First published in The Reign of Mary, Issue #136
My dear parishioners, I would like to speak today about St. Matthew, whose feast occurs tomorrow. As you know, he is an apostle and one of the four evangelists. What I want to talk about today is vocation, which is a very important topic. The reason this topic comes to mind particularly today is because St. Matthew responded so quickly to the call of Our Lord.
I would like to speak about vocation in general, and also about the three vocations in particular: the religious state, the married state and the single state. The point I wish to make is that we have to see our vocation as the will of God. In other words, God has a plan for each one of us and we need to find out what that plan is. God will make sure that you have a way to discover what His plan is for you: how you will sanctify yourself, how you will become holy and get to the place that is destined for you in heaven. The highest of the three states is, of course, the religious state. I am also including with the religious state the priesthood, because both priests and religious are called to give their whole lives and their whole focus to the service of God and the salvation of souls.
Let us reflect upon what St. Matthew says in his Gospel about vocation. First he tells how Our Lord called the first two apostles Andrew and Peter. Christ said to them,“Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen, and were probably pretty good at their work. But Jesus wanted them to do something completely different from anything they had ever dreamed of doing. Instead of catching fish, they will be catching men — saving souls. There is just no comparison. A fish lives and grows, and it eventually dies. If we catch it, we can eat it as food. But that’s the end of it. An immortal soul, however, lives forever. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter and Andrew that He wants them to fish for men — to save souls. And this may have been just the hook that was needed for Peter and Andrew to follow Our Lord. They will still be fishing, but only now they will be trying to catch souls instead of fish.
When St. Matthew comes to his own vocation in his Gospel, he describes himself in the third person using his less dignified name. He actually had two names: one of them was Matthew and the other was Levi. When the other Apostles refer to St. Matthew — as in St. Luke’s Gospel, for example — they call him Levi out of respect. The name Matthew was a little more on the pejorative side. But when St. Matthew, in the third person, speaks of himself, he uses his own less dignified name and he uses it throughout his Gospel. So, instead of his Gospel being called the Gospel of Levi, it is called the Gospel of Matthew. Why is this? It is because Matthew was a sinner, a tax collector, a publican. The Romans used publicans to do their dirty work for them, such as collecting taxes. They didn’t care if the publicans cheated the people by taking more money than they should, as long as they got their due. Perhaps Matthew was among these dishonest publicans. He relates in his Gospel how one day Matthew is sitting in the tax collecting house. Jesus walks by, looks at him and says,“Follow me.” The Gospels do not record that He said anything else. Immediately, Matthew got up, left everything behind, and followed Jesus. He probably left money on the bench, his accounts, everything that was there.
Wasn’t this an incredibly prompt response to the special call that Jesus gave him? St. Luke tells us that the next day Levi held a great feast for Our Lord; it seems that he was celebrating his vocation. He invited his friends to the feast — and who are his friends? Other publicans and tax collectors, of course. The Pharisees take offense at this; they are scandalized:“Look at that man Jesus — He’s associating with those reprobates, those sinners!” Jesus knew they were criticizing Him and said to them,“I have come to save sinners, even more than the just.” In effect Our Lord was saying that He came especially to save sinners. Matthew is a sinner and Jesus has called him into this special relationship for the rest of his life. He will be close to Our Lord and will have a very great reward in Heaven. And Matthew, too, is going to be a fisher of souls.
Here we see the love of Jesus. No sinner ever need despair, no matter how great his sins. I tell all the greatest sinners of the world that Jesus came to save you because He loves you. Matthew is so conscious of this that he makes sure we know him by his sinner’s name: Matthew. He wants to remind himself and everybody until the end of time what God did for Matthew the sinner. What a wonderful lesson he teaches us! It is a story of humility, of divine forgiveness received from our Lord. It is also a beautiful story of responsiveness to Our Lord’s call.
As I said earlier, my dear brethren, there is a plan for each one of us. It’s either in the religious state or priesthood, the married state, or the single state. In the priesthood, God calls a young man to be an officer and spiritual leader in the Church, and gives him the infinite power of offering the Mass and forgiving sins. I am including that in the religious vocation and there are those who are called to that holy state. Some are called to the married state. Two young people are getting married here this Saturday; that is their vocation. There are also those who are called to the single state. Circumstances show them in life that they are not called to be religious nor to be married, but that they are to sanctify themselves in a unique sort of calling in the single state. It may be a special mission they have in life that may be more difficult to fulfill in either the religious state or the married state.
