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Early on in his pontificate, Pope Francis shared his great affection for St. Matthew since it was on his feast day, September 21, 1953 that the young Bergolio experienced the strong call to be a priest after going to confession.

Recently when he was asked about this experience he said:

“You asked me to share my memory – how it was – that first call on September 21st, 1953 – but I don’t know how it was: I know that, by chance, I walked into church, I saw a confessional, and I came out different.”
(news.va 2015-9-17)

Carravagio-Calling-of-st-matthew-wiki-commons

Carravagio’s “Calling of St. Matthew” — note: Matthew is the only one not looking up at all.

A Motto for A Vocation: “miserando atque eligendo”

That experience of the vocation—of “being different”remained so tied to the Feast of St. Matthew that as bishop he chose his episcopal motto from the Office of Readings for the feast day, a homily by the Venerable Bede (673-735) about the moment of St. Matthew’s conversion: “miserando atque eligendo”.  As pope, Francis integrated this motto into his coat of arms.

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He chose a quote from the following passage:

Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’. [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’.]

Michelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_The_Calling_of_Saint_Matthew_(detail)_-_WGA04119

The phrase is hard to translate since it penetrates the manner in which Christ looked at St. Matthew…a two-step condition for calling him: “having mercy” and “choosing”.  Yet it also captures a truth of every vocation, the fact that the call is always the Lord’s complete initiative and that no one merits the vocation.  Rather every vocation is a divine work of mercy reflecting our reality before God, and His love despite our sinfulness.

On this feast of St. Matthew as we await the arrival of Pope Francis, let us pray for our Holy Father and for the fruits of his visit to Cuba and here to the United States.  St. Matthew, pray for us!  St. Bede the Venerable, pray for us!

Bede's-chapel-St-Paul-Jarrow

Two sisters visit the chapel of Jarrow (Northumbria, England), the monastery where St Bede the Venerable lived his entire life, and the chapel in which most likely Bede first delivered Homily 21 on the conversion of St Matthew.

Complete text of the Second Reading below:

Second Reading: A sermon by St Bede the Venerable
Homily 21 (CCL 122, 149-151)

Jesus saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him

And he rose and followed him. There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.
He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me. This following meant imitating the pattern of his life – not just walking after him. St John tells us: Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me. Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.
As he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. This conversion of one tax collector gave many men, those from his own profession and other sinners, an example of repentance and pardon. Notice also the happy and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations. No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation. He took up his appointed duties while still taking his first steps in the faith, and from that hour he fulfilled his obligation and thus grew in merit. To see a deeper understanding of the great celebration Matthew held at his house, we must realise that he not only gave a banquet for the Lord at his earthly residence, but far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love. Our Saviour attests to this:Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him, as it were, when we freely assent to his promptings and when we give ourselves over to doing what must be done. Christ, since he dwells in the hearts of his chosen ones through the grace of his love, enters so that he might eat with us and we with him. He ever refreshes us by the light of his presence insofar as we progress in our devotion to and longing for the things of heaven. He himself is delighted by such a pleasing banquet.