Feast of St. Matthias
Two special events are celebrated in our readings today. One is a glimpse of community at its best when it is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The other moment, that profound sharing Jesus had with his closest friends as he revealed to them what is meant by heroic love.
Our first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles shows us how very important it was to the early Christian community to maintain the unique composition of apostles as originally selected by Jesus himself. Twelve worthy men was to be their number but, in addition, the candidate selected to replace Judas had to be a disciple who had followed Jesus from the very beginning, from the baptism of John until the ascension of Jesus when he was taken away from the community itself. Key to this witness was also that on would be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The vote was taken, not from the eleven alone, but from the 120 men and women who had gathered together, and it was Matthias who won the day. What rejoicing must have followed that vote! And what a joyful experience of community must have been had by all who were present!
Our Gospel, frequently a passage chosen by young couples for their wedding Mass, reminds us of the great command that we must love one another and that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another, a heroic love that is possible for those who truly take the Lord’s commandments seriously. To be a heroic disciple of the Lord simply meant that one would be willing to die for another period!
And not inconsequentially, for many of our Holy Cross Passionists, forming a kind of background to these two amazing events, is the name, the identity, of that twelfth blessed apostle, Matthias. For every Passionist my age and older will immediately think of a beloved Passionist, quiet and hidden in his own way, who was aptly named since he was truly a great disciple and a man who loved simply but heroically – Fr. Matthias Coen, CP. Matthias was a very holy man, not complicated at all. And his love for the Lord was immediately clear to any and all who had met him. He never held high offices or did great and notable things, but what he did do was to live the spirit of our Passionist rule of life completely and totally. How many of us will remember Matthias in the evening when he would come into the chapel or “choir” as we called it in those days, dressed in the “holy” habit, maybe with sandals but definitely without the belt that was meant to accompany the habit. From his first step int the “choir” Fr. Matthias would immediately fix his eyes on the image of Christ on the Cross, ever so steadily, as he approached the first level leading up to the altar. How he dropped to his knees in this way was, for us all, a great mystery. One thing is for sure. Every novice witnessing this nightly event was wondering when dear Fr. Matthias would no longer drop to his knees but would, rather, display a most amazing levitation reserved only for the most worthy and beloved disciples of the Lord! There we have it. Fr. Matthias, a holy Passionist, who laid down his life every day for the Lord, chosen not by vote but by the Lord himself to inspire young and impressionable novices in a humble chapel in St. Paul, Kansas.
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.