One of my favorite memories of Rome was when I visited the Basilica of the Chair of St. Peter in 2018. This was my fourth time there. We were delegates from 75 nations, and had assembled for the first CHARIS global leaders meeting with the Holy Father. As a ministry leader, this experience was life changing.
Roaming and Rome
I have to admit that I never really thought that I needed to see Rome or the Vatican to deepen my faith. I often chide and say that I had two conversions—one from Atheism and the second to Catholicism. After my conversion, having been heavily influenced by denominational churches, I did not practice Catholicism, as I was opposed to many of its dogmas and couldn’t relate to its practices. Therefore, I always consider my time in Rome as a time of healing and restoration. I am grateful today for the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the Church and the gift of community that helps me understand our history, heritage, and the Truth that brings hope and joy to millions.
During that visit, the magnificent paintings displayed at the Basilica left me completely in awe of sacred art. I stayed there lost in time, mesmerized by the mysteries of Salvation as they unfolded the goodness, truth, and beauty of an omnipotent God through the work of human hands. One such beautiful masterpiece stood in a small church near Piazza Navona. Painted by the late Renaissance artist Caravaggio, the painting captures “The Calling of Saint Matthew” exhibiting rich and royal hues of 16th century finery.
An Encounter With Light
Reflecting from Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus is seen entering the world of Matthew and his tax collector friends. Matthew (called Levi before) is seen seated at the table with his comrades, lost in counting the day’s proceeds. They appear caught up in themselves, unaware of others and oblivious to the stranger in their midst. There is a look of enthusiasm in their faces, yet a profound sense of emptiness in their eyes. They seem to have it all, yet show unease, a sense of lack, searching for something more.
Jesus’ gaze is upon Matthew. He looks him in the eye and points to him. Caravaggio paints this gesture intentionally, drawing attention to the hand that reaches out to God the Father, as depicted in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There we see the hand of Adam reaching out for God as creation is fragmented in sin. Now, Jesus, the New Adam is calling Matthew to new life, desiring to make him a new creation.
This is a moment of illumination. The canvas captures the light pouring in, streaming into the darkness where the tax collector sits. He has this incredulous look on his face. Surprised by the intrusion, perhaps even dazzled by this sudden light, Matthew gestures toward himself with his left hand as if to say, “Who, me?”
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Arise to New Life
The stranger calls out, “Follow me,” bringing Matthew to the point of decision—that pivotal moment between Matthew the tax collector and Matthew the disciple.
What will Matthew do? How will he respond to the invitation of light?
I have often wondered what went through Matthew’s mind as he felt the tug to “come, follow.” I wonder if he reasoned at the new possibility before him. In my own journey from Atheism to Faith, I cannot look back without denying the shadows of the One who relentlessly pursued me, even when I wasn’t “looking.” Yet when I sensed the invitation, I fought with reason, afraid of what would become of me. I was desperate to find freedom from my life of shame and endless worries but I also feared what this new life would demand. ‘What would my life look like if I came into the Light?’ ‘What would I lose?’ ‘What would I see?’
And therefore how fitting it is that we enter every new year with an invitation to “see.” In the liturgical celebration of the Epiphany (meaning “manifestation” in its Greek origin), we are invited to see and experience our own paradigmatic shifts. Where am I? What am I doing? What is God calling me to see? Where in my life do I need to reorder and reorient myself?
Where is the Light?
Jesus came for Matthew and called out to him. And Matthew responded to the Light. There are no recorded words between them, all we know is that he rose and followed Jesus. This is the same verb that is used to describe the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what conversion means—a rising from the dead, an elevation to New Life.
Matthew responded to that invitation and entered into the Power of Jesus’ Resurrection. He received new life. He became a disciple and an Apostle. He became a vessel of the Light. His life bore witness to the brilliance of Christ’s love. So bright and powerful was this love, that the man who once “took” from people, did not hesitate to “give,” even his own life.
What about me? How will I respond to this invitation?
Come, Follow Me
Perhaps for many of us, this is a moment to rekindle our faith and think about the moment of our conversion. Have we been faithful? Do we need to return? Maybe for some of us, we feel unworthy with our sins and failure, finding it difficult to believe that God can even call us. For many years, I struggled, wondering if I had what it took to serve Christ. My own brokenness fueled comparison and competition for spiritual gifts, preventing me from truly seeing Christ and seeing myself in Him.
But the good news is that Christ continues to come. He continues to manifest Himself. He is not deterred by our dirt and our darkness. His hand continues to point to us, calling us to discipleship, reminding us of our destiny.
Dear sister, do you hear that call? Do you recognize Jesus coming to you in the most ordinary moments of your life, bidding you to “come,” “see,” and “rise”? Perhaps that voice comes to you in the restlessness that there has to be more to life than what you are experiencing right now. Perhaps it comes through your losses, failures, and shattered dreams; maybe it’s even through the voice of your child or your spouse. Perhaps you are sensing it right now. This is Jesus beckoning your heart, awakening your call, leading you to the Light.
Will you rise and follow?
If God can choose to make His Incarnation and redemption real to us through magnificent art, surely He desires to use His grandest art of all to make both His love and His light real to the world. This grand art piece, dear sister is you. You did not choose Him, He chose you (John 15:16). You are God’s masterpiece and you belong to Him.
Hear him calling you “Come, follow me.” Here Him bidding you to rise and go forth as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.