Feast of St Matthew – September 21
Fr. James Conner
Today we celebrate the memory of St Matthew, the author of the first gospel. He tells us today the story of his own conversion. He was a tax collector. Jesus passed by his place of business and said to him: “Follow Me!”. Matthew looked down at his money. Spread out before him, and seemed to hesitate before leaving this means of security. But finally he left that security for a life of insecurity.
Every Christian is called by Jesus Christ to follow Him. Some are called to totally leave the securities of this world and follow Him in the call of the monastic life. But some are also called to follow Him by a different path – still one of total trust in Him, but a trust that calls one to manage the goods of this world rather than to renounce them. This is the path of the Lay Cistercians. You are called to remain in the world and provide for yourself and your family, but beyond that, to be conscious of the needs of the poor of the world. St. Paul reminds us: “What have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you act as if it were your own?”
Part of the reason why the tax collectors were so hated by the people of that time is the fact that they not only collected the taxes of the Roman occupiers of the land, but frequently also took more than necessary for their own selves. They were acting as if the very people whom they were called to serve were actually servants of their own.
In other words, they were acting with injustice rather than mercy. And Jesus ends the gospel by telling us that God says: “What I desire is mercy and not sacrifice.” This showing of mercy begins with our own home and family, but must extend beyond that to our places of work and service.
Might there be a danger for each one to treat even their own family and relations as if they were simply their own? On the contrary, Jesus tells us that we are all called to be servants of one another, just as He came as a servant of all. We are to provide not only for our selves and those closest to us, but for all who are in need and who come within our lives.
Our nation today is threatened by a spirit of individualism – caring for myself first. But Jesus calls us on another path – the path of the Son of Man and the path of those called to follow Him. “I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life for the sake of all”.
Being called to be a Lay Cistercian entails more than simply coming to the monastery a couple of times a year. It entails following Jesus Christ every day of the year, every moment of our lives, in seeking not what is for my own good, but what is for the good of all. Truly, as St Benedict says: “To prefer NOTHING to Christ”. On this way we are all called to follow Him = both those of us who are called to life within the monastery and those of you who are called to build your own monastery within the world. On this way we are all called to truly follow Christ in His mission to love and serve all.