Chosen and Commissioned like St. Matthias, May 14, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Matthias
May 14, 2016
Acts 1:15-17.20-26, Ps 113, Jn 15:9-17


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • It might seem at first a little bit of a letdown that as we have come to the penultimate day of the Easter Season that we have a sanctoral feast day that takes the place of the readings and prayers the Church gives us to help consolidate the graces of the Easter Season and prepare for tomorrow’s great feast of Pentecost. But there’s something extraordinarily fitting having the Feast of St. Matthias trump Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter, something that won’t take place again until 2157, 141 years from now: it’s because, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, the selection of Matthias took place during the time the Church was awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit and is the scene that immediately precedes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. So just as God used the election of Matthias to get the Church ready for the first Pentecost, so this year we are fortunate to have the feast of St. Matthias to get us ready for Pentecost 2016 and for how God the Holy Spirit wants to help us just like he helped him to recognize and respond to our vocation and mission within God’s eternal plan.
  •  The feast of St. Matthias gives us the opportunity to focus on one of the most important realities of our faith: the transmission of the Gospel and our role in it. St. Matthias was the one chosen by God to take the place of Judas after Judas’ betrayal and suicide. There was a need to have someone step into his shoes to spread the Gospel to others. They nominated two people and allowed God to choose by lot. This was a familiar practice for the Jews because it was the way priests were chosen for service in the temple. The 800 to 1000 priests who were assembled at a given time for a week’s service in the Temple all wrote their name on rocks and the rocks were put into a big container and shaken until one came out. The name on the rock would be the one chosen to preside over the morning or evening sacrifice or serve at the altar of incense. In this case, they put the names Matthias and Joseph also called Barsabbas (Son of the Sabbath) or Justus (the Just One) on rocks and shook them out and the lot fell to Matthias and he was constituted among the apostles. We see here something important for us to grasp. God doesn’t always choose the people who would seem most likely. Just as no one would have predicted that among the apostles there would be, instead of rabbis and scribes and Pharisees, there would be fishermen, tax collectors and relative nobodies, so here if it were a decision solely of men rather than of God that Matthias would have been chosen above someone who had already earned two nicknames because of the way he lived the faith. But God’s ways are not our ways. As we noted in today’s psalm, the Lord “raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes … of his own people.”
  • This truth is doubly important because, as we discerned in the Collect (Opening Prayer) of this Mass, we’ve all been chosen by God similarly to St. Matthias. “O God who assigned Saint Matthias a place in the college of Apostles,” we prayed, “grant us, through his intercession, that, rejoicing at how your love  has been allotted to us, we may merit to be numbered among the elect.” Out of all the people on earth, we are only one of approximately three to have been mysteriously allotted to be aware of God’s love incarnate in Christ and one of seven to have been chosen to receive the plenitude of love through the Sacraments and fullness of revelation in the Catholic Church. It’s not that we’re better than others, or loved more by God than others, just like God didn’t love Matthias more than Joseph-Justus-Barsabbas. But we were allotted to become more aware of that love of God and to have the chance to live in it through Christ’s Mystical Body. But with that gift comes a task: it’s to pass the knowledge of that treasure on. Just like God chose the Jews as the people to receive his revelation so that one day that light could be brought to all nations, so God has allotted each of us to receive the gift of himself, his words, his presence, so that we may bring those gifts to others and others to God. Our names have been written on him who is the “stone rejected by the builders who has become the cornerstone.” Our names have been written on the rock on whom Jesus built his Church and are united in communion with Peter and his successors.
  • The reality, however, is that many Catholics treat Joseph-Justus-Barsabbas as if he were their patron saint. They say, “Whew! Thanks be to God God chose Pope Francis, or Cardinal Dolan, or Father Landry, or the Sisters of Life or parish catechists to spread the faith so that I can just sit shyly on the sidelines!” They don’t believe that they’ve been chosen to spread the faith and they’re … happy about it. Not everyone, of course, is chosen to be a successor of the apostles, or a priest, or a religious, or even a catechist, but every Christian has been chosen by lot, like Matthias, to rejoice at God’s love and to spread the faith. That’s the first lesson we all grasp today.
  • The second thing we need to learn is what are the qualifications and function of an apostle in St. Matthias’ day and in our own day. St. Peter describes them in his speech before all the disciples before God chose St. Matthias by lot. “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us… become with us a witness to his resurrection.” The qualifications are someone who accompanied Jesus and the apostles, someone who knew him personally and not just about him second-hand. The function of the apostle was to be a witness to the resurrection, that Jesus wasn’t dead, but is very much alive. Those remain the vocational criteria and missionary task of an apostle in every age. We need to be people who know Jesus, who hear him, who see him, who touch him, who follow him, who are friends with him, and not just people who can explain his biographical info or his doctrine. Likewise we need to be people who are able not just to tell people he is alive, but show people he is alive by the way he vivifies us, raising us from sin and the various necroses sin assumes in human lives.
