Audiences 2005-2013 20806
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for your welcome! I greet you all with great affection. After an interval, due to my stay in the Aosta Valley, today I am resuming the General Audiences. And I am starting with a truly special Audience, because I have the joy of welcoming the large European Pilgrimage of Altar Servers. Dear boys and girls and young people, welcome! Since most of the Altar Servers who have gathered in this Square today are German-speaking, I will first address them in my mother-tongue.
Dear Altar Servers,
I am pleased that my first Audience after my holiday in the Alps is with you Altar Servers, and I greet each one of you with affection. I thank your Pastor, Auxiliary Bishop Martin Gächter of Basle, for the words with which, as President of Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, he introduced the Audience, and I am grateful for the scarf, thanks to which I am once again an altar boy. In 1935, more than 70 years ago, I began as an altar boy; consequently, it has been a long journey on this path.
I cordially greet Cardinal Christoph Schönborn who celebrated Holy Mass for you yesterday, and the many Bishops and priests who have come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary.
I would like to offer you, dear Altar Servers - briefly, since it is hot - a message that can accompany you throughout your life and your service in the Church.
I would therefore like to resume the subject I have been addressing at the Catecheses in recent months. Perhaps some of you know that at the Wednesday General Audiences I am presenting the figures of the Apostles. First came Simon, whom the Lord called Peter, his brother Andrew, then another pair of brothers, St James known as "the Greater", the first martyr among the Apostles, and John the theologian and Evangelist, then James called "the Lesser".
I am planning to continue my presentation of the individual Apostles at the next Audiences, in which the Church, so to speak, becomes personal.
Today, however, we are reflecting on a common subject: on what kind of people the Apostles were.
In short, we might say that they were "friends" of Jesus. This is what he himself called them at the Last Supper, saying to them: "no longer do I call you servants... but... friends" (Jn 15,15).
They were, and were able to be, apostles and witnesses of Christ because they were close to him. They were united to him by a bond of love, brought to life by the Holy Spirit.
In this perspective, we can understand the theme of your pilgrimage: "Spiritus vivificat". It is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who gives life. It is he who gives life to your relationship with Jesus, in such a way that it becomes not only exterior: "we know that he existed and that he is present in the Sacrament", but he makes it become an intimate, profound and truly personal friendship which can give meaning to each one of your lives. And since you know him and know him in friendship, you will be able to witness to him and take him to others.
Today, seeing you here before me in St Peter's Square, I think of the Apostles and I hear Jesus' voice saying to you: I do not call you servants but friends; abide in my love and you will bear an abundance of fruit (cf. Jn 15,9).
I ask you to listen to this voice! Christ did not only say this 2,000 years ago; he is alive and saying it to you now. Listen to his voice with great openness; he has something to say to each one. Perhaps he is saying to some of you: "I want you to serve me in a special way as a priest, thus becoming my witness, being my friend and introducing others into this friendship".
Listen faithfully, therefore, to Jesus' voice. Each person's vocation is different, but Christ wants to make friends with everyone, just as he did with Simon, whom he called Peter, with Andrew, James, John and the other Apostles.
He has given you his word and continues to give it to you, so that you may know the truth, know how things truly are for human beings, and thus, so that you know how one ought to live in the right way, how one ought to face life so that it may become true. Thus, each of you, in your own way, will be able to be his disciples and apostles.
Dear Altar Servers, you are, in fact, already apostles of Jesus! When you take part in the Liturgy by carrying out your altar service, you offer a witness to all. Your absorption, the devotion that wells up from your heart and is expressed in gestures, in song, in the responses: if you do it correctly and not absent-mindedly, then in a certain way your witness is one that moves people.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the bond of friendship with Jesus. You are very close to Jesus in the Eucharist, and this is the most important sign of his friendship for each one of us. Do not forget it.
This is why I am asking you not to take this gift for granted so that it does not become a sort of habit, knowing how it works and doing it automatically; rather, discover every day anew that something important happens, that the living God is among us and that you can be close to him and help him so that his mystery is celebrated and reaches people.
If you do not give into habit, if you put your innermost self into carrying out your service, then you will truly be his apostles and bear fruits of goodness and service in every context of your life: in the family, at school, in your free time.
Take to one and all that love which you receive in the Liturgy, especially to places where you realize that they lack love, where they do not receive goodness, where they suffer and are lonely.
