Fulfilling God’s Desire, Feast of St. Matthew, September 21, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle
September 21, 2017
Eph 4:1-7.11-13, Ps 19, Mt 9:9-13


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in this homily:

  • In the Gospel, Jesus today says quite clearly, “I desire mercy,” and adds “I have come not to call the righteous but sinners,” and in the calling of St. Matthew and in every vocation except that of the Blessed Virgin, he acts on those words. Today we see a powerful manifestation of this desire for mercy in his calling the despised tax collector Matthew to be his disciple and apostle. Christ indeed came to call not the just but the morally sick to repentance and Matthew, the converted disciple collector, would forever be a walking advertisement of how great the Lord’s forgiveness really is. St. Matthew immediately began to bring his friends to receive that same gift from Jesus. He is an example of good soil who received the gift of the Lord’s mercy. The Pharisees, on the other hand, had hardened soil. They were resistant to the need for mercy in their own lives and weren’t happy when that mercy reached even those they knew were sinners. By Jesus’ words to them, he was seeking them to understand that they cannot respond to God’s call except through mercy. St. Paul in today’s first reading urges us to live in a manner worthy of the calling we have received and to come to full maturity in Christ, two things that can only happen when we live in a manner worthy of God’s mercy received and shared and mature to become as merciful as our Father is merciful. He, the Divine Physician, wants to heal us with his medicine and send us out as his nurses. Our call and the cure for our sinfulness and coextensive.
  • This was made plain 64 years ago today in the call of Jorge Bergoglio to be a priest while he was going to confession. It was September 21, 1953 and a teenage Jorge Bergoglio was planning to spend the day with friends. Before meeting with them at the train station, he stopped by to pray at his parish Church dedicated to St. Joseph. A priest he had never seen before, Fr. Carlos Duarte Ibarra, was in the Church. He decided to approach him and asked him to hear his confession. We don’t know what Jorge said to the priest or how the priest replied. But we do know that that confession totally changed not only the teenager’s plans for the day but for the whole course of his life. A few years ago on the Vigil of Pentecost, Pope Francis shared some of his memories of this pivotal event in his vocation story. “One day in particular was very important to me: September 21, 1953. I was almost 17. It was ‘Students’ Day,’ for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended. I found a priest whom I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that Someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened. I can’t remember. I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that Someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.” He was called to be a priest so that he could continue that mission, just as much as St. Matthew did. His papal motto, taken from the Office of Readings every priest reads on September 21 for the Feast of St. Matthew, relives the encounter that took place in the Buenos Aires confessional. “Miserando atque Eligendo,” St. Bede’s words about the former tax collector that can also fittingly be said about the one-time Argentine chemist: “He saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.” The Lord wants us to recognize that he has chosen us through his mercy and wants us to help others to recognize the same calling.
  • Our whole life is meant to be contextualized by this call to mercy. At the end of today’s first reading, St. Paul describes God’s desire for us to attain true knowledge of the Son of God and to come to “mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ,” who is, as he revealed to St. Faustina, “mercy incarnate.” We need to mature in mercy in order to produce abundant fruit. We see this truth very beautifully in the life of St. Augustine, about whom Pope Benedict has often said there were three stages in his growth in mercy. The first was his massive conversion from a life of sin; the second was to go from serving God as he wished to serving God as God himself desired to be served by his serving others, for after all, Christ “indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15); the third stage, at the very end of his life, was to grasp that everything he did was by God’s mercy, not by his own power, such that he recognized that to live the Christian life at all was to live by mercy.
  • Today as we come here to this Mass the same Jesus, the Divine Physician, who called and chose Matthew through his mercy, comes to call and choose us anew again. St. Matthew, we know, was present at the first Mass and was given the sacramental power by Christ to “do this in memory of” him. As we prepare to offer with faith Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity shed “for the forgiveness of sins,” we turn through St. Matthew’s intercession to God, the eternal Father, to receive us together with his Son in expiatation for our sins and those of the whole world.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1
EPH 4:1-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 19:2-3, 4-5

R. (5) Their message goes out through all the earth.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.

MT 9:9-13

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”