I want to explain that there is a general vocation for anybody to become a religious. I will give an analogy here. Jesus is the King and as He holds court, He calls some in a special way to stand closer to Him in the court — those to whom he gives a clear vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood. Those in the lay state are also in the court but they are not part of the inner circle. But all are there to serve God and to love Him. Now if someone who is specially called to be a religious and knows that he or she has a vocation says,“No, I don’t want that; I want to be further away from You in Your court,” you can see how that would be a big problem. If, on the other hand, someone who may have a calling to the married state wishes to be closer to Jesus and serve Him more perfectly, God will not be offended if that person says to Him,“I want to give everything to You.” Even without that particular call, the general call to the religious state may be answered.
So again, as I said, there is a call for each one of us, and we certainly can and must discern it, for it is our path to heaven. St. Alphonsus Liguori says this is the most critical choice someone can make, besides, of course, becoming a Catholic. It is very important to be in the walk of life where God wants you to be because He is going to give you the graces you need in that walk of life. If you are not where He wants you to be, you may have real problems in working out your salvation. Remember the young man of the Gospel who was called by Our Lord but did not follow Him? Although the Apostles said Yes to Our Lord, there were others who said No.
I must admit that when I was discerning my vocation, my response was not like Matthew’s. When Our Lord said,“Follow Me,” I said,“No, Lord, I have other plans.” Then one day I realized that I could be happy only by doing God’s Will. It was then I recovered that peace of soul that I hadn’t had for a long time, because it is hard to“kick against the goad,” as Our Lord said to St. Paul on the day of his conversion. It’s much better to do the holy Will of God. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way we are going to get to heaven. Don’t we say in the Our Father:“Thy Will be done”?
I believe that we can be attracted to what we should do in life, and that we can have legitimate desires and pursuits. But we must also discern God’s will for us:“Dear God, what do You want me to do? Help me to have a meeting of the minds with You, so that I may fulfill Your plan and my purpose.” That must be our prayer.
I want to share with you an incident that happened the day I first met Father James McGilloway, which was back in 1970 when I was a young boy. This was when he had just come up from California. He had been in the Novus Ordo seminary in the mid 60’s and discovered that they weren’t teaching the Catholic Faith any more, but rather a modern religion full of heresies. Now this young man had come up to Idaho to become a traditional Catholic and to pursue his vocation to the priesthood. My father had just picked him up from the bus station or airport and brought him to where my parents were in the process of building a house that summer. It was also the day that my dad accidentally ran over my fishing pole. I must confess that I pretty much threw a fit. I had just gotten into fishing and was beginning to enjoy it and now that was brought to an end. When the young man from California, saw me throwing a fit over my broken fishing pole, he led me over to a little outdoor shrine to St. Anthony and said,“We’re going to kneel down and pray to St. Anthony for a new fishing pole.”
Father did a very priestly thing that day, even though he was not yet a priest. He taught me an important lesson: to pray for something that I want if it is God’s Will. Some time later I actually did get a new pole to replace the one that had been broken, but by that time I had lost interest in fishing. But that is beside the point. God had heard my prayer. I realize now as I look back on that day, that Father James and I were called to be fishers of men. For that, both he and I are very grateful, and we ask you to continue to pray for us and for all priests as we fulfill the most awesome vocation that any person can have on this earth — that of being another Christ.
How proud a parent truly should be to have a son called to the priesthood or a son or daughter called to the religious life — to enter into that special relationship with God in the holy state of religion. My dear brethren, I believe it’s been five years since we began praying the prayer for vocations after Sunday Mass. Besides praying, we must also provide the atmosphere in which vocations will be cultivated. To use a gardening analogy, the better the soil, the more the seeds planted in it will thrive. As we strive to become holy in our daily lives, we will in general be providing a more holy atmosphere which will nourish vocations. As a result, more young men will answer the call of Our Lord to be fishers of men. More young men and women will answer the call to be religious so that they can save many, many souls in their lives of consecration to God. (cont’d on p. 26) St. Therese of Lisieux never left her Carmelite convent, and yet she is the patroness of missionaries. Untold numbers of souls were saved because of her life as a religious. Because of her love of God, she loved souls, and her zeal poured out from her convent, inspiring and aiding the work of the missionaries throughout the world. An atmosphere which is conducive to religious vocations is also helpful to those who are called to the married or the single state.
This reminds me of the story of Maria Von Trapp; it is even reflected in the movie“Sound of Music.” Maria wanted to become a nun, even though in some ways she was rather a wayward girl. She entered the convent and she loved it there. Although it was hard being a Benedictine nun, she wanted to serve God in that way. As events unfolded, however, the Mother Abbess eventually told her that it was not God’s Will. She asked Maria one day,“What is the most important lesson you’ve learned here in the Abbey?” Maria answered without hesitation,“To do the Will of God.” Then the Mother Abbess told her that it was the will of God that she go help the Von Trapp family. So, you see, God’s Will makes itself known to you, but you must pray for it and seek it. For the Will of God, my dear brethren, is our happiness in this life. And even more importantly, it is what will lead to our eternal happiness in heaven, our eternal goal. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.