With the power of the Holy Spirit, try to take Jesus to those very people who are outcast, who are not very popular or have problems. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it is precisely there that you must take Jesus.
In this way, the Bread you see broken upon the altar will be shared and multiplied even more, and you, like the Twelve Apostles, will help Jesus distribute it to the people of today in their different walks of life.
So it is, dear Altar Servers, that my last words to you are: May you always be friends and apostles of Jesus Christ!
And I now move on to the other languages....
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the groups from Scotland and Ireland, Asia, Norway and the United States. A special greeting to the English-speaking Altar Servers present: by serving at Mass, may you come ever closer to Christ our Lord. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant Blessings.
I now address a special greeting to the sick and the newly-weds who are present today. May Christ's love always be for you, dear sick people, a source of comfort and peace; and may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make your union stronger and deeper every day.
APPEAL FOR PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Lastly, I invite everyone to continue to pray for the beloved and tormented region of the Middle East.
Our eyes are filled with chilling images of the mangled corpses of so many people, especially children - I am thinking in particular of Cana, in Lebanon.
I would like to repeat that nothing can justify the shedding of innocent blood, wherever it may occur!
With my heart full of grief, I renew once again a pressing appeal for the immediate cessation of all hostilities and all violence, as I urge the international community and those who are more directly involved in this tragedy to create the conditions for a definitive political solution to the crisis that can pass on to the generations to come a more peaceful and secure future.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before the holidays I had begun sketching small portraits of the Twelve Apostles. The Apostles were Jesus' travelling companions, Jesus' friends. Their journey with Jesus was not only a physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but an interior journey during which they learned faith in Jesus Christ, not without difficulty, for they were people like us.
But for this very reason, because they were Jesus' travelling companions, Jesus' friends, who learned faith on a journey that was far from easy, they are also guides for us, who help us to know Jesus Christ, to love him and to have faith in him.
I have already commented on four of the Twelve Apostles: Simon Peter; Andrew, his brother; James, the brother of St John; and the other James, known as "The Lesser", who wrote a Letter that we find in the New Testament. And I had started to speak about John the Evangelist, gathering together in the last Catechesis before the holidays the essential facts for this Apostle's profile.
I would now like to focus attention on the content of his teaching. The writings that we want to examine today, therefore, are the Gospel and the Letters that go under his name.
If there is one characteristic topic that emerges from John's writings, it is love. It is not by chance that I wanted to begin my first Encyclical Letter with this Apostle's words, "God is love (Deus caritas est); he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1Jn 4,16). It is very difficult to find texts of this kind in other religions. Thus, words such as these bring us face to face with an element that is truly peculiar to Christianity.
John, of course, is not the only author of Christian origin to speak of love. Since this is an essential constituent of Christianity, all the New Testament writers speak of it, although with different emphases.
If we are now pausing to reflect on this subject in John, it is because he has outlined its principal features insistently and incisively. We therefore trust his words. One thing is certain: he does not provide an abstract, philosophical or even theological treatment of what love is.
No, he is not a theoretician. True love, in fact, by its nature is never purely speculative but makes a direct, concrete and even verifiable reference to real persons. Well, John, as an Apostle and a friend of Jesus, makes us see what its components are, or rather, the phases of Christian love, a movement marked by three moments.
The first concerns the very Source of love which the Apostle identifies as God, arriving at the affirmation that "God is love" (1Jn 4,8). John is the only New Testament author who gives us definitions of God. He says, for example, that "God is spirit" (Jn 4,24) or that "God is light" (1Jn 1,5). Here he proclaims with radiant insight that "God is love".
Take note: it is not merely asserted that "God loves", or even less that "love is God"! In other words: John does not limit himself to describing the divine action but goes to its roots.
Moreover, he does not intend to attribute a divine quality to a generic and even impersonal love; he does not rise from love to God, but turns directly to God to define his nature with the infinite dimension of love.
By so doing, John wants to say that the essential constituent of God is love and hence, that all God's activity is born from love and impressed with love: all that God does, he does out of love and with love, even if we are not always immediately able to understand that this is love, true love.
At this point, however, it is indispensable to take another step and explain that God has concretely demonstrated his love by entering human history through the Person of Jesus Christ, incarnate, dead and risen for us.
