Thought for the day – 21 September – The Feast of St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist –
Pope Francis and the Calling of St Matthew
In 1953, on the feast of Saint Matthew, the young Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis), at the age of 17, experienced, in a very special and intimate way, the loving presence of God in his life. He went to confession and felt his heart touched by the mercy of God. It changed his life. At that moment, he also felt God’s call to the priesthood and religious life as a Jesuit.
In memory of that holy event in his life, Pope Francis chose as his episcopal (and later papal) motto the words “miserando atque eligendo” (“having mercy and choosing”). These words are found in a sentence in a homily by Saint Bede on the calling of Saint Matthew. They are read in the Office of Readings on the Feast of Saint Matthew. Saint Bede wrote: “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since He sees by having mercy and by choosing, He says to him, ‘Follow me.’”
To understand Pope Francis, it is helpful to know about this important event in his life on the Feast of Saint Matthew in 1953. The young Jorge Bergoglio felt the tender gaze of God’s love, His mercy and his vocation. In an interview, Pope Francis spoke of that event in these words: “In that confession, something very rare happened to me. I don’t know what it was, but it changed my life. I would say that I was caught with my guard down… It was a surprise, the astonishment of an encounter. I realized that God was waiting for me. From that moment, for me, God has been the one who precedes (to guide me)… We want to meet Him but He meets us first.”
Just as Jesus had summoned Matthew to become His apostle, Jesus called the teenage Jorge Bergoglio to be His emissary. Pope Francis once said: “I believe in my history — which was pierced by God’s look of love, on September 21, the feast of Saint Matthew — He came to meet me and invited me to follow Him.”
That vocational encounter and piercing look of God’s merciful love has influenced Pope Francis’ life and ministry. That’s why he chose the words of Saint Bede as his motto. Clearly, major themes of his papacy have been his teaching on divine mercy, the joyful encounter with Jesus and the infinite tenderness of God.
When he visited Rome prior to becoming Pope, Jorge Bergoglio always stayed in the neighbourhood of the Church of Saint Louis of France. He would often go there to contemplate the famous painting of “The Calling of Saint Matthew” by Caravaggio. In the painting, Jesus is pointing at Matthew. Matthew is holding on to his money as if to say “No, not me! No, this money is mine.” Pope Francis says he sees himself in Matthew – a sinner on whom the Lord turned His gaze. He trusted in Christ’s infinite mercy and accepted His calling: to become a Jesuit, a priest, a bishop, and pope.
The gaze of Jesus completely overtook the tax collector and sinner Matthew. It changed his life. It changed Jorge Bergoglio’s life. It changes our life.
May we always heed His call to be a Church which goes out, offering to all, especially the poor and suffering, the love and mercy of Jesus Christ! May Saint Matthew pray for us.