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St Matthew, Prince of the Church, Oremus!

"The Calling of St. Mathew" Caravaggio

In which the Pilgrim tells a fable about the Call of Christ, enters into the Gospel through prayer and meditation, and prays for the strength to leave everything for Him who came not to call the righteous but sinners.

Sharing in that saving joy, O Lord,
with which Saint Matthew welcomed
the Savior as a guest in his home, we pray:
grant that we may always be renewed
by the food we receive from Christ,
who came to call not the just, but sinners to salvation.
—Prayer after Communion, Feast of the Apostle Matthew

A fable of truth:

I love working at the library. It's good physical work shelving books, and I love being surrounded by books, feel their weight while carrying them, the smell of old paper, dipping into them when I see something interesting. The quiet is good too, I get to live in my thoughts like I'm a floating island of solitude even in the sight of people. I like getting to help people find books—put into their hands the very volume they're looking for. 

So I'm shelving books when this man walks up to me. I'm used to this; carrying a huge stack of books to reshelve marks me as a library employee so I get frequent questions on where to find a needed volume. I turn and see that it's Joshua, a street preacher who's been hanging out mostly at Pritchard Park just down the street where the homeless and down on their luck tend to hang out during the day. He looks like a man a little down on his luck himself—he's clean, but tattered around the edges and the dust of the road clings to the hems of his pants. He's raised a bit of a stir with his preaching, even garnering interest and an article in the Mountain Xpress. I've read what he has to say, and it's incredible stuff—he could be a new St Francis. There are even rumors of healing miracles.

Standing there, I see he has the most genuine eyes in any person I've ever seen and they're looking straight into mine. I'm reminded of St Jerome's story of St Antony of Egypt's meeting with the hermit St. Paul: It seemed to [Antony] that he saw Christ in Paul, and he worshiped God in Paul's heart. Even held by his look, out of the corner of my eyes I can see my supervisor at the desk glancing over and the security guard is moseying in his way over to the stacks to make sure I'm okay.

"Follow me," says Joshua. He means it. He's not crazy or manic. He doesn't want anything from me except me. I've never walked off a job, never left early. He knows this. He knows my parents expect me to be more ambitious than I am and to walk away from this job, simple as it is, will anger them. He knows that everyday I pray that I'll follow him, because I see that to follow him would be to follow Christ, give myself to him. Do whatever he asks of me.

"I'm sorry ..." and I start shelving books again.

This is my nightmare. That God's voice rings out clear before me, and I don't answer it. Jesus said to him, "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." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Mt 19:21-22) The story of the rich young man haunts me; in my comfort, my inertia, I see myself in him. And he walked away. This man who St Mark tells us "Jesus looking upon him loved him." That man was a righteous man who wasn't waiting for Jesus, he went and found him, and he walked away! I can't even use the excuse that I'm a sinner, and thus the voice might be too muted, for he comes "not to call the righteous, but sinners."

So Saint Matthew is my hope. I meditate on his call, surrounding myself not with books, the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, but with money treasures of the earth. No longer is it managers and security guards, it's Roman prelates and Centurion guards who might kill a man for leaving his post. And here comes the itinerant preacher: "Follow me."

But now, I don't turn away; I let Matthew carry me without a word from the coin and scrip to store up treasures in heaven. Putting myself into Matthew's place I let his choice become mine, and I can rehearse this part, praying that Saint Matthew teach me to imitate him. To read this call in Holy Scripture, to make it mine is to practice it, live it in my heart, so that when the call comes, when Jesus is knocking at the "door of faith," without second thought I can rise and follow him while simultaneously letting him into my home, my heart to hold a feast there in his honor.

Saint Matthew as Evangelist is often depicted as accompanied or symbolized by a winged human—as Mark is a lion, Luke a bull, and John an eagle—images and symbols which come from the Four Creatures of the Revelation of St John (4:6-8), which in turn are an echo Ezekiel's vision of the Merkabah, the Chariot of God. The Gospels do serve us like guardian angels, showing us the path to take, guarding us on our way, and we should turn to both angels and Gospel and the prayers and teachings of the apostles as gifts of God to bring us to Jesus, to make us into apostles and disciples of Christ. He who left everything to follow Jesus, now leads us by his Gospel. He who left all treasures on earth gives us the greatest treasure of our LORD's teachings and example. May his example inspire us; may his intercessions for us keep Christ calling us.

O God, who with untold mercy
were pleased to choose as an Apostle
Saint Matthew, the tax collector,
grant that, sustained by his example and intercession,
we may merit to hold firm in following you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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