This is the second constitutive moment of God's love. He did not limit himself to verbal declarations but, we can say, truly committed himself and "paid" in the first person.
Exactly as John writes, "God so loved the world", that is, all of us, "that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3,16). Henceforth, God's love for humanity is concretized and manifested in the love of Jesus himself.
Again, John writes: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13,1). By virtue of this oblative and total love we are radically ransomed from sin, as St John writes further: "My little children... if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1Jn 2,1-2 cf. 1Jn 1,7).
This is how Jesus' love for us reaches us: by the pouring out of his own Blood for our salvation! The Christian, pausing in contemplation before this "excess" of love, cannot but wonder what the proper response is. And I think each one of us, always and over and over again, must ask himself or herself this.
This question introduces us into the third moment of the dynamic of love: from being the recipients of a love that precedes and surpasses us, we are called to the commitment of an active response which, to be adequate, can only be a response of love.
John speaks of a "commandment". He is, in fact, referring to these words of Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13,34).
Where is the newness to which Jesus refers? It lies in the fact that he is not content with repeating what had already been requested in the Old Testament and which we also read in the other Gospels: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lv 19,18 cf. Mt 22,37-39 Mc 12,29-31 Lc 10,27).
In the ancient precept the standard criterion was based on man ("as yourself"), whereas in the precept to which John refers, Jesus presents his own Person as the reason for and norm of our love: "as I have loved you".
It is in this way that love becomes truly Christian: both in the sense that it must be directed to all without distinction, and above all since it must be carried through to its extreme consequences, having no other bounds than being boundless.
Those words of Jesus, "as I have loved you", simultaneously invite and disturb us; they are a Christological goal that can appear unattainable, but at the same time they are an incentive that does not allow us to ensconce ourselves in what we have been able to achieve. It does not permit us to be content with what we are but spurs us to keep advancing towards this goal.
In The Imitation of Christ, that golden text of spirituality which is the small book dating back to the late Middle Ages, on this subject is written: "The love of Jesus is noble and generous: it spurs us on to do great things, and excites us to desire always that which is most perfect. Love will tend upwards and is not to be detained by things beneath. Love will be at liberty and free from all worldly affections... for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all things created. The lover flies, runs and rejoices, he is free and not held. He gives all for all and has all in all, because he rests in one sovereign good above all, from whom all good flows and proceeds" (Thomas ā Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter V, 3-4).
What better comment could there be on the "new commandment" spelled out by John? Let us pray to the Father to be able, even if always imperfectly, to live it so intensely that we share it with those we meet on our way.
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims pres-ent at today's Audience, including the groups from Scotland, Ghana, China, India, Korea and Canada. May your pilgrimage renew your love for the Lord and his Church, after the example of the Apostle St John. May God bless you all!
Appeal for peace in the Middle East
My ardent thoughts go once again to the beloved region of the Middle East. With regard to the tragic conflict under way, I propose anew the words of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations Organization in October 1965. On that occasion he said: "No more against one another, no more, never again!... If you want to be brothers and sisters, let the weapons fall from your hands".
In the face of the efforts being made to obtain a ceasefire and a just and lasting solution to the conflict, I repeat, with my immediate Predecessor the great Pope John Paul II, that it is possible to change the course of events when reason, good will, trust in others, fidelity to commitments and cooperation between responsible partners prevail (cf. Address to Diplomatic Corps, 13 January 2003; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 January, n. 5, p. 4). What John Paul II said then, also applies today, to everyone. I renew to all the exhortation to intensify prayer in order to obtain the gift of desired peace.
Lastly, as usual, I address a greeting to you, dear young people, sick people and newly-weds. Today, we are celebrating the Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, Co-Patroness of Europe. May this heroic witness of the Gospel help each one of you to always have trust in Christ and to incarnate his message of salvation in your own lives.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, our customary weekly Wednesday appointment is again taking place in the atmosphere of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary's Assumption. I would therefore like to ask you to turn your gaze once again to our heavenly Mother, whom yesterday's liturgy helped us to contemplate triumphant with Christ in Heaven.
Since the first centuries of Christianity, the Christian people has always found this feast deeply stirring; as is well known, it celebrates the glorification, also in body, of that creature whom God chose as Mother and whom Jesus on the Cross gave as Mother to the whole of humanity.
