With the cross atop its majestic copper dome soaring above the Washington, D.C., skyline, the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle is truly a landmark of faith in our nation’s capital. As Saint Matthew, whose feast day is September 21, is the patron saint of civil servants, it is fitting that once again this weekend, the cathedral named for him will serve as the setting for the Red Mass, an annual Mass attended by Supreme Court justices and a range of government leaders, where we prayerfully seek God’s blessing on and guidance in the administration of justice.
Dramatic mosaics of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist soar above the cathedral’s main entranceway and rise behind the altar, depicting the tax collector who heard Jesus’ call, “Follow me.” A mural on a nearby wall shows the call of Saint Matthew, as he appears stunned by Jesus’ invitation. Another depicts the depth of this saint’s great love for Jesus, as the Apostle stretches out his arms in anticipation of his martyrdom.
In a 2006 general audience talk, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out that Saint Matthew immediately rose from his work and followed Jesus. The Holy Father noted that a careful reading of Saint Matthew’s gospel can evoke that same response from today’s disciples of Jesus, who, like Matthew, can “stand up and follow Jesus with determination.”
As the Archbishop of Washington, I celebrate the Easter Vigil and Christmas Masses, as well as most holy day Masses, at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, which in a special way is my home church, and the home church of all the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The cathedral church where people prayed in thanksgiving after the end of World War II, and where people prayed in sorrow after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, is the place where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in 1979 and where world leaders gathered for the 1963 Funeral Mass of President John F. Kennedy.
Saint Matthew’s is a place where presidents and the homeless have knelt in prayer. It is a place where, on Ash Wednesday, crowds fill the cathedral and spill out onto the steps and nearby sidewalks. It is a place where government workers and people from all walks of life, where longtime Washingtonians and where new visitors to the nation’s capital, come to Mass and where, like Saint Matthew, they are invited by Jesus to follow him.
Jesus’ call to Saint Matthew should resonate for all of us. As I note in my new pastoral letter, The Church, Our Spiritual Home, the laity have a special calling to renew the temporal order, to bring their Catholic faith “to our world, our culture, our neighbors, our family, our friends.” The lay faithful, with their talents, knowledge, experience and faith, can transform the world.
Like Saint Matthew, many here in Washington work for the government. Also like Saint Matthew, most of us are aware of our own sinfulness and our need for God’s grace and mercy. But the most important similarity between Saint Matthew and ourselves is that we are called to be evangelists, to share the Good News of Jesus with those around us, to rise up, and leave our former way of living behind.
In Washington, as in many places around the country, people dedicate long hours to their work. But if we look to Saint Matthew, we can reflect on how we might prayerfully hear Jesus’ call to us in our work day, or at home or at school, and dedicate our daily work to God, trying to live out and share our faith wherever we are.
In Hebrew, Matthew means “gift of God,” and reflecting on the life of Saint Matthew, we can learn from the gift of his example, the gift of his gospel, and the gift of knowing that we, too, can respond positively to that same invitation to walk with Jesus.