In the past few articles I have been looking at the Apostles as catechetical saints. As I have mentioned before, twice this past year I had the opportunity to go to Rome. On both trips I was able to visit the Church of St. Louis where Caravaggio’s famous painting of the Calling of St. Matthew is displayed. It was a great blessing for me to see the painting in person. It never ceases to remind me of my own vocation, which is why I have a large print of the painting in my office. In many ways, we can look at the Gospel of St. Matthew as the catechist’s Gospel, so let’s take the opportunity here to look at his vocation.
Matthew’s call is unique to the apostles because of his profession and the “sin” associated with it. He was a tax collector working for the Romans. The Jews hated his profession. We must admit that the profession is not very popular even today, but Jesus called him anyway. St Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Rom. 5:20). This was certainly true for Matthew, also known as Levi.
Pope Benedict wrote that to read Matthew 9:9 is to “recall Caravaggio’s magnificent canvas” (Wednesday Audience, 30 August 2006). In Caravaggio’s painting, we see Jesus calling Matthew. He is sitting at his job surrounded by obviously rich men, all counting money in front of them. Matthew knows that he is being called to something, and yet his attention is still on the money. He is aware that Jesus has come to his house, the house of a sinner, and is moved to follow Jesus. Matthew’s conversion is personal and profound.