- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. John Hurley at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Northwest.

This Sunday’s Gospel relates the calling of St. Matthew, also referred to in St. Mark’s Gospel as Levi. Matthew wears many hats: tax collector, apostle, evangelist author of what we refer to as the first Gospel, patron not only of IRS staffers but of all Washington bureaucrats, and, lastly, he is, of course, the patron of our own Cathedral parish.

We are fortunate at the Cathedral to have presented here wonderful portrayals of this great disciple of the Lord. Beautiful art here in this Mother Church of the Washington Archdiocese supports the threefold challenge of this morning’s Gospel: first, like Matthew to hear and to respond to Christ’s call to us to “Follow me”; second, to go out and follow Matthew’s extraordinary example; and third, to look forward with faith, like Matthew, to our further call to join the Lord in the bliss of heaven.

The mural over the west entrance, to your left, pictures Christ calling and Matthew arising from the customs table. He appears astounded by Christ’s words. On one side, a couple are encouraging him, while on Matthew’s other side, the man and woman pictured there seem to be treating the whole scene with scorn. Since toll collectors of the time were not considered to be righteous and charitable, we can imagine their wonderment at this willingness of Jesus to be involved with such a member of a despised profession.

The predominant decoration of the Cathedral is, of course, the magnificent mosaic above the main altar. It is 35 feet in height, 13 feet in width, and represents St. Matthew’s best-known response to Christ’s call, namely, the Gospel ascribed to him. Not surprisingly, the words written on the book at Matthew’s knees describe his call by Christ and how he arose and followed the Lord.

Finally, the mural in the east transept above the organ, to your right, pictures Matthew as a radiant figure standing with outstretched arms. To his left is the executioner preparing to strike the final blow with a sword. Meanwhile, angels above prepare to crown Matthew’s martyrdom as he enters eternal glory.

What we have so beautifully pictured here then is the model that we too are encouraged to heed as we respond to the challenge of Christ, “Follow me.” More than simply words are called for. A positive response requires that we see in the mosaic above the altar the challenge to us, like Matthew, to make our words of allegiance to the Lord evident in deeds of mercy, forgiveness and love. The words we find in Matthew’s Gospel, the longest of the four, recount many of the deeds of Christ on earth as encouragement to us how to act and how to follow in the Lord’s footsteps.

We should not forget another remarkable mosaic of St. Matthew in this Cathedral, that in the baptistery, which represents him baptizing an Ethiopian. According to tradition, it was to Ethiopia that Matthew went after Pentecost, so as to spread the Good News.

Several decades ago, a commentary on the towering mosaic above our main altar along with its accompanying representations suggested its ultimate message “might well be that St. Matthew, the Evangelist, brings us the glad tidings of the Passion and death of Christ, and that the human soul might share in the life of Christ by sharing in the renewal of Christ’s Passion and death enacted on the altar below.” I find this a beautiful way of describing the link between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In sum, the spectacular mosaics, murals and marble of our awe-inspiring Cathedral come together to inspire not only with their beauty, but, more importantly, with the encouragement to follow in St. Matthew’s footsteps as he heeded Christ’s invitation to follow Him, ultimately to the eternal happiness of heaven.

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