21 September 2011

Saint Matthew

Today on this feast of Saint Matthew, the Carthusians at Matins listened to four Lessons concerning this day’s honoured saint written by the fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and theologian, Johannes Tauler. In addition to that, the monks also reflected on four Lessons about Saint Matthew written by Saint Peter Chrysologus. Both sets of Lessons are featured here today at Secret Harbour. First is Tauler followed by Saint Peter Chrysologus:

‘When Jesus departed from Capernaum, He saw a man sitting in the custom house named Matthew; and He said to him: Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him’ (Saint Matthew 9:9).

The Apostle and Evangelist, so holy, which we celebrate today, has become an example for all men. As the Scripture tells us, he became one of the most distinguished friends of God, having been first a great sinner. As soon as the Lord speaks to the heart of Matthew, he immediately abandons everything to follow the Lord. What is condensed here we must do if we want to follow Christ: implement genuine and radical abandonment of everything that is not of God, which has taken possession of man’s heart. For God is a lover of hearts, and does not commune with anything that is external.

The path of the friends of God is totally dark and unknown. Appropriate are the words which speak of Job: ‘A man whose way is hidden, and God has surrounded him with darkness’ (Job 3:23). Man must bear all the reproaches heaped upon him on this rough road, in a self-denying way. Our Lord says everywhere: Follow Me, go through all things. I am He; do not go further; follow Me. If a man were to say: Lord, who are You, that I must follow You through such deep, gloomy, miserable paths? The Lord would reply, I am God and Man, and far more God.

If man is to be thus clothed with this Being, all the forms must of necessity be done away with, those that were ever received by him in all his powers of perception, knowledge, will, work, subjection, sensibility and self-seeking. When Saint Paul saw nothing, he saw God. When Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, God came. All strong rocks are broken here; all on which the mind can rest disappear. Then, when all forms have ceased to exist, in the twinkling of an eye, the man is transformed. The Lord teaches us through Jeremiah: ‘You shall call Me Father and shall not cease to walk after Me’ (Jeremiah 3:19). This means, entering ever further in, ever nearer, so as to sink deeper in an unknown and unnamed abyss; and, above all ways, images and forms, and above all powers, to lose yourself, deny yourself and even un-form yourself.

In this lost condition, nothing is to be seen but a ground which rests upon itself, every one being, one life. It is thus, man may say, that he becomes, unknowing, unloving and senseless. This is not the result of natural qualities, but of the transformation, wrought by the Spirit of God in the created spirit, in the fathomless lost condition of the created spirit, and in his unconditional surrendering. We may say of this, that God knows, loves and gives Himself thus; for man is nothing but a life, a being and action. Those who see in this way, with undue liberty and with false light, are in the most perilous state possible in this life. The way by which we must arrive at the goal, is through the precious life and sufferings of our dear Lord; for He is the Way by which we must go, and He is the Truth which lightens all in this way.

* * * * * * * * * *

From Saint Peter Chrysologus:

Leaving Capernaum Jesus saw a man (Saint Matthew 9:9). He saw with divine Eyes more than with human ones. He saw the man in order not to see the man’s sins. He saw His own work in order to disregard the works of sin. God saw him so that he might see God; Christ saw him so that he might see no longer the places where money was hiding. Christ saw him sitting because weighed down by the burden of greed he was unable to stand up. This unfortunate publican, sitting at the tax booth, was in worse condition than the paralytic lying in bed, suffering from a paralysis of the flesh, but the tax collector from a paralysis of the mind. The paralytic was lying overcome in the flesh; the tax collector was sitting a captive of body and spirit. Jesus encourages the paralytic, saying: ‘Have confidence, your sins are forgiven you’ (Saint Matthew 9:2). He had made up for his sins by his sufferings. To the publican, however, Jesus said: ‘Come, follow Me’ (Saint Matthew 9:9). That is, that by following Him he may repair what he has destroyed by the pursuit of money.

While Jesus was at table in the house of Matthew, the Pharisees challenge the disciples: ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners’? (Saint Matthew 9:11). God is being blamed for turning to humanity, reclining with a sinner, hungering for a penitent, thirsting for sinners to return, receiving dishes of mercy, and taking up the cup of devotion. Brethren, Christ came to the meal; Life came to the feast, that He might make those destined for death, live with Him. The Resurrection lay down so that those who were lying down might rise from the tombs. Forgiveness reclined, that He might lift sinners up to pardon. Divinity came to humanity in order that humanity might come to divinity. The Judge sat at the table of the guilty, so that the guilty might escape conviction. The Doctor came to the sick, to heal them by eating with them. The Good Shepherd lowered His Shoulders to carry back to the fold of salvation the sheep who were lost.

‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners’? (Saint Matthew 9:11). Who is a sinner except the one who denies he is a sinner? He himself, in fact, is the greater sinner who does not even understand that he is a sinner. Who is unrighteous except the one who judges himself righteous? And yet, Pharisee, you have read the words of the psalm: ‘No one is righteous in Your sight’ (Psalm 142:2). As long as we are in a mortal body, and frailty dominates us, even if we overcome sinful actions, we are unable to overcome and escape thoughts that are sinful and unrighteous. Yes, we can overcome the faults and materials to overcome evil in our consciousness, but how can we destroy the sins of ignorance and negligence? Pharisee, confess your sin and you will sit at the table of the Lord. You might have Christ as your Bread, and He the Bread might be broken in forgiveness of your sins. Christ might become your Cup to be poured out in remission of your offences.

Pharisee, eat with sinners in order that you can eat with Christ. Enter with sinners into the feast of your Lord, so that you can be a sinner no more. Enter the house of mercy with the forgiveness of Christ, so that your own righteousness will not be excluded from this house. Recognize Christ, listen to Christ. Listen to your Lord, hear the heavenly Doctor. ‘It is not the healthy who need the Physician, but the sick’ (Saint Matthew 9:12). If you want to be healed, acknowledge your illness. ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Saint Matthew 9:13). Christ does not refuse the righteous, but without Him no one on earth is immune from sin. The Lord does not overlook the righteous, but rather He has revealed that all are sinners. Listen to Scripture: ‘The Lord from heaven looks down upon men to see if any are wise or seeking God. All have turned away; all are corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one’ (Psalm 13:2-3). Brethren, let us be sinners by our own admission, so that with Christ’s forgiveness we might be sinners no more.