Known for the way he developed the interplay between light and darkness in his paintings, the Italian master Caravaggio has had a lasting impact in the world of art since his troubled life ended nearly 400 years ago. His distinctive paintings, especially his religious scenes, continue to have an impact even on today’s viewers.
For me, his ‘Calling of St. Matthew’ resonates. Commissioned by Cardinal Matteu Contreil to hang in the French National Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, the scene draws you in as a nearly hidden Christ points powerfully to St. Matthew, sitting at his post as a tax collector. Jesus is not content to let Matthew remain and powerfully beckons him to follow, to become one of the Twelve, to become an Evangelist. The faces of those seated with St. Matthew are a mix of wonder, astonishment, disbelief as this sinner reacts with a look of: ‘Who? Me?’ The light streaming into the scene from behind Christ bathes Matthew’s face, giving us an insight into that deep personal struggle: ‘Do I follow? Do I stay?’ One can almost read into his face that despite his misgivings, Matthew knows he will follow Jesus and that his life will never be the same.
Perhaps the reason this scene is so powerful for me is that it played out in my own life, and now in my work as Vocation Director, I see it played out in the lives of so many young men and women who face that similar struggle. Deep down, we all echo St. Matthew’s question: ‘Who? Me?’ So many of the great saints echoed similar misgivings throughout history, from St. Peter’s ‘Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,’ up to Pope Benedict XVI’s apparent trepidation as he realized he was about to be elected successor of Peter.
Yet, Our Lord’s favorite phrase echoes to us down through these same annuals of history: ‘Do not be afraid!’ More than any other phrase in the Gospel, Jesus uses these four simple words to encourage His disciples then, and his disciples now. Whenever or however we are called to follow Him, we must ask for courage to respond with generosity and strength, and that the astonishment that comes from the realization that we are being called to this continues all throughout life.
What should you do if you think you are being called to the priesthood or religious life, though? First off, find someone you can trust, someone who has a deep love for the Lord and His Church whom you can confide in and will not lead you astray. Perhaps this is your parish priest (always a good place to start!), perhaps a friend, youth minister or teacher. When facing a daunting task such as discerning a call, it is so easy to get all wrapped up in your own thoughts, to have someone to bounce ideas off of, who can listen to your fears and dreams, can help you to sort out where exactly you might be called.
In this Year for Priests, there is much discussion online and new books arriving that discuss the priesthood, and heroic priests that have answered Our Lord’s call to lay down their lives for their people. Fr. Walter Ciszek’s inspirational He Leadeth Me and With God in Russia show the great lengths a man will go to give his life for Christ and provide just two quick examples.
Finally, young men discerning the priesthood have the opportunity to join together at the upcoming ‘Andrew Dinners’ that are being held throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Named after St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter who brought Peter to meet Jesus, these dinners give young men the chance to meet with Archbishop Schnurr to explore the possibility of the priesthood. If you are interested in attending, check with your priest, or visit www.cincinnativocations.org for more information.