Today is the feast of St. Matthew. Appropriately, I attended noon Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, which is decked out in anticipation of Pope Francis's visit. It was a beautiful Mass, celebrated as a solemnity by three priests in red vestments, and with a higher number of attendees than the average daily Mass. I'm not sure if this is due to the feast day or Pope Francis's impending arrival, but the energy was even more loving and warm than usual in that great, golden cathedral.
This is the reading for today:
As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
There are a few things to think about here. One, take that sentence into your heart, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Sacrifice is the old way, mercy is the new. Also, what a lovely truth, that Jesus did not live for the "righteous," but for the sick and sinful sufferers who need His help - that is the whole point. Of course, that applies everyone, then and now. It is why Jesus's message is eternal.
The priest today focused on the nature of Matthew's call and acceptance to follow Christ: we are given the visual of a man who literally drops what he is doing, leaves his old life behind and never looks back. And what life did he leave behind? That of a tax collector, then seen as a reviled and corrupt profession. It explains why the Pharisees are so shocked by Jesus's choice in selecting Matthew, someone who should be hardened by sin (and yet, somehow, was perfect material to become an Apostle and evangelist). Out of St. Matthew's weaknesses, Jesus created strength.
And so, we are all called, given the directive to follow Jesus with what we are, not what we have. The priest shared a beautiful quote from Blessed John Henry Newman in exploring this point:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
He knows what He is about. Do you believe this? Have you felt abandoned by friends, alone in sickness, overcome by grief, lost without a sense of purpose? There is a design there, His design, and even in these times we can answer Jesus's call just as St. Matthew did, when He said, "Follow me." This is our task in this life, to follow in faith. It is a wonderful call, and the work of a lifetime.