The other night I was at a Sports Banquet, a fundraiser for a religious community in Connecticut. Towards the beginning of the evening I noticed a man who was obviously underdressed. It was a black tie event, and this man was wearing a neon red golf shirt. Without being judgmental at all, I felt kind of sorry for the man. There were famous people there, great athletes and sports writers; and here was this poor guy, who looked so very out of place.
When the time came for the keynote address, the Master of Ceremonies introduced Baseball Legend and Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson. And sure enough, up to the podium went that man in the red golf shirt! As calm as could be, he laughed as he told the story about losing all his luggage at the airport. And then he went on to give one of the most beautiful talks on the Catholic faith that I had heard in a long time.
All I had seen earlier that night was an underdressed man in a golf shirt. But there was much more going on that I could not see, so much more to this person than I could have imagined.
This morning Jesus is walking past the customs post, and we are told that as He went by, “He saw a man named Matthew” sitting there. He saw Matthew. But what did Jesus see as he looked at this man who was no doubt despised by nearly all of his peers?
Later on, in Matthew’s house, the Pharisees will look and see only a group of “tax collectors and sinners.” That’s it. But Jesus looks and sees so much more than that. Jesus looks at Matthew and He sees an Apostle. He sees a man who will one day be a saint. He looks Matthew in the eyes and says: “You, follow me!”
What Jesus sees in Matthew, and how Matthew responds ,can say a lot about our own personal relationship with God and how we are to be followers of Christ. When we look at the people around us, what do we see? How about when we look at ourselves? Do we see a person who doesn’t really matter all that much to the world we live in? Someone who is no different from anyone else in the world? Is that what God sees? It’s not what He saw in Matthew, and it’s probably not what He sees when He looks at each one of us.
The artist Michelangelo was one of the most gifted painters of all time, but his true passion was not painting; it was sculpting. If you have ever seen the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica, you can quickly see why. That image of Mary holding the body of her Son is one of the most moving works of art ever created.
When asked about the method he used in sculpting, Michelangelo would always say that his work was not about creating something new. He truly felt that each block of marble held some magnificent work of great beauty. The work of the artist, he would say, is to set it free from the marble, to remove all the excess material and reveal the incredible beauty that was held captive within.
That magnificent beauty is what God sees in each one of us. It is His intention and desire to reveal that beauty in our lives. That’s why He calls us, as He called St. Matthew, to follow Him. Our work in unveiling that beauty, and becoming all that God sees in us, is the work of a response. We must respond to God and His call in our lives if we are ever to become all that He sees in us.
In his book The Truth of Catholicism, papal biographer and theologian George Weigel refers to this call of God and its response as the drama of every soul. He says that:
Each Christian life, including the lives of the saints, is lived in the gap between the person I am and the person I ought to be.
The reason we hold up the saints as models of what it means to follow Christ is because they never stopped trying to close that gap; they never lost sight of what God saw in them, and they never gave up trying to live up to that call of love.
As we strive to answer the call of God in our own lives this week, may we also see what God sees, and never stop striving to live out the virtues God desires us to grow in. Wherever the customs post is for our own personal lives, Christ is walking by today, and calling out to each of us: “You, follow me!”