The Assumption evokes a mystery that concerns each one of us because, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, Mary "shines forth on earth... a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God" (Lumen Gentium LG 68).
However, taken up by the events of each day, one can sometimes forget this comforting spiritual reality that constitutes an important truth of faith; so how can it be ensured that this luminous sign of hope is ever more clearly perceived by all of us and by contemporary society?
Some people today live as if they never had to die or as if, with death, everything were over; others, who hold that man is the one and only author of his own destiny, behave as though God did not exist, and at times they even reach the point of denying that there is room for him in our world.
Yet, the great breakthroughs of technology and science that have considerably improved humanity's condition leave unresolved the deepest searchings of the human soul.
Only openness to the mystery of God, who is Love, can quench the thirst for truth and happiness in our hearts; only the prospect of eternity can give authentic value to historical events and especially to the mystery of human frailty, suffering and death.
By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful.
Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.
We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand.
Supported by awareness of this, let us continue confidently on our path of Christian commitment wherever Providence may lead us. Let us forge ahead in our lives under Mary's guidance. Thank you.
To special groups
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Audience, including the altar servers from Malta and the groups from England, Ireland, Canada, Nigeria and the United States of America. Yesterday, we contemplated the Virgin Mary's Assumption into Heaven. This mystery reminds us that our definitive homeland is not here on earth and that our longing for fulfilment finds complete satisfaction only in eternal happiness. May our Mother in Heaven, who guides us on our way, inspire us with courage and hope through the struggles of our daily life! I wish you a pleasant stay, and may God bless you all!
And lastly, I would like to greet warmly all the pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square in Rome.
I extend my greeting to all the young people present, and there are a great many of them. We all feel rejuvenated here! I extend my greeting to the sick and to the newly-weds. Dear friends, may the light of Christ that we contemplated yesterday reflected in Mary Most Holy taken up into Heaven always illumine your lives and make them rich in goodness.
Finally, I would like to end this meeting of ours with a special remembrance of Frčre Roger Schutz, the Founder of Taizé, who was assassinated on 16 August last year during evening prayer. His witness of faith and ecumenical dialogue was a precious lesson for entire generations of youth.
Let us ask the Lord to enable the sacrifice of his life to help consolidate the commitment to peace and solidarity of all those who have humanity's future at heart.
Let us end this Audience as usual by singing together the Pater Noster.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last Catechesis we had reached the meditation on the figure of the Apostle John. We had first sought to look at all that can be known of his life. Then, in a second Catechesis, we meditated on the central content of his Gospel and his Letters: charity, love. And today we are still concerned with the figure of John, this time to examine the Seer of the Book of Revelation. And let us immediately note that while neither the Fourth Gospel nor the Letters attributed to the Apostle ever bear his name, the Book of Revelation makes at least four references to it (cf. Ap 1,1 Ap 1,4 Ap 1,9 Ap 22,8).
It is obvious, on the one hand, that the author had no reason not to mention his own name, and on the other, that he knew his first readers would be able to precisely identify him. We know, moreover, that in the third century, scholars were already disputing the true factual identity of John of the "Apocalypse".
For the sake of convenience we could also call him "the Seer of Patmos" because he is linked to the name of this island in the Aegean See where, according to his own autobiographical account, he was, as it were, deported "on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Ap 1,9).
It was on Patmos itself, "on the Lord's Day... caught up in ecstasy" (Ap 1,10), that John had a grandiose vision and heard extraordinary messages that were to have a strong influence on the history of the Church and of entire Western culture.
For example, from the title of his book - Apocalypse, Revelation - the words "apocalypse, apocalyptic" were introduced into our language and, although inaccurately, they call to mind the idea of an incumbent catastrophe.
The Book should be understood against the backdrop of the dramatic experiences of the seven Churches of Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea) which had to face serious difficulties at the end of the first century - persecutions and also inner tensions - in their witness to Christ.
John addresses them, showing acute pastoral sensitivity to the persecuted Christians, whom he exhorts to be steadfast in the faith and not to identify with the pagan world. His purpose is constituted once and for all by the revelation, starting with the death and Resurrection of Christ, of the meaning of human history.
The first and fundamental vision of John, in fact, concerns the figure of the Lamb who is slain yet standing (cf. Ap 5,6), and is placed before the throne on which God himself is already seated.
