Feast Day: May 14th | Apostle and Martyr| Imagery: Bearded and Robed as an Apostle, Holding Scroll or Book of the Gospels, and/or an Ax, the instrument of his martyrdom.
On the feast of St. Matthias each year the church offers for our reflection in the Office of Readings, a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the call of St. Matthias. I place it before you today, (having no better words to say myself about this great addition to the Apostles) and wanting to focus our attention on what happens whenever the Church chooses, ordains, a man as a priest (or bishop, a full member of the apostles)! Chrysostom is reflecting on the scene given to us in Acts 1:12-27, right after the Ascension, when St. Peter calls upon the early Church to replace Judas who had lost hope in Christ and hung himself, and his emphasis cannot be underestimated: this is God’s choice, and made by the Church! All of us are called by God, within the Church, to some way of faithfully following the Lord, some way of witnessing to what we have seen of Christ’s power. Have you and I let the Church call that out from us?! Here is how the great golden-tongued-preacher told the story:
“In those days, Peter, stood up in the midst of the disciples and said…” As the fiery spirit to whom the flock was entrusted by Christ and as the leader in the band of the apostles, Peter always took the initiative in speaking: “My brothers, we must choose from among our number.” He left the decision to the whole body, at once augmenting the honor of those elected and avoiding any suspicion of partiality. For such great occasions can easily lead to trouble.
Did not Peter then have the right to make the choice himself? Certainly he had the right, but he did not want to give the appearance of showing special favor to anyone. Besides he was not yet endowed with the Spirit. And they nominated two, we read, “Joseph, who was called Barsabbas and surnamed Justus, and Matthias.” He himself did not nominate them; all present did. But it was he who brought the issue forward, pointing out that it was not his own idea but had been suggested to him by a scriptural prophecy. So he was speaking not as a teacher but as an interpreter.
So, he goes on, “we must choose from those men who lived in our company.” Notice how insistent he is that they should be eyewitnesses. Even though the Spirit would come to ratify the choice, Peter regards this prior qualification as most important. Those who lived in our company, he continued, “all through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us.” He refers to those who had dwelt with Jesus, not just those who had been his disciples. For of course from the very beginning many had followed him. Notice how it is written that Peter himself was one of the two who had listened to John, and followed Jesus.
“All through the time when the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning with the baptism of John” – rightly so, because no one knew what had happened before that time, although they were to know of it later through the Spirit. “Up to the day”, Peter added, “on which he was taken up from us – one of these must be made a witness along with us of his resurrection.” He did not say “a witness of the rest of his actions” but only a witness of the resurrection. That witness would be more believable who could declare that he who ate and drank and was crucified also rose from the dead. He needed to be a witness not of the times before or after that event, and not of the signs and wonders, but only of the resurrection itself. For the rest happened by general admission, openly; but the resurrection took place secretly, and was known to these men only.
“And they all prayed together, saying: You, Lord, know the hearts of men; make your choice known to us.” “You”, not “we”. Appropriately they said that He knew the hearts of men, because the choice was to be made by Him, not by others. They spoke with such confidence, because someone had to be appointed. They did not say “choose” but make known to us the chosen one; the one you choose, they said, fully aware that everything was pre-ordained by God. They then drew lots. For they did not think themselves worthy to make the choice of their own accord, and therefore they wanted some sign for their instruction. [From a homily on the Acts of the Apostles by Saint John Chrysostom (Hom 3, 1.2.3: PG 60, 33-36, 38).]
– Fr. Dominic sometimes considers what he would be pictured with if he were ever canonized a saint. Would it be a book or scroll, for carrying the Gospel to all places? Would it be the instrument of my death, or my death to self? It gives me pause to consider the things I often carry around, and how they seem to not bear much importance in light of eternal life…