September 21, 2017: ST. MATTHEW
September 21, 2017: ST. MATTHEW, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
Rank: Double of the II Class.
“At that time: Jesus saw a man sitting in the customhouse,
called Mathew. And he said to him: Follow me. And he arose and followed him.”
(St. Matth, ix. 9)
Grant, O Lord, we may be aided by the prayers of blessed Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist: that what through our own weakness we cannot obtain, may be granted us by his intercession. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.’ (St. Matth, i. 1) The Eagle (St. John; Dec. 27) and the Lion (St. Mark; Apr. 25) have already risen in the heavens of the holy liturgy; to-day we salute the Man (St. Matthew; Sep. 21); and next month the Ox (St. Luke; Oct. 18) will appear, to complete the number of the four living creatures, who draw the chariot of God through the world, (Ezech, i. 10) and surround His throne in heaven. These mysterious beings, with their six seraph-wings, are ever gazing with their innumerable eyes upon the Lamb who stands upon the throne as it were slain; and they rest not day and night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.’ St. John beheld them giving to the elect the signal to praise their Creator and Redeemer; and when all created beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, have adoringly proclaimed that the Lamb, who was slain, is worthy of power and divinity and glory and empire for ever, it is they that add to the world’s homage the seal of their testimony, saying: Amen, so it is! (Apoc, iv, v)
Great and singular, then, is the glory of the evangelists. The name of Matthew signifies one who is given. He gave himself when, at the word of Jesus ‘follow Me’, he rose up and followed Him; but far greater was the gift he received from God in return. The Most High, who looks down from heaven upon the low things of earth, loves to choose the humble for the princes of His people. Levi [St. Matthew], occupied in a profession that was hated by the Jews and despised by the Gentiles, belonged to the lowest rank of society; but still more humble was he in heart, when, laying aside the delicate reserve shown in his regard by the other evangelists, he openly placed his former ignominious title beside the glorious one of apostle. By so doing, he published the magnificent mercy of Him, who had come to heal the sick not the healthy, and to call not the just but sinners. For thus exalting the abundance of God’s grace, he merited its superabundance: Matthew was called to be the first evangelist. Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he wrote, with that inimitable simplicity which speaks straight to the heart, the Gospel of the Messias expected by Israel, and announced by the prophets; of the Messias the teacher and Saviour of His people, the descendant of its kings, and Himself the King of the daughter of Sion; of the Messias who had come not to destroy the Law, but to bring it to its full completion in an everlasting, universal covenant.
In his simple-hearted gratitude, Levi made a feast for his divine Benefactor. It was at this banquet that Jesus, defending His disciple as well as Himself, replied to those who pretended to be scandalized: ‘Can the children of the Bridegroom mourn, as long as the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast.’ (St. Matth, ix. 15) Clement of Alexandria bears witness to the apostle’s subsequent austerity; assuring us that he lived on nothing but vegetables and wild fruits. The legend will tell us moreover of his zeal for the Master who had so sweetly touched his heart, and of his fidelity in preserving for Him souls inebriated with the ‘wine springing forth virgins.’ (Zach, ix. 17) This fidelity, indeed, cost him his life: his martyrdom was in defence and confirmation of the duties and rights of holy virginity. To the end of time the Church, in consecrating her virgins, will make use of the beautiful blessing pronounced by him over the Ethiopian princess, which the blood of the apostle and evangelist has imbued with a peculiar virtue.
The Church gives us this short account of a life better known to God than to men.
Matthew, also named Levi, was an apostle and evangelist. He was sitting in the customhouse at Capharnaum when called by Christ, whom he immediately followed; and then made a feast for him and his disciples. After the resurrection of Christ, and before setting out for the province which it was his lot to evangelize, Matthew was the first to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote it in Hebrew, for the sake of those of the circumcision, who had been converted. Soon after, he went into Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel, and confirmed his teaching by many miracles.
One of the greatest of these was his raising to life the king's daughter, whereby he converted the king and his wife, and the whole country. After the king‘s death, his daughter Iphigenia was demanded in marriage by his successor Hirtacus, who, finding that through Matthew’s exhortation she had vowed her virginity to God and now persevered in her holy resolution, ordered the apostle to be put to death, as he was celebrating the holy mysteries at the altar. Thus on the eleventh of the Kalends of October, he crowned his apostolate with the glory of martyrdom. His body was translated to Salerno; and in the time of Pope Gregory VII it was laid in a church dedicated in his name, where it is piously honoured by a great concourse of people.
Life of St. Matthew.
