This homily was preached on November 16, 2006 at St. Matthew the Apostle Mission in Baton Rouge, LA.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! What a wonderful occasion to be here to celebrate the patronal feast for this mission in Baton Rouge—a day that also happens to be my name day. Any of the Apostles are wonderful examples for us in the South. So I’d like us to look briefly at the course of St. Matthew’s life, and then prayerfully consider what it means to follow in the footsteps of this great Saint. To have him as the patron of this parish community.
Life of St. Matthew
Before hearing the voice of Christ and leaving all to follow Him, Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days worked for the Roman government, and were hated by the Jewish people even more than we’ll hear people talking about hating the IRS today. So Christ’s calling of Matthew represents a sort of calling people from even the worst walks of life. The offering of salvation to all mankind—the transforming power of the Grace of God. The Tradition says that at Christ’s call St. Matthew acknowledged his sinfulness, repaid fourfold anyone he had cheated, and he distributed his remaining possessions to the poor, and he followed after Christ. He listened to the Words of Christ, he witnessed His many miracles, and he knew from experience that this was the Son of God come to earth for salvation of mankind. Having received the grace of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, St Matthew preached in Palestine for several years. At the request of the Jewish converts at Jerusalem, he wrote his Gospel describing the earthly life of the Savior, before leaving to preach the Gospel in faraway lands. His Gospel manifests itself as a vivid proof that Jesus Christ is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, and that there would not be another (Mt. 11:3). The holy Apostle then brought the Gospel of Christ to Syria, Media, Persia, Parthia, and finished his preaching in Ethiopia with a martyr’s death. This land was inhabited by tribes of peoples with primitive customs and beliefs. The holy Apostle Matthew converted some of the idol-worshippers to faith in Christ. He founded the Church and built a temple in the city of Mirmena, establishing his companion Platon as the bishop there. But the ruler did not want his people to become Christians and cease worshiping the pagan gods. He accused St. Matthew of sorcery and gave orders to execute him. They put St Matthew head downwards, piled up brushwood and ignited it. When the fire flared up, everyone then saw that the fire did not harm St Matthew. Then the ruler gave orders to add more wood to the fire, and frenzied with boldness, he commanded to set up twelve idols around the fire. But the flames melted the idols and flared up toward the king. The frightened Ethiopian turned to the saint with an entreaty for mercy, and by the prayer of the martyr the flame went out. The body of the holy apostle remained unharmed, and he departed to the Lord. The ruler, Fulvan, converts to Christ, leaves his throne to be a priest, and later replaces Platon as bishop of Ethiopia.
And so our calling is…
What are we being called to as follows of Christ by the example of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew? To be an Apostle of Christ, we must first be His disciples. Disciples follow the Master, learn from His life and teachings, and strive daily to grow closer to Him and to be more like Him in every way. In other words, the first step in the life of an Apostle of Christ is a fervent engaging of the ascetic life laid out in the teachings of Christ in the Gospel. Love the Lord your God, Love your neighbor, avoid sin, increase virtue. And at some point in the lives of the disciples of Christ, some were appointed to be Apostles. Christ chose 12 of His disciples, known by Him from the beginning, to be Apostles and leaders of the Church. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” So Christ chooses 12 to go into the world as leaders—building up the Body of the Church, teaching the Gospel, and converting souls to Christ. But also, in the pages of the New Testament, we see very clearly that the 12 Apostles were not the only ones sent to the world. All Christians, as followers of Christ, are called to be apostles. We’re not all chosen to be bishops or priests or even leaders in our local parishes. But all Christians are sent into the world to share Christ with those in need. “Let your light so shine before men that seeing your good works men will glorify your Father in Heaven.” Always be prepared, St. Paul tells us, to share the reason for the joy and the hope that we have in us as followers of Jesus Christ. We represent Christ to the world around us. We should always be happy to share out faith with others, bring them to the Church, introduce them to what it means to be a follower of Christ. This is what all Christians in all places do—we struggle to live according to Christ, and in doing so we issue the call to others—come and see the great things the Lord has done for me. St. Matthew calls us to be disciples, he calls us to be apostles, and he calls us to be martyrs. In following Christ we give up everything—we give up our passions and our sins, our wants and our desires, we give up all the things that the world tells us makes us who we are. But in giving up everything, in becoming a martyr—a witness to Christ by abandoning the way of this world—in this type of martyrdom we find Christ. As long as we hold on to our will, our wants, our sins—as long as we hold on to these things, we can never grasp hold of Christ But in setting our own will to the side, we can clearly see Christ and accept His salvation. As we celebrate the patronal feast of this mission, and as we enter into the season of the Nativity Fast, let us rededicate ourselves to letting go of all of the things keeping us from a fuller relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Just as St. Matthew gave up everything—first his career, then his ability to direct his own life, and finally even his life—are we willing to sacrifice everything for sake of our Lord? As we struggle to be better disciples, let us also embrace our calling to be apostles and even martyrs for the sake of the Gospel. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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