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The Recovery of St. Matthew

This piece on St. Matthew first appeared in the Autumn 2020 Scripture issue of Evangelization & Culture, the quarterly journal of the Word on Fire Institute. Learn more and become a member today to read more pieces like this. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. (Matt. 9:9) Perhaps the best-known artistic depiction of this event is Caravaggio’s The Calling of Saint Matthew, kept today at the Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome. In this canvas, four men sit with Matthew—also called Levi—at a table counting money. Jesus and St. Peter stand in the doorway with their fingers extended toward the tax collector: he is being chosen. God is offering grace to the sinner.  In…

The Soul is Healed by Being with Children

Several years ago, I found myself commiserating with a friend over his struggles to have children. For years, it seemed, he and his wife were able to conceive, but incapable of sustaining a pregnancy. Notwithstanding extensive examinations, lab work, and imaging studies to identify a treatable source for their difficulties, they suffered one miscarriage after another. Meanwhile, with each pregnancy came a familiar, grueling emotional cycle. It began with great joy, evolved into profound anxiety, and ultimately, concluded with withering sadness. With each miscarriage, their hopes dimmed that they would ever experience of joy of childbirth. It was a terrible story. As I looked at him with his furrowed brow and his unconsciously shaking head, it had been eighteen months since their last jeopardized pregnancy. It had been a harrowing road. Only now, they had a baby. My friend’s little boy was a miracle,…

5 Gifts of Being Catholic That I Increasingly Love 

When my family and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2019, we were no strangers to the overall contours of the Catholic thing. We had been High Church Anglicans, and our main obstacle was papal authority. By God’s grace, we were finally set free to live in obedience to Christ by acknowledging “the sacred primacy of the Pope and his infallible Magisterium” (Lumen Gentium, 18). But the big doctrinal issues are one thing, and everyday living as Catholics is sometimes quite another. There are so many gifts in the Catholic Church that my family and I did not fully appreciate before we climbed aboard the barque of St. Peter. As we enjoy them now, our lives are so much richer than we could have ever imagined when we stood on the edge of the Tiber, contemplating…

Gifts of Youth: Better Than All Our Sophistications

In Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, we read, “Beloved, let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. . . Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:12, 14). It’s good advice for all of us, no matter what our age—most particularly, the adjuration not to neglect the gifts we have been given, however it may manifest: to preach, heal, cook, train, write, etc. Our gifts were never meant for ourselves alone, but for service to the Body of Christ, no matter what our ages. What has been gifted to us in youth may need to be seasoned, yes, but never ignored or put aside or outright stalled, because—as in the lives of Blessed Carlo Acutis and Blessed…

Our Lady of Sorrows Moves Us Beyond Anger

Some find it strange, even slightly naughty, that I shut off the news after the elections of November 2020. My experience has taught me otherwise. Having no longer handed my mind over to the distant, impersonal forces that seek to occupy it, I have abandoned my anger and discovered the world anew in front of my eyes, thanks to prayer.  I started praying all fifteen decades of the Rosary (you’ll pardon me if I am old-fashioned) back when Pope Francis made this request in October 2018. Things already seemed bleak enough back then to merit it. Now, the Rosary is my constant companion throughout the day.  Very recently it struck me: Why aren’t there wrathful mysteries to ponder? Anger, we are told, is the appropriate response to evil and injustice. Yet the hell of condemnation that characterizes…

The Cross: Love’s Harsh and Dreadful Beauty

Imagine if a logo designer was commissioned to come up with a new symbol for Christianity other than the cross. It’s highly likely that in order to make our religion attractive and appealing, the new logo would be smart, unique, and would speak to the benefits of our faith for those who would consider it. From a worldly perspective, Christianity’s symbol of the cross is too brutal, too dated. If the primary logo of our religion is an instrument of torture, few will be attracted to it—or so it seems. Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, previously known as the “Triumph of the Cross.” The purpose of this feast suggests that rather than being embarrassed by the cross or daring to suggest an alternative logo, we should do the exact opposite. It encourages us to celebrate the sign of the…

Mountains Motivate the Ascent of the Spiritual Life

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Micah 4:1-2)   Over the summer, I hiked the Polish Tatra Mountains, the same mountains John Paul II used to trod, and while doing so, it occurred to me that in a secular age that…

Post 9/11: Anticipated by Radiohead and René Girard

On August 16, 2001, I stood with my stepbrother and tens of thousands of people in Liberty State Park on Upper New York Bay in Jersey City with a beautiful view of Lower Manhattan. I was twenty-one years old, had recently graduated from college, and would be on my way in a couple of weeks to start graduate school in England. I was on a last hoorah vacation—more of a pilgrimage, really—and we had reached our goal: seeing our favorite band, Radiohead, on one of the last dates of their American tour in support of their turn-of-the-millennium experimental masterpieces Kid A and Amnesiac. The band played a marathon set, including two encores, with songs full of paranoia about modern life—songs which, even then, gave me the…

St. Peter Claver, Slave to the Africans

The boats would pull into the dock like any other day in Cartagena. As the vessels would unload, onlookers would have seen the living cargo present in the deepest levels of the ship. Many of these people were sold into the slave trade, and it’s estimated that often a third of them died in transit. But I’d imagine that there were no onlookers there, no one reaching out to greet those aboard the ship. Ships full of people seen as objects and not persons was a normal occurrence, so normal that the use of the person—the person made slave—was unseen, because it had been reconciled thusly in the hearts and minds of men.  But not St. Peter Claver.  Peter Claver had come to these docks shortly after his ordination to the priesthood and after working with…

From Mary to Philip Neri: Lessons in Detached Cooperation

“All of God’s purposes are to the good, although we may not always understand this we can trust in it.” — St. Philip Neri Philip Neri was neither the first nor the last saint to remind us that God’s purposes, though far beyond our comprehension, are “always to the good” and trustworthy, but he said it perfectly and succinctly. If we have faith, Neri’s words apply a mysterious balm of consolation during challenging times, times when we don’t understand why sad, harrowing, senseless, tragic, or just plain weird things are happening to us or to others. It is a balm of reassurance—one that reminds us that we are given opportunities to cooperate with a divine plan that is yet unfolding, and thus to co-create within that plan as best we…