Caravaggio‘s Calling of Matthew and Pope Francis’ frequent comments about the painting provide a great inspiration. Francis has said that this painting in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, is one of his favourite works of art.
While crowds flock to see the painting the chapel and especially the area around this great work of art is a place of prayer. People are captivated by the work, and it is difficult to remain a spectator in the presence of the painting which demands a participation. The viewer quickly becomes the one called in the heart of the action.
In the words of Pope Francis:
Speaking about the encounter with Christ brings to mind “The calling of St Matthew”, the Caravaggio in the Church of St Louis of the French, which I used to spend much time in front of every time I came to Rome. None of them who were there, including Matthew, greedy for money, could believe the message in that finger pointing at him, the message in those eyes that looked at him with mercy and chose him for the sequela. He felt this astonishment of the encounter. The encounter with Christ who comes and invites us is like this.
Pope Francis has also recalled a key moment in his own relationship with Christ: 21 September (Feast of Matthew) in 1953 when as a young man of 17 he experienced the mercy and the call of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forty years later when Jorge Bergoglio was ordained bishop he chose as his episcopal motto a phrase from the Office of Readings for the feast of St. Matthew “to be shown mercy and chosen.”
This theme follows easily from yesterday’s consideration of the good and evil within every person. The saint is one who at least suspects that they have been chosen by God, and who knows their unworthiness and their need for God’s mercy.
I like that in Caravaggio’s work Matthew does not seem to be sure if Jesus is pointing to him. “Who? Me?” he seems to ask. And we know that Jesus persists: “Yes! You Matthew!”
- We often hear that God calls us with a general call that all people receive. But today’s gospel focus on the particular calling of the tax collector Matthew reminding me that Jesus is speaking directly to me and pointing me out in the crowd:” John! Follow me!” I sometimes answer yes. Sometimes no. Sometimes I give a “maybe” or “later”. But I know I am happiest when I say yes and follow.
- Take a moment to imagine Jesus pointing you out in the crowd, speaking to you and using your name, and calling you by name to follow. How do you respond in this moment?