In the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, you can see one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio, entitled "The Call of St. Matthew." In his depiction of that well-known Gospel scene, Caravaggio places St. Matthew on the left; seated amidst his taxes and fellow tax collectors. To the right of the scene stands Our Lord, who is extending his right arm to gently beckon Matthew to follow him.
Caravaggio originally intended to leave the painting in this manner, but upon reflection he chose to add another person to his work: St. Peter. Initially, the figure of Christ had stood alone and was in full view. But the painter decided to position Peter between us-as we view the scene-and Our Lord, thus depicting Peter in his office as Vicar of Christ, that is to say, as a mediator. (The word "vicar" means "one who Stands in the place of another.") What we now see of Our Lord is only His extended arm and His head, while in the foreground St. Peter lifts his hand to imitate Jesus' gesture of invitation to Matthew.
Caravaggio's insight here was excellent. Of course, the Gospel accounts of Our Lord's call to Matthew make no mention of St. Peter. Even so, it is the role of Peter-and of all of his successors, the Popes-to imitate Christ by encouraging every human soul to become a disciple of the Son of God. This role falls to the Pope in a unique way because of Jesus' words, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." (Mt 16:18)
However, every Catholic priest shares in the mission assigned to Peter to sanctify, instruct, and guide souls to Christ. By virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest continues the work of Our Lord, the "one mediator between God and the human race." (I Tim 2:5) The priest does not "earn" the right to this role, nor does he "deserve" it because of any personal virtue. He is given the invitation by the Son of Man Himself, who "did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:28)
All of this tells us something about the humility of God: first, that He would be the ransom for our sins and so embrace the sacrifice of the Cross out of love; and second, that He would allow every human being to contribute to the salvation of the world-each according to his state in life. It falls to the priest to provide God's people with the Sacraments, which are so essential to the life of the soul both now and in preparation for eternity.
I recently saw a disturbing statistic: 50% of Catholic parents surveyed would discourage their son from a pursuing a priestly vocation. I do not know the reasons why or anything about the group surveyed, but the information is nevertheless of grave concern. The priestly life is a privilege for the man chosen by God and for his family, one to be accepted by all with the same humility with which it is offered.
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