St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
St. Matthew, the holy Apostle and Evangelist, was born at Cana in Galilee, where our Lord wrought his first miracle, by changing water into wine. The Gospel says that he was a publican or tax-collector, an office greatly despised by the Jews, first, because they considered themselves a free people, and thought the government had no right to exact taxes from them; and secondly, because those who were in this office generally defrauded the people, extorting from them more than was lawful. Hence they were classed and counted among the public sinners.
One day, when Matthew was sitting in his custom-house, in the discharge of his duty, Christ passed with His disciples, and seeing Matthew, He looked lovingly on him and said: “Follow me!” Enlightened and moved by divine grace, Matthew arose, and following Christ, invited Him into his house, where he prepared a banquet for Him, to which he invited many publicans and sinners, that they might hear the instructions of the Saviour and be converted. The Pharisees complained of it to the disciples of the Saviour, saying; “Why does your master eat with publicans and sinners? ” Christ answered for His disciples and said: “They that are well need not the physician, but they that are sick.” By these words, He desired to intimate that they had no cause to murmur at His associating with sinners, as one could not reasonably reprove a physician for being with the sick; and He had come into the world to convert sinners, as a physician goes to heal the sick. When the feast was ended, Matthew followed Christ and was numbered by Him among the Apostles. Having received the Holy Ghost, on the day of Pentecost, he labored like the other Apostles for the conversion of the Jews. But before going to the district appointed to him as the field wherein he had to sow the word of God, he wrote his Gospel, as a short sketch of the life, sufferings and death of the Saviour, in order to impress better the teachings of the Apostles on the minds of the newly converted. This was immediately copied a great many times and preached by the other Apostles in those countries which they were to convert.
St. Matthew went to Ethiopia and thence into the neighboring states. He began his mission at Nadabar, the capital, where he met two notorious magicians named Zaroes and Arphaxad, who, by their hellish art, caused people to become sick, after which they cured them by magic, and thus gained the reputation of performing miracles, besides which, they gathered great riches. The holy Apostle discovered the fraudulent means by which they deceived the credulous, and he admonished the inhabitants of the city, not to fear those two men, as he was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in whose name, all such diabolical art would be destroyed. When the two magicians saw that they lost credit and gain by these remarks of the Apostle, they endeavored by new sorcery to frighten the people; but the Saint, making their fraud public, caused himself to be greatly esteemed, so that the people commenced to attend his sermons, and to take an interest in the faith he announced.
The many miracles which the Saint performed at length opened the eyes of the blind pagans; they recognized their error, and truth took possession of their hearts. What more then all else furthered the conversion of this nation, was the miracle by which the holy Apostle raised from the dead the royal princess. Her father, the king of Ethiopia, had called the magicians to his court and requested them to give back life to his child. The wicked deceivers used all their evil powers; but the spirits of hell which they invoked, could not reanimate the lifeless body. Hence the holy Apostle, was called, who going towards the dead, commanded her, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise. The princess immediately arose, full of life and health, in presence of the king and all his courtiers. This miracle induced the king, with his whole court, to receive instruction in the Christian faith, and to be baptized with great solemnity. The example of the king was followed by all the people, and thus was paganism conquered in that country.
The holy Apostle then went into other cities, villages and hamlets, everywhere preaching the Gospel of Christ, and confirming it, according to the promise of his heavenly Master, by many and great miracles, which caused a great number of people to be converted. The holy life which the Saint led, aided him also greatly in impressing the heathens with the truth of his words. Besides his other virtues, they especially admired the rigor which he manifested towards himself. His whole sustenance consisted of herbs. Meat, wine, and all other things agreeable to the taste, he never touched. He allowed himself no rest; he was all day occupied in preaching and instructing, and passed the greater part of the night in prayer.
Incontestible writings prove that he preached the Gospel for twenty-three years, partly in Ethiopia, partly in other countries, at the same time founding almost innumerable Churches, and supplying them with priests and bishops, in order to preserve the faith he had taught. How much he had to endure in travelling through so many barbarous countries, how he was persecuted, how many thousands he converted, is known only to God; suffice it to say, he was truly an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
Finally, he ended his life by a glorious martyrdom before the Altar. It happened as follows: Iphigenia, the eldest daughter of the newly converted king of Ethiopia, had not only become a Christian, but also, with the knowledge and consent of the holy Apostle, had consecrated her virginity to the Almighty, after having frequently heard the Saint preach on the priceless value of purity, and exhort others to guard and preserve it. Her example was followed by many other virgins, who, choosing the princess as their superior, lived together and occupied their time in prayer and work. Hirtacus, who succeeded to the throne, asked the hand of the princess in marriage. The virgin consecrated to the Almighty refused him, saying that she had promised to be faithful to her heavenly bridegroom. The king, greatly provoked at this answer, called St. Matthew, as the instructor of Iphigenia, and requested him to induce her to consent to his offer. The Saint promised to give his advice to Iphigenia on the following day, in presence of the king. The next morning, in a sermon, he explained first, that matrimony, instituted by the Almighty, is in itself a lawful and holy state, which everyone who desired it might enter. After this, he began to praise the state of virginity and to demonstrate that it is much more agreeable and pleasing to God than the state of matrimony, adding very emphatically, that when any one, after due deliberation, had consecrated his purity to the Almighty, the vow could not be broken without great sin.
