And Never to Despair of God’s Mercy

0921La_Vocazione_di_San_Matteo_%28part._7%29.jpgSaturday of the 1st Week of the Year II
1 Samuel 9: 1-4. 17-19; 10, 1a
Psalm 20: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (R. 2a)
Mark 2: 13-17

Spiritual Resurrection

We began reading the Gospel according to Saint Mark on Tuesday. Since then, in four days we have seen four signs of spiritual resurrection. The first was the deliverance of the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28); the second the raising of Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed (Mk 1:29-39); the third, the cleansing of the leper (Mk 1:40-45); the fourth, the raising of the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12). Today’s Gospel continues that sequence. Today too, we witness a spiritual resurrection. Levi, the son of Alphaeus, passes from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to mercy.

Grace and Mercy Granted

Saint Mark, in his account of the call of Levi, employs the very verb used to refer to the resurrection of Christ: kai anastàs. “And rising up, he followed Him” (Mk 2:14). This is more than a mere change of posture; it is change of heart, a resurrection to new life. Levi is given a new name to signify his new life: he becomes Matthew which, according to the Venerable Bede, means “granted,” a name to suited to one to whom Christ has granted heavenly grace and mercy.

Let Us Make Haste

Saint Mark says, “and rising up, he followed Him” (Mk 2:14). Spiritual resurrection is not immobility. It is movement. It is dynamic. It is the compelling grace by which one cries out with the bride of the Canticle, “Draw me after Thee; let us make haste” (Ct 1:4). Saint Bede says that we follow Christ not so much with a movement of the feet as with a movement of the heart. This is conversion: the heart’s movement, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, through Christ, with Christ, toward the Father.

Seek His Face

There is a sense in which the following of Christ is the pursuit of Christ, the search for His Face, the heart’s thirst for His presence. “Upon my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him, but I found Him not; I called Him, but He gave no answer. ‘I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek Him whom my soul loves’” (Ct 3:1-1-2). When Saint Benedict says that in discerning a monastic vocation one must examine if the novice is “truly seeking God” (RB 58:7), he is describing what we mean by “conversion of life.”

The Upward Call

Conversion is a change in direction, a turning away from all that is past and a turning toward Christ. Saint Paul describes it this way: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14). This is what Levi heard in today’s Gospel: “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).

Spiritual Combat

Conversion of life doesn’t happen overnight. It is inseparable from that other element of the Christian life that we call spiritual combat. The path of conversion is not without mishaps, accidents, and falls. One who sets out to seek God, following Christ, is exposed to attacks and dangers from within and from without. There will be cuts and bruises, setbacks and delays. There may even be the occasional stay in the inn of the divine hospitality where the Good Samaritan cleanses our wounds with oil and wine, binds them up, and obliges us to rest awhile until we recover our strength (cf. Lk 10: 33-35).

Mercy

The path of conversion is marked out by mercy. The word of Jesus to the scribes of the Pharisees is a word of hope for each of us: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). Holy Father Benedict offers us something in the way of a commentary on these words of Christ: “And never to despair of God’s mercy” (RB 4:74). Hold fast to this, and He who calls you to conversion will do in you what of yourselves you cannot do, bringing you to Himself, and through Himself, to the Father.

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