The Call of Levi (1560)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome
It’s very appropriate that the Church encourages
us to celebrate this Rite of Election at the beginning of Lent
each year, because Lent is a preparation for the most important
liturgy in the Church’s year – the Paschal Mystery of the
suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the mystery
which is at the heart of our faith. For those of you here today
who have not yet been baptised, the celebration of this Rite marks
the beginning of the final and more intense preparation for the
reception of the Sacraments of Initiation; and for those of you
already baptised, your entry into full communion with the Catholic
Our focus in Lent must be the person of Jesus Christ who is the initiator of our redemption from sin and our firm hope in the promise of eternal life. In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes the initiative and calls Levi, a despised tax-collector, an outcast, rejected by the people. Levi hears the call to follow Jesus, leaves everything he has and embarks on what will turn out to be a radical change in his life journey. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, in the person and teaching of Jesus, God’s love and compassion are made visible in human form; for in him “we see made visible the God we cannot see.” Though he was the Son of God, he was also fully human. Jesus knew very well what it was like to feel weak and vulnerable and to experience temptation. As St. Luke reminds us, through his own struggle against temptation and his victory over evil, Christ was able to open for us the way to reconciliation with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Be quite sure that he fully understands, and has experienced, the challenge we all face as human beings in our journey of becoming more and more obedient to God. It is precisely because he has gone through that experience himself, that he is able to encourage us and support us on our journey of faith.
Lent is that special time of the year, given to us by the Church to ask God to open our hearts and minds to him, to enable us to listen to and hear his word, to deepen our faith and strengthen our hope, so that we might be more generous in our love for him and for one another. And if we are apprehensive about our ability to respond to the challenge God places before us, we only have to meditate on the person of Jesus Christ to receive strength and encouragement on our Lenten journey. You who are to be baptised, and you who are to be received into full communion, are encouraged and exhorted to deepen your relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. The traditional Lenten ways of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are appropriate throughout our lives, but particularly so during Lent. This is a special “window of opportunity”, so to speak, on your journey of faith. It is a time of grace, a favourable time, when God asks you, and indeed all of us, to open our hearts and minds to his presence and power in our lives. It is a time to allow him to challenge us all and change us for the better. It is a graced opportunity to allow him to mould us more and more into the image and likeness of his beloved Son who is for us the example of what it means to be truly human and a child of God.
You have come to this point in your journey of faith by a variety of different routes; you will have been helped and supported by many different people, by your own reflections, and by the example of others. But you know also that within the experience you have had and reflected upon, the Holy Spirit has been constantly leading and guiding you, often in hidden ways. It is through the Holy Spirit that God is giving you the gift of faith to believe in him and fulfil the great challenge we heard on Ash Wednesday: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
The call to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is the call to follow in the footsteps of him who emptied himself and gave himself to us in total, unconditional love. He is for us the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” And his way was the way of Calvary, the way of the Cross - and that was the way to resurrection and the fullness of life. We can’t separate Good Friday from Easter Sunday - because the Paschal Mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ is all of a piece. This is truly the mystery of faith which we can never even begin to grasp or accept without the grace and revelation of God himself.
Paradoxically this way of the Cross is the way of Love and the fullness of life. It is the way of the two great commandments: You must love the Lord your God with all your strength and all your mind and all your heart; and you must love your neighbour as yourself. To fulfil these commandments we must allow the grace of God to change our hearts, and change our lives. He has given himself to us in unconditional love, and he asks us to love him, and each other, in the same way.
That is an enormous challenge because we are weak and sinful human beings much in need of God’s grace and redemption. We wax and wane in our fidelity and enthusiasm in following Jesus. We can easily get distracted and stray down the wrong path. We can go through periods of doubt and disillusionment and feel tempted to give up the struggle. But we must never forget that we don’t travel alone. We travel as a community of faith, members of God’s family, God’s people. We have our priests, our families, our godparents and sponsors, fellow parishioners to accompany us and give us encouragement when the going gets hard – and there are times when it will be hard, as well as the time when the going is relatively easy and congenial.
My dear catechumens and candidates, today is a very important day for you and those who have supported you thus far in your journey. I hope it will also be a day of great joy and strength for you. You have already made great advances on your journey of faith, and today you commit yourself, with the help and support of God’s people in this Diocese, to this final intensive period of preparation. Today you make another decisive step. Today you publicly acknowledge that you have been formally called and chosen by God through the Church. And this call is today mediated to you through the Church which acts in his name. The Church also makes this “election”, choosing to accept you and to admit you to baptism or reception into full communion.
This afternoon I want to thank you for your faithfulness to God’s call and encourage you to persevere on your journey. I thank too all those who have helped you and encouraged you so far, and who will, please God, continue to accompany you on your journey towards the joy of Easter and new life. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, never forget the words of Jesus which he will address to you personally in such times: “Courage! Do not be afraid for I am with you.”
Be assured of our prayers for you especially during Lent. And pray for us too that we will give you the best example we can of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. And may God bless you and be with you in the coming days and weeks.