A servant, said he, among other illustrations, would deserve punishment if he dared to tempt the spouse of a king to break her marriage vow; much more punishable, then, would he be, who had the heart to entice a spouse of Christ to become faithless to her word. Hence, he concluded, as Iphigenia had promised herself to Christ, it was not allowed to rob Him of her, and persuade her to unite herself to a human being. Having admonished all present to remain constant in the true faith, even if it should cost their blood and life, he proceeded to the altar to perform the holy sacrifice of Mass. Hirtacus left the church, full of rage, and following the advice of some wicked people, sent some of his soldiers to kill St. Matthew. One of these, going towards the Saint, who was standing before the altar, thrust his spear into his body; and the Saint, sinking down, expired. Some maintain, that he was beheaded with an axe; but it is quite sure that he was killed while standing at the Altar, thus becoming himself a victim, at the moment when he was offering the pure sacrifice of the New Testament.
He is called by the holy Fathers the victim of virginal purity, as he shed his blood in defending it. Hirtacus, informed of the death of St. Matthew, hastened to the house where Iphigenia and the other virgins dwelt, and repeated his demand. When she once more courageously refused his hand, he commanded her house to be set on fire, and burned to the ground with all its inmates. His wicked design was, however, frustrated; for when the flames began to arise, St. Matthew appeared and warded them off in such a manner, that neither the house nor those within it were injured. Hirtacus was punished for his evil deeds with so terrible a leprosy, that, unable to endure the sight of himself, he died by his own hands.
I. The holy Apostle and Evangelist, Matthew, greatly praised virginal purity, and vows of chastity made to God; but he also preached that those became guilty of sin who broke these vows. There are heretics, who wish to be called Apostolic or Evangelical Christians, as they pretend, in all things, to conform to the teaching of the Gospel and of the Apostles. But the instructions and acts of St. Matthew prove that their pretence is groundless. Luther and Calvin, the founders of this heresy, taught that marriage was commanded to everyone, and that virginal purity was much less valuable than the married state; that the vow of it was unlawful and null before the Most High; whence it follows that to break the vow was not only allowed, but obligatory, as Luther broke it, and enticed others to do the same. How does this harmonize with what was taught by St. Matthew, a true Apostle and Evangelist of Jesus Christ? How can they call themselves Apostolic and Evangelical, who teach and believe the contrary of what was taught by the holy Apostle and Evangelist, St. Matthew? Further, St. Matthew, an Apostle of the Lord, admonished others to keep their virginity unspotted, and threatened those who tempted them to break their promise, with great punishment. Whose apostles are those who do exactly the contrary, and try to make themselves and others believe that the Almighty is not offended by sins against purity, as much as the priest proclaims from the pulpit? St. Bonaventure says, without the slightest hesitation: “The mouth of him, who entices others to impurity, is the mouth of a devil.” The devil, who once spoke and deceived through the serpent, speaks and deceives through such people. They are apostles of the devil. Woe to such apostles! The same hell awaits them in which the unchaste Hirtacus has already suffered a thousand years, and will suffer eternally. But woe also to those who believe such apostles and are deceived by them! Iphigenia believed and followed the apostle of Christ, and now enjoys as a recompense the eternal bliss of heaven. May you also believe the preachers, priests, and confessors, who teach what St. Matthew taught, for through them speaks the same Lord Who spoke through the mouth of St. Matthew.
II. Christ, the Saviour, looked with His mild eyes at St. Matthew in his custom-house, and called him. Matthew obeyed, instantly arose, and followed Christ, becoming thus, from a publican, an apostle of the Lord, a great Saint. How comforting an example of divine mercy, even towards the greatest sinner! How wholesome a lesson! The same kind, merciful Saviour, who gazed so mildly upon Matthew, and called him, turns His loving eyes on you also, even if you live in mortal sin. He calls you to repentance; He calls you to follow Him. Obey Him as St. Matthew did, without putting it off. Let neither the greatness, nor the number of your sins detain you. Your Saviour is ready to forgive them, to receive you into His favor and to make you a Saint. “If you are a publican or a sinner,” says St. Chrysostom, “you may still become an evangelist. If you are a blasphemer, you may still become an apostle.” This means that you may obtain pardon and gain salvation, as St. Matthew and St. Paul did, the former of whom was a publican, a sinner; and the other, according to his own testimony, a blasphemer. St. Augustine says the same in the following words: “Perhaps some may think that the sin they have committed is so great that it cannot obtain pardon from God. Oh! may such thoughts be far from us. Why, O man, regard only the number of thy sins, and not the omnipotence of the heavenly Physician? As God is merciful because He is gracious, and as He can be merciful because He is omnipotent, he who believes that God will not or cannot forforgive him, closes the door of the divine mercy on himself, by denying that God is gracious or omnipotent. Hence let no one doubt the mercy of God, even if he has committed a hundred, nay a thousand crimes. But this belief should incite him to reconcile himself immediately with the Almighty.”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.