St. Matthew is called by two evangelists Levi, both which names are of Jewish extraction. The latter he bore before his conversion, the other he seems to have taken after it, to show that he had renounced his profession, and was become a new man. St. Mark calls him the son of Alphæus; but the conjecture which some form from hence, that he was brother to St. James the Less, has not the very shadow of probability. He seems to have been a Galilæan by birth, and was by profession a publican, or gatherer of taxes for the Romans.
Among the Jews these publicans were more infamous and odious, because this nation looked upon them as enemies to their privilege of natural freedom which God had given them, and as persons defiled by their frequent conversation and dealing with the pagans, and as conspiring with the Romans to entail slavery upon their countrymen. Hence the Jews universally abhorred them, regarded their estates or money as the fortunes of notorious thieves, banished them from their communion in all religious worship, and shunned them in all affairs of civil society and commerce. Tertullian is certainly mistaken when he affirms that none but Gentiles were employed in this sordid office, as St. Jerom demonstrates from several passages in the gospels. And it is certain that St. Matthew was a Jew, though a publican. His office is said to have particularly consisted in gathering customs of commodities that came by the lake Genesareth or Tiberias, and a toll which passengers paid that came by water; of which mention is made by Jewish writers. Hence the Hebrew gospel published by Munster renders the word Publican in this place by, “The Lord of the Passage.” St. Mark says, that St. Matthew kept his office or toll-booth by the side of the lake, where he sat at the receipt of custom.
Jesus having lately cured a famous paralytic, went out of Capharnaum, and walked on the banks of the lake or sea of Genesareth, teaching the people that flocked after him. Here he espied Matthew sitting in his custom-house, whom he called to come and follow him. The man was rich, enjoyed a very lucrative post, was a wise and prudent man, and perfectly understood what his compliance would cost him, and what an exchange he made of wealth for poverty. But he overlooked all these considerations, and left all his interests and relations to become our Lord's disciple, and to embrace a spiritual kind of commerce or traffic. We cannot suppose that he was before wholly unacquainted with our Saviour's person or doctrine, especially as his custom-office was near Capharnaum, and his house seems to have been in that city, where Christ had resided for some time, had preached and wrought many miracles, by which he was in some measure prepared to receive the impression which the call of Christ made upon him. St. Jerom says, that a certain amiable brightness, and air of majesty, which shone in the countenance of our divine Redeemer, pierced his soul, and strongly attracted him. But the great cause of his wonderful conversion was, as Bede remarks, that, “He who called him outwardly by his word, at the same time moved him inwardly by the invisible instinct of his grace.” We must earnestly entreat this same gracious Saviour that he would vouchsafe to touch our hearts with the like powerful interior call, that we may be perfectly converted to him. He often raises his voice in the secret of our hearts; but by putting wilful obstacles we are deaf to it, and the seed of salvation is often choked in our souls.
This apostle, at the first invitation, broke all ties; forsook his riches, his family, his worldly concerns, his pleasures, and his profession. His conversion was sincere and perfect, manifesting itself by the following marks. First, it admitted no deliberation or delay: to balance one moment between God and sin, or the world, is to resist the divine call, and to lose the offered grace. Secondly, it was courageous; surmounting and bearing down all opposition which his passions or the world could raise in his way. Thirdly, it was constant; the apostle from that moment looked no more back, but following Christ with fervour, persevered to the end, marching every day forwards with fresh vigour. It is the remark of St. Gregory, that those apostles who left their boats and nets to follow Christ, were sometimes afterwards found in the same employment of fishing, from which they were called: but St. Matthew never returned to the customhouse, because it was a dangerous profession, and an occasion of avarice, oppression, and extortion. St. Jerom and St. Chrysostom take notice, that St. Mark and St. Luke mention our apostle by the name of Levi, when they speak of his former profession of publican, as if it were to cover and keep out of sight the remembrance of this apostle's sin, or at least to touch it tenderly; but our evangelist openly calls himself Matthew, by which name he was then known in the church, being desirous, out of humility, to publish his former infamy and sin, and to proclaim the excess of the divine mercy, which had made an apostle of a publican. The other evangelists, by mentioning him in his former dishonourable course of life under the name of Levi, teach us, that we ought to treat penitent sinners with all modesty and tenderness; it being against the laws of religion, justice, and charity, to upbraid and reproach a convert with errors or sins which God himself has forgiven and effaced, so as to declare that he no longer remembers them, and for which the devil himself, with all his malice, can no longer accuse or reproach him.