  • How do we do that? How do we enter into Jesus’ life, how do we share his friendship, how do we draw people to him and to his life-changing love? That’s the third thing we learn today. In the Gospel, taken from Holy Thursday night when Jesus ordained his first Apostles, Jesus tells us that to remain in his love, we must keep his commandments, just as he keeps the Father’s commandments and remains in his love. Many often think that love and commandments are polar opposites, one being free and spontaneous, the other being required and restrictive. But Jesus reveals to us that the two go together: we don’t love unless we seek to obey and please the Beloved, recognizing that the obedience is not servile but loving adhesion. But Jesus also specifies that all the commandments are commandments to train us to love God and if we love God than we will love others as God loves others. That’s why he was able to summarize the entire law, all the commandments, by saying, “And this is my commandment. Love one another just as I have loved you.” The reason why love and commandment are united is because Jesus commands us to behave like him in our care for others. And he shows us exactly the type of love he is commanding: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” We remain in the intimacy of friendship with Jesus, we accompany him, we give witness to his risen life, when we follow his command to lay down our life for him and for others. He tells us that he has chosen us for this type of sacrificial love. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” The apostolic fruit that he wants us to bear all flows from loving others with Christ-like sacrificial love, more precisely from loving others with the self-sacrificial love of Christ that we receive and that overflows from within us. This is the way we give witness to his risen life! That’s what St. Matthias gave witness to. That’s what so many generations of Christians have given witness to before us. And that’s what Christ is calling us, who have been allotted by him to rejoice in his love, are called to give others.
  • And it’s this type of Christian life that will draw others to Christ. The two greatest means for spreading the faith in the early Church, as I’ve often said, were martyrdom and Christian fraternal love. The faith of the martyrs, willing to lay down their lives for the One who laid down his love for them and called each of us to this “greater love,” led to so many conversions, from Saul of Tarsus at Steven’s stoning to Sebastian at the execution of Christians by the Roman emperor to so many others whose names are no longer preserved. The second means was Christian fraternal love, those who willingly sold their properties, laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to distribute to those in greater need, who did everything together, from eating, to praying the Eucharist, to going up to the Temple. The human heart is made for that type of love and when people in the first centuries saw that love among the Christians, they rushed in in droves, even though it might mean their martyrdom. That was a life worth living for and dying for, because they knew if not even crucifixion could extinguish Jesus’ risen life then they had nothing truly to hear.
  • As we prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we note how he helps us to know Christ Risen from the Dead, to remember everything he taught, to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood so that we might know him on the inside, to pray as we ought so that we might hear his voice in the present, to give witness to him by the courage with which he fills us together with the other gifts that are givens when we open our lives to him.
  • Today on this Feast of St. Matthias, through the power of the Holy Spirit,  we recall our vocation, not to be the Joseph-Justus-Barsabbases of our own day but the new St. Matthias’, receiving the torch from those who have gone before us and passing on as of the first importance what we ourselves received. We come here to the Mass where Jesus speaks to us and where he’s prepared to pour out of his love for us in the greatest love of all, laying down his life for us and allowing us to enter into holy Communion with that love. We rejoice that it was not we who chose to be Catholic, but God who chose us, and appointed us to bear fruit that will last forever through our union with Christ that will last. And we ask him, as we prepare to hear his command at the end of Mass to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” that we may do so with the same fidelity, joy and perseverance with which St. Matthias responded to his divine election and mission.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 1:15-17, 20-26

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers and sisters
(there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place).
He said, “My brothers and sisters,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
Judas was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.
For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
Let his encampment become desolate,
and may no one dwell in it
May another take his office.Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 113:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

R. (8) The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.
R. Alleluia.
Praise, you servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
both now and forever.
R. The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.
R. Alleluia.
From the rising to the setting of the sun
is the name of the LORD to be praised.
High above all nations is the LORD;
above the heavens is his glory.
R. The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.
R. Alleluia.
Who is like the LORD, our God, who is enthroned on high
and looks upon the heavens and the earth below?
R. The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.
R. Alleluia.
He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill he lifts up the poor
To seat them with princes,
with the princes of his own people.
R. The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.
R. Alleluia.

JN 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”