Am I the reason why the Church is not growing? Saturday after Ash Wednesday – Matthew 5:27-32

The call of Matthew the Apostle has been brilliantly painted by Caravaggio. It is one of three paintings that hang in the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

The painting has a shell-shocked Matthew with his left hand pointed at his chest with a look of disbelief on his face. This was the famous itinerant preacher, the popular influencer of that time, calling this public sinner to follow him. Perhaps you and I feel the same in Lent. How can Christ call me? Perhaps our sins are not known to the world yet Christ knows them. So how can Christ call me? Like Matthew, we seem to say, ‘You got the wrong guy.’

But the painting also depicts Matthews’s right hand on the tax money that he has been counting with his four other companions. There is a wonderful reality to the painting. Like Matthew in the painting, we too feel conflicted. We hear the call of Jesus, and we want to follow him but one hand is still attached to sin. We know from the Gospels that Matthew made a clear choice, he let go of the money and followed Christ.

In doing so, Matthew made a ‘profession of faith.’ But on reading the text you may find that there are no words that Matthew uttered in response to his call. Matthew indeed said nothing, yet his actions were a profession of faith; “he left everything, he got up and followed him (Christ).” Merely professing our faith in the Church does not make us disciples if our actions don’t follow our words. The words that Matthew did not speak when he was called were made up when he wrote an entire Gospel.

Perhaps like the Pharisees in the Gospel of today, we too are upset when a sinner finds the first pew and is called to the table of the Lord. We speak and write volumes of our desire for our Church congregations to grow. We wish our youth to come back in droves but we won’t allow out priests, and we won’t let our parish pastoral plans cater to these needs. They must cater to my needs in Church first, thus making Christ a captive of four walls. Ironically those who are confused and have questions about the faith are out there, yet all of our ministry is within the four walls of our Church. We are busy saving the saved!

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