Solemnity of St. Matthew
Naming churches is not simply to distinguish one church from another, though that is helpful. As a young child (some may still think I’m a young child), I was confused for a bit that every town had a First Baptist Church. How could every town have the first one? But we name our churches to put that church and the people who enter it, the people of the parish, under the patronage or protection of that mystery of our Lord’s life or that saint. So we gather to worship God under the protection and with the assistance and intercession of St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist. He is, in the apse of the church (the rounded part of the sanctuary), looking down at us each time we gather, and looking out at us through the statue at the high altar.
We also talk about patron saints. Certain saints are associated with certain professions or hobbies, and their intercession is sought for those particular needs. St. Matthew is the patron saint of accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, security guards, and stockbrokers. The money aspect makes perfect sense because St. Matthew was a tax collector, which was at best as popular then as it is now, perhaps even less popular because St. Matthew collected taxes for a foreign, occupying power.
But we also look to our patron saints to inspire us to live like they did. We are not to “ape” them, just doing everything that he did (collect taxes, move to Israel, write a long story about Jesus’ life, Death, and Resurrection, etc.), but we are to live in our own day in our own vocation following the pattern that St. Matthew set out for us. And it is on that aspect of our heavenly patron that I want to focus today.
Notice that our Savior does not call St. Matthew because of Matthew’s perfections. We don’t know anything about St. Matthew’s moral life explicitly, but if other tax collectors and sinners came to his house for dinner, there was likely some affinity with those who sinned. Matthew didn’t have it all together, and our Lord didn’t make that a prerequisite for following Him. All Christ required was a willingness to do what He said.
And if we want to be saints, Christ calls us to do the same, under the patronage of St. Matthew. Christ is not calling us to follow Him because we are perfect. If Christ waited for our perfection in order to call us, He would be waiting for an eternity. But He calls us and comes to us because He came “‘to call [not] the righteous but sinners.’” He wants to heal us as the Divine Physician of any wounds or sicknesses that afflict our hearts. He knows we need Him, and He hopes that we, like St. Matthew, can recognize that and follow Jesus’ call.
But following St. Matthew doesn’t stop at simply following our Lord, just as St. Matthew didn’t just follow Him until the crucifixion. After the Resurrection and Pentecost, St. Matthew went, by tradition, to Persia and Ethiopia. Having been transformed by Christ’s healing love, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Matthew could not help but share that Good News, the Gospel, with others. He did so in writing in his account of the Gospel, written especially to a Jewish-Christian community, and by word of mouth in foreign lands.
Again, we are not to ape St. Matthew. I’m not telling you to go to Iran (modern-day Persia) or Ethiopia, though you are most welcome to do that if God is calling you to do so. But right here in Genesee County, right here in Flint, are people who need to hear the Gospel. In writing and by our speech, St. Matthew should inspire us to share the Good News with others, and not to keep it to ourselves like a lamp under a bushel basket.
I am new here, and so far only a small part of St. Matthew’s long, proud history. I have heard from parishioners about times when the church would be filled, or at least be fuller than it is today. And I know people want that again. We may not ever have a high school again, but we want to have families so that we could. We would love to have more Masses here like in days gone by, needed simply to accommodate all the people who seek God’s salvation in this church through the intercession of St. Matthew. It is not impossible. It’s not even improbable. But it will take each of us becoming an evangelist, each of us becoming a sharer of the Good News of Christ. There are so many people who need it, and the beauty of this amazing church draws people to our Triune God who is Beauty Himself. But they will never get here if we don’t invite them. And I’m not talking simply about stealing other Catholics from other parishes. I’m talking about reaching out to those who are not Catholic, those who may be connected to Christ through baptism but who do not have the fullness of God’s revelation which is present in the Catholic Church. Or even those who are ignorant of God and His ways, those who are unbaptized. If we really believe that God is such an important part of life, then we are required, as an act of charity, to share it with them! They may accept or reject it, but at least we have done our part to make sure they know it.
When was the last time you invited a fellow Catholic and especially a non-Catholic to come to church with you? Sometimes it takes just one time of entering a gorgeous church like this and hearing the Gospel for the heart to be moved to convert one’s life. True, only Catholics can receive Holy Communion, but let the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood be the goal that the visitor desires and which draws them to convert their life and join the Catholic Church.
Today we ask St. Matthew, not only to intercede for us with God to make us saints, which is very important, but also to help us spread the Gospel. If we truly want to be sons and daughters of so great an intercessor, if we truly want to call ourselves members of St. Matthew, then may our lives demonstrate that same zeal that St. Matthew had. Today, let us recommit ourselves to inviting a friend to come to church with us, and sharing with them the Gospel, so that more and more may hear and obey the invitation of Christ to follow Him.