Feast of Saint Matthias, apostle
Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Matthias, the apostle who, after an election by about 120 women and men, was chosen to take the place of Judas, the betrayer. Matthias must have been deeply admired. Certainly he was well known since, as the sacred scriptures tell us, he was one who had accompanied the apostles the entire time that the Lord Jesus was present among them, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which Jesus ascended into Heaven. Matthias was elected and is now recognized as one of the Twelve Apostles.
When I think of St. Matthias on this day, however, my thoughts fall to another person with the same name and the very same love for Jesus Christ. As a young and very impressionable novice I was privileged to live in our novitiate house in St. Paul, Kansas. There was not much in St. Paul, mostly cattle, a few hundred people, and a very brown, muddy river that ran through it called the Neosho. Our life was extremely regimented, a veritable boot camp for aspiring young religious, and one that tested us in many ways. We fasted frequently; had a very demanding horarium (schedule) of prayer and meditation; and, most of all, lived in a cloistered environment, all of which was designed to lead us to the ultimate moment when we would be privileged to take the four vows that all Passionists take, namely, poverty, celibacy, obedience, and a firm desire to keep alive in the hearts of the Faithful the sacred memory of the Passion and Death of Christ Crucified. I loved this novitiate year, I really did, huge extrovert that I am. I found the regularity and solitude to be one of the greatest gifts I could have ever hoped for. The other great gift was Fr. Matthias.
Fr. Matthias was originally from England but somehow or other ended up in the United States where he met the Passionists and became a priest. He was one of the "senior professed" in our novitiate community and possibly chosen to live in this desolate Kansas town in order to inspire and edify the young novices, myself included. And this he did, especially at the end of the day when he would practically float into the Chapel! (We novices were quietly saying private night prayers before turning in to our beds.) Eyes fixed on the beautiful, life-sized Crucifix above the altar, Fr. Matthias would reach the first step below the altar and would drop to his knees. Anyone watching him was convinced that in just a moment he would surely levitate and be raised up in an extraordinary and miraculous manner! All the time his eyes were fixed on the Crucifix with an amazing look of love, almost as if he and Jesus were forever the very closest of friends. Though I almost never had the chance to speak with this remarkable man, just the image of his nightly visit inspired in me a desire to seek the same passionate, intimate love with Jesus Crucified. Fr. Matthias is now with the Lord, has been for many years. But on this, his feast day, I will always be grateful for that dear man who so loved the Lord and who quite unknowingly implanted in my heart a deeper love for the Crucified Lord. Thank you, Fr. Matthias, and a very happy feast day to you!
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.