Imagine the reaction of his friends when Levi, the tax collector, left everything behind to follow a traveling preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. Well, he probably had few friends anyway. Tax collectors were not popular among the Jews, since they collected taxes for the despised Roman occupation forces. Now, they said, Levi was leaving the few friends he had to join a rag-tag group of fishermen and country bumpkins from Galilee. Perhaps as he sat at his tax collector's booth in the hot sun, Levi, known to us as Matthew, had dreamt of the One foretold by the prophets - the Messiah.
St. Matthew, schooled by the teaching of the God-Man, and an eyewitness of His miracles, and His Passion and Death, began to write an account in his Gospel about eight years after Our Lord's Resurrection, according to traditional Catholic sources. Since he wrote especially for his own Jewish countrymen it was written in Aramaic, but was later translated into Greek. Soon afterwards St. Matthew is believed to have departed for other lands in fulfillment of Our Lord's command to "preach the Gospel to all nations", where he endured martyrdom for the faith.
Those who uphold the truth of the Gospels and the authentic Tradition of the Church, along with the Traditional Latin Mass should take a lesson from St. Matthew, the tax-collector. We are not popular, not even among novus ordo Catholics and quasi-traditionalists, because we don't go along with every wind of change.
One vocal supporter of the status quo thinks everything is just "loverly" with the New Church, and especially with its upper echelons. He and his friends have invented a word to label those who refuse to go along with the Revolution that has taken place within the Church. We are "Integrists." Integrists, he says, "cling to fossilized forms of the past, with an exaggerated supernaturalism which is disconnected from what is validly good and natural in the earthly sphere. The result of such a practice could be a person who is extremely pious and follows the traditional rubrics scrupulously, yet radiates no warmth, kindness, or natural charity towards others. Such a person seems only interested in the 'soul,' and does not affirm the natural human need for wholeness in the physical or emotional sphere" (James J. McCrae, Pope John Paul II and the Radiation of the Supernatural).
Well, I'll be doggoned! I may be an "integrist" in that I wish to preserve the integrity of the true Catholic faith, but I do fail to see myself in that description.
Those who follow Jesus Christ will endure persecution: "If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you also; if they have kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin. But now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them works such as no one else has done, they would have no sin. But now they have seen, and have hated both Me and My Father; but that the word written in their Law may be fulfilled, 'They have hated Me without cause'" (Jn.15:20-25).
The controversy continues about the new movie on the last hours of Christ - "The Passion." The Toronto Globe and Mail in a recent article (Scholars Back Charges Against Gibson, globeandmail.com, Sept. 13, 2003) says that the death of Jesus is center-stage in the North American entertainment industry, "exemplifying U.S. Christianity's weird edges and the widening gulf between conservative religious fundamentalism and contemporary biblical scholarship." I guess we're the "weird edges." By "contemporary biblical scholarship" they mean a self-appointed group of U.S. Roman Catholic and Jewish scripture scholars who have labeled the movie "an intolerable historical and theological travesty." Yet, admits the article, "The Passion" - "is pretty much exactly how the Christian Gospel-writers portrayed the death of Jesus." How weird!
The issue, says the article, is scriptural interpretation. "The Passion" (the movie) "implies that viewers are watching historical verity." That's bad? Well, the Gospels are not an account of the historical Jesus, you see, but "a late-first-century narrative… of a new religion trying to fend off theological challenges and state repression." Along with Matthew, the other three Evangelists - Mark, Luke and John - "portrayed the death of Jesus, more than half a century after the fact and without much concern for historical accuracy." We have already pointed out that St. Matthew was an eyewitness, being one of Our Lord's chosen Apostles, and that he wrote his Gospel within a few years of the Lord's Resurrection.
Just to give you an idea of what kind of people we're dealing with, one of the so-called biblical scholars, a Catholic one at that, cynically referred to the Holocaust as one of the "great Christian ecumenical movements." Who, now, is being persecuted? "They have hated Me without cause" (Jn.15:25).
We "integrists" are like Frodo of "The Lord of the Rings," carrying the ring of power to Mordor. The wise Galadriel had advised him: "Frodo, to be a ring-bearer is to be alone." Be a bearer of the truth, and you find yourself part of the "weird edge," walking a lonely road, but a glorious one. Mary knew that "He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly" (Lk.1:52). Jesus died in desolation on the Cross, but rose in glory on the third day. St. Matthew, like most of the Apostles, died a martyr's death while preaching the Gospel of salvation to the pagans. Are we truly alone? St. Teresa of Avila would say, "God and I are in the majority."
If we must leave friends and family behind, and co-religionists, it is to ponder terrible truths, and to press onward towards the goal, following, like St. Matthew, a Carpenter from Nazareth, Who is, at the same time, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.