October 9, 2016. Homily. Father François Beyrouti.
In the year 1600, the famous Italian painter Caravaggio completed one of his greatest masterpieces: “The Calling of Saint Matthew.”
The Gospel of Saint Matthew recounts this event in a very simple way: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).
Caravaggio adds some details that are not part of the original story but give us a great insight into this idea of a call from God.
He depicts Saint Matthew, the tax collector, sitting at a table with three other men. The four of them gaze intensely at Jesus as He and Saint Peter enter the room. In this painting, unlike the Gospel, Jesus does not gesture “follow me,” but rather points dramatically to Saint Matthew in a way that indicates: “I want you.”
As Jesus points to Saint Matthew a light shines from His direction toward Saint Matthew that pulls him out of his self-centered darkness of sitting around a hidden table counting his money to a new way of life. Saint Matthew responds to Jesus’ gesture “I want you,” not with an instant positive response, like in the gospel, but with a puzzled look on his face and a gesture that points toward his chest that asks “Who me?”
Although this does not correspond to the simple Gospel exchange of “follow me” “and he rose and followed him” it does give us an indication of not only what Saint Matthew may have felt but what each of us feel when we receive a gift and a calling from God.
I made the decision to enter the seminary when I was 18 years old and have now been ordained a priest for 18 years. I’m sure some of you are calculating right now how old I am, but no I’m not 36. Just for the record I’m happily 45 and counting the days until I get my senior citizen discounts.
My vocation and the vocation I think of most corresponds closely to Caravaggio’s painting where Saint Matthew eventually follows but first says “who me?”
I sometimes think God made a mistake but do my best anyway. I have zero claim to competence, intelligence, or worthiness to God’s beautiful invitation. I often think and have admitted that even at the best of times I hardly know what I am doing.
I like the story of the call of the prophet Jeremiah.“Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’  But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth”; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jeremiah 1:4-7).
So how do you argue with that? You don’t.
This is where Caravagio’s painting adds an important element to the Gospel of Matthew. After we say “who me?” because we doubt ourselves and the gifts that God gives us, we get up and follow Him because we are grateful for the invitation.
We often think of a call as something that only priests, monastics, or nuns get. The truth is that every one of us has been called in a special way for a special mission from God.
The first letter of Peter reminds us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). And Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans says that we “are called to belong to Jesus Christ” and “called to be saints” (Romans 1:6, 7).
Therefore, the pattern of the call of Matthew both in his Gospel and in Caravagio’s painting is not limited to the apostles, priests, and nuns, but to every one of us who has been baptized. That is why Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). We have all put on Christ and we are all one with Christ, but how are we responding to His call in our daily life with our time, talent, and treasure?
This is what we call stewardship. We now have over 20 people from our parish going to the stewardship conference on October 22 in San Clemente. I invite everyone to attend and because this is such an important event for all of us as individuals and as a community, our parish will cover the registration costs and transportation.
In brief, stewardship is how we can better understand our call to be followers of Jesus Christ in our day to day life so that we can say as did Saint Paul in today’s epistle: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Stewardship is asking “who me?” and then realizing that we have been blessed in so many ways despite our thoughts of unworthiness.
Stewardship is making a formal and repeated commitment that we want Jesus in our lives. When we make this commitment we develop a healthy balance that the gifts we receive are from God, but they are also ours to develop and to serve others with those gifts.
This is our goal as individuals within this wonderful Church. We want to discover the gifts that God has given each one of us, we want to admire those gifts, we want to develop those gifts, and we want to learn how we can keep collaborating to use those gifts for our good and the good, the good of our parish, and the good of society.
In Caravagio’s painting Saint Matthew is surprised that Jesus wants him as a disciple. Although he asks “who me?” he does leave everything and follow Christ.
I want everyone to raise their index finger and press it as hard as you can on your chest. Keep pressing harder and harder until you are absolutely convinced that Jesus loves you and wants you to follow Him.