Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life-Changing Moments

Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, and the Gospel (Matthew 9:9-13) tells the story of the Lord calling him to "follow me". Now, Matthew was not exactly a popular fellow. In fact, he (and all tax collectors) would have been considered traitors to their people, since they worked for the Roman occupiers. Their daily work not only helped fuel the Roman economy, but also involved the use of Roman money, which were emblazoned with the image of a false god - the emperor. As one of the few in his community who could read, write and do math, Matthew had made a choice. Other in his situation chose to use their talents for the good of the people, such as the scribes and rabbis. Matthew had chosen to work against the well-being of his own people, and so was rejected by them. (And with good reason.)
But the amazing thing to understand is that, once the Lord called him, Matthew immediately left what he was doing. He changed his life around and became one of the apostles for whom a gospel would be named. Talk about a turn-around! How many times had others urged him to change his life, to give up what he was doing and he had ignored them? How many times had he thought about it but never made a move to change? How often had family members prayed that he would be "converted" and see the light? But it was at that moment, when Jesus happened to be going by, that Matthew was ready and open to saying "yes" to God's will.
It made me reflect on not only my own need to change when I have sinned, but also the restrictions I sometimes place on others by refusing to consider that they might be able to change. A perfect example of this is seen in the teaching of the Church regarding the death penalty. While legal, the circumstances where it should be used is now, as Pope John Paul II said, "very rare, if not nonexistent" (Para. 56 of Evangelium Vitae - The Gospel of Life). Many people think that individuals on death row are beyond hope, that they will never change. Even though God never forces anyone to do His will, He is constantly giving them opportunities to do so. By ending someone's life, even the most hardened criminal, we are really saying that we have decided they had enough time and God is not powerful enough to give them the grace they need to repent. 
And we do this with so many people in our lives. Holding a grudge is really saying that "they will never change". Certainly there are consequences to behavior, and those who have gone against God's will (whether a murderer, rapist, terrorist or simply a friend who betrayed a confidence) are not excused or released from those consequences. But we have no right to deny them as many opportunities as God deems fit to change their lives and repent. 
For this reason, I see Matthew as sort of a patron saint for sinners. How was given that opportunity to change his life, and he took it. We have to be sure we are not denying others the opportunity to experience a life-changing moment. After all, are any of us so sure that we will never need one?

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