By saying this, John wants first of all to tell us two things: the first is that although Jesus was killed with an act of violence, instead of falling heavily to the ground, he paradoxically stands very firmly on his own feet because, with the Resurrection, he overcame death once and for all.
The other thing is that Jesus himself, precisely because he died and was raised, henceforth fully shares in the kingship and saving power of the Father. This is the fundamental vision.
On this earth, Jesus, the Son of God, is a defenceless, wounded and dead Lamb. Yet he stands up straight, on his feet, before God's throne and shares in the divine power. He has the history of the world in his hands.
Thus, the Seer wants to tell us: trust in Jesus, do not be afraid of the opposing powers, of persecution! The wounded and dead Lamb is victorious! Follow the Lamb Jesus, entrust yourselves to Jesus, take his path! Even if in this world he is only a Lamb who appears weak, it is he who triumphs!
The subject of one of the most important visions of the Book of Revelation is this Lamb in the act of opening a scroll, previously closed with seven seals that no one had been able to break open. John is even shown in tears, for he finds no one worthy of opening the scroll or reading it (cf. Ap 5,4).
History remains indecipherable, incomprehensible. No one can read it. Perhaps John's weeping before the mystery of a history so obscure expresses the Asian Churches' dismay at God's silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were exposed at that time.
It is a dismay that can clearly mirror our consternation in the face of the serious difficulties, misunderstandings and hostility that the Church also suffers today in various parts of the world.
These are trials that the Church does not of course deserve, just as Jesus himself did not deserve his torture. However, they reveal both the wickedness of man, when he abandons himself to the promptings of evil, and also the superior ordering of events on God's part.
Well then, only the sacrificed Lamb can open the sealed scroll and reveal its content, give meaning to this history that so often seems senseless. He alone can draw from it instructions and teachings for the life of Christians, to whom his victory over death brings the message and guarantee of victory that they too will undoubtedly obtain. The whole of the vividly imaginative language that John uses aims to offer this consolation.
Also at the heart of the visions that the Book of Revelation unfolds, are the deeply significant vision of the Woman bringing forth a male child and the complementary one of the dragon, already thrown down from Heaven but still very powerful.
This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but at the same time she also represents the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church which in all ages, with great suffering, brings forth Christ ever anew. And she is always threatened by the dragon's power. She appears defenceless and weak.
But while she is threatened, persecuted by the dragon, she is also protected by God's comfort. And in the end this Woman wins. The dragon does not win.
This is the great prophecy of this Book that inspires confidence in us! The Woman who suffers in history, the Church which is persecuted, appears in the end as the radiant Bride, the figure of the new Jerusalem where there will be no more mourning or weeping, an image of the world transformed, of the new world whose light is God himself, whose lamp is the Lamb.
For this reason, although John's Book of Revelation is pervaded by continuous references to suffering, tribulation and tears - the dark face of history -, it is likewise permeated by frequent songs of praise that symbolize, as it were, the luminous face of history.
So it is, for example, that we read in it of a great multitude that is singing, almost shouting: "Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready" (Ap 19,6-7).
Here we face the typical Christian paradox, according to which suffering is never seen as the last word but rather, as a transition towards happiness; indeed, suffering itself is already mysteriously mingled with the joy that flows from hope.
For this very reason John, the Seer of Patmos, can close his Book with a final aspiration, trembling with fearful expectation. He invokes the definitive coming of the Lord: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Ap 22,20).
This was one of the central prayers of the nascent Christianity, also translated by St Paul into its Aramaic form: "Marana tha". And this prayer, "Our Lord, come!" (1Co 16,22) has many dimensions.
It is, naturally, first and foremost an expectation of the definitive victory of the Lord, of the new Jerusalem, of the Lord who comes and transforms the world. But at the same time, it is also a Eucharistic prayer: "Come Jesus, now!". And Jesus comes; he anticipates his definitive coming.
So it is that we say joyfully at the same time: "Come now and come for ever!".
This prayer also has a third meaning: "You have already come, Lord! We are sure of your presence among us. It is our joyous experience. But come definitively!".
And thus, let us too pray with St Paul, with the Seer of Patmos, with the newborn Christianity: "Come, Jesus! Come and transform the world! Come today already and may peace triumph!". Amen!
