(† First Century)
One day, as Our Lord was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw, seated in his customs bureau, Levi the publican, whose business it was to collect the taxes from the people for their Roman masters. Jesus said to him: Follow Me. Leaving all behind, Matthew arose and did so, thereby giving us all an example of the way in which we should respond to grace. The humble Matthew, as he was thereafter called, tells us himself in his Gospel that he was Levi, one of those publicans abhorred by the Jews as enemies of their country, outcasts and notorious sinners, who enriched themselves by extortion and fraud. No Pharisee would sit with one at table; Our Saviour alone had compassion for them.
Saint Matthew prepared a great feast, to which he invited Jesus and His disciples, with a number of these publicans, who thereupon began to listen to Him with attention and joy. It was there, in answer to the murmurs of the Pharisees saying that this pretended prophet ate with publicans and sinners, that Jesus said, They that are in good health have no need of a physician. I have not come to call the just, but sinners to penance.
After the Ascension, Saint Matthew remained for over ten years in Judea, writing his Gospel there in about the year 44, to teach his countrymen that the kingdom of heaven had already been instigated, for Jesus was their true Lord and the King foretold by the prophets. He departed then to preach the Faith in Egypt and especially in Ethiopia, where he remained for twenty-three years. When he resurrected the son of the Ethiopian king who had received him, the miracle brought about the conversion of the royal house and with them the entire province.
The king’s daughter consecrated herself to God with several other maidens. When a young man wished to marry the beautiful Iphigenia, Saint Matthew invited him to come and listen to a discourse he was to make to that community of virgins, to hear what he would say to them. When the Apostle extolled the state of virginity, the suitor became enraged and arranged to have him slain as he came from the altar. Saint Hippolyte calls Saint Matthew the victim and martyr of holy virginity.
It is said in the Constitutions of Pope Saint Clement that Saint Matthew instituted holy water, for protection of soul and body; the prayer he used for the purpose is reported in that document. The relics of Saint Matthew were for many years in the city of Naddaver in Ethiopia, where he suffered his martyrdom, but were transferred to Salerno in the year 954, where they remained concealed in a cave, for protection, for over a hundred years.
Reflection: Obey all inspirations of Our Lord as promptly as Saint Matthew, who, at a single word, Saint Bridget says, laid down the heavy burden of the world, to take the light and sweet yoke of Christ.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 11