St. Matthew, upon his conversion, to show that he was not discontented at his change, but looked upon it as his greatest happiness, entertained our Lord and his disciples at a great dinner in his house, whither he invited his friends, especially those of his late profession, doubtless hoping that by our Saviour's divine conversation, they also might be converted. The Pharisees carped at this conduct of Christ, in eating with publicans and sinners. Our divine Saviour answered their malicious secret suggestions, that he came for the sick, not for the sound and healthy, or for those who conceited themselves so, and imagined they stood in no need of a physician; and he put them in mind, that God prefers acts of mercy and charity, especially in reclaiming sinners, and doing good to souls, before ritual observances, as the more necessary and noble precept, to which other laws were subordinate. Christ came from heaven, and clothed himself with our mortality, in the bowels of the most tender compassion and of his infinite mercy for sinners: he burnt continually with the most ardent thirst for their salvation, and it was his greatest delight to converse with those that were sunk in the deepest abyss, in order to bring them to repentance and salvation. How affectionately he cherished, and how tenderly he received those that were sincerely converted to him he has expressed by the most affecting parables, and of this St. Matthew is, among others, an admirable instance.
The vocation of St. Matthew happened in the second year of the public ministry of Christ, who soon after forming the college of his apostles, adopted him into that holy family of the spiritual princes and founders of his church. Eusebius and St. Epiphanius tell us, that after our Lord's ascension, St. Matthew preached several years in Judea and the neighbouring countries till the dispersion of the apostles; and that a little before it he wrote his gospel, or short history of our blessed Redeemer, at the entreaty of the Jewish converts, and, as St. Epiphanius says, at the command of the other apostles. That he compiled it before the dispersion appears, not only because it was written before the other gospels, but also because St. Bartholomew took a copy of it with him into India, and left it there. Christ nowhere appears to have given any charge about committing to writing his history or divine doctrine; particular accidents gave the occasions. St. Matthew wrote his gospel to satisfy the converts of Palestine; St. Mark, at the pressing entreaties of the faithful at Rome; St. Luke, to oppose false histories; St. John, at the request of the bishops of Asia, to leave an authentic testimony against the heresies of Cerinthus and Ebion. It was, nevertheless, by a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that this work was undertaken and executed by each of them. The gospels are the most excellent part of the sacred writings. For in them Christ teaches us, not by his prophets, but by his own divine mouth, the great lessons of faith, and of eternal life; and in the history of his holy life the most perfect pattern of sanctity is set before our eyes for us to copy after. The gospel of St. Matthew descends to a fuller and more particular detail in the actions of Christ, than the other three, but from chapter. v. to chapter. xiv. he often differs from them in the series of his narration, neglecting the order of time, that those instructions might be related together which have a closer affinity with each other. This evangelist enlarges chiefly on our Saviour's lessons of morality, and describes his temporal or human generation, in which the promises made to Abraham and David concerning the Messias to be born of their seed, were fulfilled; which argument was a particular inducement to the Jews to believe in him.
St. Matthew, after having made a great harvest of souls in Judea, went to preach the faith to the barbarous and uncivilized nations of the East. He was a person much devoted to heavenly contemplation, and led an austere life, using a very slender and mean diet; for he ate no flesh, satisfying nature with herbs, roots, seeds, and berries, as St. Clement of Alexandria assures us. St. Ambrose says, that God opened to him the country of the Persians. Rufinus and Socrates tell us that he carried the gospel into Ethiopia, meaning probably the southern and eastern parts of Asia. St. Paulinus mentions, that he ended his course in Parthia. Venantius Fortunatus relates, that he suffered martyrdom at Nadabar, a city in those parts. According to Dorotheus, he was honourably interred at Hierapolis in Parthia. His relics were long ago brought into the West. Pope Gregory VII, in a letter to the Bishop of Salerno, in 1080, testifies that they were then kept in a church which bore his name in that city. They still remain in the same place.
St. Irenæus, St. Jerom, St. Austin, and other fathers find a figure of the four evangelists in the four mystical animals represented in Ezechiel (Chapter i. 10) and in the Apocalypse of St. John. (Apoc, iv. 7) The eagle is generally said to represent St. John, who in the first lines of his gospel soars up to the contemplation of the eternal generation of the Word. The calf agrees to St. Luke, who begins his gospel with the mention of the priesthood. St. Austin makes the lion the symbol of St. Matthew, who explains the royal dignity of Christ; but others give it to St. Mark, and the man to St. Matthew, who begins his gospel with Christ's human generation.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1910;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Matthew, pray for us.