray always and not lose heart would be a fairly low-hanging fruit, able to be reached by the wee-est of children. It may not be easy to follow — for to pray always is something of a challenge, and the instruction to not lose heart is good and holy until, well, we lose heart and are left wondering, Ok, what do I do now?

To lose heart at times throughout our life, whether a day here or a day there, or even for longer spells, should never be regarded as alien to our pilgrimage, but a natural part of it. In fact, when we grow into maturity in the Christian faith, the journey in some respects does not get easier, but harder: each morning when you wake up can be a profound test of faith.

There is no more dramatic recent example of this than Mother Teresa, Continue reading