The Feast of St. Matthias
[Scripture Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 15:9-17]
Who would not shudder at the thought of winding down one’s formal education? To send out resumé after resumé only to be met with silence or rebuff. To walk from door to door, hat in hand, to be told, “We are not hiring now.” Time on hand and empty pockets do not make a happy person.
In contrast to this is the notion of compulsory military training. Instead of you seeking it, it seeks you. The formula of entrance into any elite branch of service is only too familiar to some: “Greetings, you have been selected…” A call to arms when the nation feels it should beef up its military forces. Count on being deployed to fields afar and there is no question of evangelization here. You establish a presence in a foreign land that even the host country might not fully appreciate.
In the first reading today, St. Matthias was elected to the College of Apostles. He did not seek the position. It sought him. It was filled with serious obligations. He would have to go where he was sent, fields afar and perhaps a somewhat hostile environment. He did not turn it down. The office carried with it responsibilities and help from God to support him.
We are winding down the celebration of the Easter season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. In virtue of our Baptism we have been selected to believe in God the Father, his only Son whom he has sent, and the Holy Spirit. We have renounced Satan and everything he pretends to offer. Satan can promise not happiness but only grief. We have been called to a future that we could never dream of planning. Formal education will never be the same.
The Feast of St. Matthias
[Scripture Readings: Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26; Jn 15:9-17]
We periodically have “Vocation Discernment Weekends” for men thinking about monastic life. As part of this experience, we have an open question period with the community. At one of the recent weekends, a young man asked” What about those who leave after they have made commitments in the community?” Various responses were offered: if they realize they had made a mistake, it was better for them to leave than to stay in misery; it is in God’s hands, and not for us to judge. But I don’t think we really understood or answered his question. Does it really make a difference if somebody decides to leave? If it doesn’t, what difference does it make if others decide to stay? What is the real significance of a commitment?
It is tempting and easier to concentrate simply on the functional level. Everybody is replaceable. If someone leaves, we fill in ranks and carry on. The disciples replaced Judas with Matthias and completed the symbolic number of twelve. They moved on. The mission of the church continued. We move on. We evaluate commitments in terms of their meeting our expectations and our needs. We quietly and subtly re-evaluate them on the basis of their significance to us, on the basis of their usefulness and fruitfulness in our lives.
But this is to forget their origin, that creative moment of awakening to a new dimension of possibility. There is an inner experience of ourselves that only comes alive when we are met and touched by a person or reality outside of ourselves. When we are asked, when we are chosen, when we are invited, when we are gifted. The willingness to commit ourselves rises from our awareness that we will be completed by someone or something outside ourselves. The whole nature of this experience is a crossing of the boundaries of self-regard. We lay open our lives; we lay down our lives. We are no longer slaves or hirelings, but friends. Everything that now happens shapes and forms this friendship, this relationship. Rather, it is the relationship, the friendship which lets us interpret and understand the real meaning of what happens. There is a new understanding of what is possible, what is permissible, what is tolerable which is created in this mutual knowledge and exchange. This is fruit that will remain.
Matthias and Judas are figures who present to us the options always with us. The experience is first of being chosen, of being loved. “It is not you who chose me: I chose you.” Our choice and love flow from receiving this gift, of constantly being open to receive it. The hard truth is that we can easily prefer to close ourselves to its demands or even to deny that such a gift ever really occurred. And the harder truth is that the fruit of this decision also remains. Our choices bear their fruit in the consequences and effects they have in our lives. What God had hoped to realize through the commitments that bound us to him will not happen. The command to “remain in my love” is an invitation to let our lives be formed by the faithfulness and mercy of God.