To special groups
I am happy to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the pilgrims from Taiwan, Japan and the United States of America. May your visit to Rome renew your faith in the Church, the Bride of Christ, and may the Lord's definitive victory over all evil fill you with hope and courage. I invoke upon you God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, as usual, I address a warm greeting to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, especially those of Catholic Action from the Diocese of Altamura-Gravina-Acquaviva delle Fonti, accompanied by Bishop Mario Paciello. Dear friends, yesterday the liturgy invited us to invoke the Holy Mother of God as our Queen. I ask you to put yourselves and all your projects under the motherly protection of the One who gave the Saviour to the world.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing the series of portraits of the Twelve Apostles that we began a few weeks ago, let us reflect today on Matthew. To tell the truth, it is almost impossible to paint a complete picture of him because the information we have of him is scarce and fragmentary. What we can do, however, is to outline not so much his biography as, rather, the profile of him that the Gospel conveys.
In the meantime, he always appears in the lists of the Twelve chosen by Jesus (cf. Mt 10,3 Mc 3,18 Lc 6,15 Ac 1,13).
His name in Hebrew means "gift of God". The first canonical Gospel, which goes under his name, presents him to us in the list of the Twelve, labelled very precisely: "the tax collector" (Mt 10,3).
Thus, Matthew is identified with the man sitting at the tax office whom Jesus calls to follow him: "As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me'. And he rose and followed him" (Mt 9,9). Mark (cf. Mc 2,13-17) and Luke (cf. Lc 5,27-30), also tell of the calling of the man sitting at the tax office, but they call him "Levi".
To imagine the scene described in Mt 9,9, it suffices to recall Caravaggio's magnificent canvas, kept here in Rome at the Church of St Louis of the French.
A further biographical detail emerges from the Gospels: in the passage that immediately precedes the account of the call, a miracle that Jesus worked at Capernaum is mentioned (cf. Mt 9,1-8 Mc 2,1-12) and the proximity to the Sea of Galilee, that is, the Lake of Tiberias (cf. Mc 2,13-14).
It is possible to deduce from this that Matthew exercised the function of tax collector at Capernaum, which was exactly located "by the sea" (Mt 4,13), where Jesus was a permanent guest at Peter's house.
On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.
The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.
Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.
This is why the Gospels several times link "tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 9,10 Lc 15,1), as well as "tax collectors and prostitutes" (Mt 21,31).
Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5,46, they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as "a chief tax collector, and rich" (Lc 19,2), whereas popular opinion associated them with "extortioners, the unjust, adulterers" (Lc 18,11).
A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mc 2,17).
The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God's grace to the sinner!
Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the "tax collector... would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!'".
And Jesus comments: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lc 18,13-14).
Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God's mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.
St John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.
These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, "because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing" (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus' call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.
Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus' call: "he rose and followed him". The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew's readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.
The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.
Jesus once said, mincing no words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19,21).
This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this "he rose", it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.
Lastly, let us remember that the tradition of the ancient Church agrees in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the First Gospel. This had already begun with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Frisia, in about the year 130.
He writes: "Matthew set down the words (of the Lord) in the Hebrew tongue and everyone interpreted them as best he could" (in Eusebius of Cesarea, Hist. Eccl. III, 39, 16).
Eusebius, the historian, adds this piece of information: "When Matthew, who had first preached among the Jews, decided also to reach out to other peoples, he wrote down the Gospel he preached in his mother tongue; thus, he sought to put in writing, for those whom he was leaving, what they would be losing with his departure" (ibid., III, 24, 6).
The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew or Aramaic is no longer extant, but in the Greek Gospel that we possess we still continue to hear, in a certain way, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew, who, having become an Apostle, continues to proclaim God's saving mercy to us. And let us listen to St Matthew's message, meditating upon it ever anew also to learn to stand up and follow Jesus with determination.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the group of altar servers from Malta and the visitors from Denmark, Japan and Australia. May God give you the grace to deepen your love of Christ and his Church, inspired by St Matthew. I wish you all a blessed stay in Rome!
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the heroic example of St John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we celebrated yesterday, be for you, dear young people, an incentive to plan your lives in full fidelity to Christ; may it help you, dear sick people, to face suffering with courage, finding serenity and comfort in the Lord; may it lead you, dear newly-weds, to witness to sincere love for God, to one another and to your neighbour.
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