The call of St Matthew has been a story which has always fascinated me. Apart from the generosity of the Lord in admitting into his service one who had a notorious past - always a consolation to a sinner like myself as I reflect on my own call to the priesthood; the manner of the call of the Apostle is very interesting.
We all know what happened - it is the story offered to us in the Gospel reading today as we celebrate the Apostle's feast day - and from St Matthew's own hand too. The Lord simply passes the tax collector as he is siphoning the money from the Jews and calls him: "Follow me", and Matthew just gets up and follows him. What happened in the heart of this man? Though we read from St Matthew's own account, he tells us nothing of what led him to get up straight away and leave all to follow Jesus.
Conversion is a most mysterious process - one which happens in the mystery of grace and at the deepest level of our being. Most of the time it is a long process as in the case of St Augustine, Blessed John Henry Newman and GK Chesterton, but we also have sudden conversions - rare events which shock the protagonist as much as the observer; two of the Apostles experienced such conversions, St Paul and St Matthew. As those who are converted slowly struggle to take the final step, sudden converts seem to be born fully grown and determined. Paul needed a time of blindness and a period in the desert, but St Matthew is already prepared to fly into the Lord's service, becoming one of the twelve and being admitted into the secrets of the Sacred Heart.
We will never know, I suppose, what happened in St Matthew's heart - not here on earth anyway, because he may not have known himself at that time: perhaps he only knew that here standing before him was his Lord and what he was offering was much greater than what he had been living up to then. It may have taken a surge of faith, a leap into the dark as the philosopher Kierkegaard would say, or perhaps there was already a hunger which suddenly found its satisfaction in the one whose voice touched his heart. It was a personal encounter between Christ and Matthew, an encounter between them in the very core of his soul.
As we reflect on this mystery, though, we might look into our own hearts to rediscover what led us to follow Christ. Perhaps we had a conversion - I believe all of us must have one, even cradle Catholics - that moment when we hear the voice of the Lord and make the decision to get up and follow him. Meditating on this today, we might experience that moment again, relive it so as to be renewed in it, for it was a moment of grace. In these difficult times, we need to harness that moment, perhaps daily, in order to continue to serve and follow him with confidence and hope. To remember that being a Christian is as much a personal thing as a public thing - we are called to follow the Lord at level of our being, in every moment of our lives - in intimacy and in public witness. This is why the call of St Matthew is so fascinating because so little is revealed and yet we know that there is so much going on: so too in us.
As he got up and left his counting table, St Matthew did not know what lay ahead, and neither do we; but as he walked behind his Lord he was sure that all would be well as long as he stayed close to Jesus: this is also true for us.