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Jesus continues to call sinners

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass with priests at convocation; feast of St. Matthew

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a Mass with archdiocesan priests Sept. 21, 2023, the last day of their annual convocation, which took place Sept. 19-21, 2023.

The short verses from Ephesians in today’s first reading fit very well into the celebration of today’s feast of St. Matthew, the tax collector turned Apostle and Evangelist.

Matthew’s life reminds us that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but he does qualify the called — he works in and through us so that his work of salvation continues in time until he comes again. We should never despair because of the “messiness” of our lives — for Jesus came to call sinners. He called us just as we were — but he also called us to conversion; in other words, come as you are but don’t stay the way you were. To follow Christ always implies an Exodus – a going out of ourselves, a leaving behind the flesh pots and the leeks and onions of Egypt.

All of us can find comfort and strength in St. Paul’s assurance: “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Grace, of course, does not cancel out human freedom; instead, grace – this gift of God – makes true freedom possible: not the freedom to do as we will; but the freedom to do as we ought. It is in that freedom, we responded “Yes” to God in baptism; it is in that freedom, we also said “Yes” to the call of the priesthood. Those “big yeses” – and even the littler ones, like saying “yes” to a new assignment from the bishop – free us for the mission Christ has called us to.

Matthew was transformed by the encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy. Every Mass is an invitation to us to allow Jesus' gaze of mercy to transform us even as it transformed a tax collector like Matthew. Each Mass begins with the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. “I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters.” Before approaching the altar to receive holy Communion, we pray: “Lord, I am not worthy but say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Jesus continues to call sinners — and eats with them and with us.

As parish priests we are generalists and not specialists. We “multitask,” assuming various roles of service for the building up of the Body of Christ. Again, to return to the words of St. Paul in Ephesians: We are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. We are also called upon to fulfill other roles like plant managers and sometimes even janitors. Our talents are not evenly distributed; we do some things better than others. That’s surely part of God’s plan, so that we remember that it is he who saves, and not we.

In any case, like Matthew, the Lord looked on us with mercy and called us to servant leadership in the Church. May we always remember this leadership is about leading others to Christ. It cannot be reduced to “smiles and styles.” As priests we do have real authority – “to bind and loosen.” But the authority of a priest is not about leading others to himself but to the Lord. He is not to point to himself but to point always to Christ. A priest is to be a bridge – and not an obstacle – to God’s people.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. In his life and, to be sure, in his martyrdom, he witnessed to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and also the power of his grace.