On this feast of the Apostle and Evangelist Saint Matthew, I am thinking of the famous Caravaggio paintings of Saint Matthew that I got to admire last year in the beautiful church of S. Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. In his now famous Civilta Cattolica interview, Pope Francis reflected on Caravaggio's The Calling of Saint Matthew (the painting on the left in the above photo). This was in the context of talking about his episcopal motto, Miseranado atque Eligendo ("By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him"), which he took from a homily by the Venerable Bede (673-735) on the Gospel account of the calling of Saint Matthew.
The Pope says that when he would be in Rome he often visited the French Church of Saint Louis to contemplate Caravaggio's The Calling of Saint Matthew. "That finger of Jesus. pointing at Matthew," said the Pope. "That's me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. ... It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, 'No, not me! No, this money is mine.' Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. ...I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance."
Francis identifies himself with Matthew among the converted and called - as indeed we all must. In his homily on Matthew, Bede called special attention to "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."
As I suggested yesterday, reflecting on Mary Magdalene and the other women who, having themselves been healed, accompanied Jesus and the 12, it is by fully embracing our primary identity as recipients of God's mercy - as patients in the "Field Hospital" that is Pope Francis' image for the Church - that we become collaborators in the mission - nurses in that very same "Field Hospital."
It would seem that the Venerable Bede and Pope Francis would both have us appreciate Matthew's conversion and call in that light.