Tuesday, May 14, 2013

St Matthias and mothers

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have to begin with something of an apology. Because today is the feast day of St Mathias, I had hoped that I would be able to find something by way of a very cool tie-in between St Mathias and mothers to make it more relevant to a Mother's Union service, but nothing could I find … I couldn't even find a vague connection between him and mothering or even something connecting him with women in some significant way.

The truth is that we know very little about St Mathias. That's true of most of the Apostles, but it in incredibly so of Mathias. He's not mentioned in the Gospels; the first time we hear of him is the Acts of the Apostles, when the Eleven decide it is time to get the number back up to twelve and replace Judas. There we are told he is someone who had been with them from the beginning; from which we can infer that he was an early follower of Jesus, perhaps even one of the 70 that he sent out two by two in the Gospels. That he was chosen, along with Joseph Justus, as one of the two possible replacements for Judas indicates that he must have been seen as a man of great personal holiness and ability. But other than that, we can say nothing with certainty. 

Unlike the other apostles, the traditions telling us of his life outside the pages of scripture are comparatively recent ... by which I mean 4th or 5th century rather than 1st or 2nd! We honour him as a martyr of the Church – hence the liturgical colour red that we use today – but not all the traditions we have concerning him say he was martyred … although, as that was the fate of all his brother Apostles bar one, St John, the balance of probabilities would certainly be that he was martyred. Any time there was a persecution, it was the tendency of the Roman authorities to execute the leaders, thinking that this would act to deter people from being Christians; little knowing that their brutal acts would have the precise opposite, and inspire people to want to know more about this faith that people were willing to give their lives for.

People sometimes wonder why, if St Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas, why it is that we hear no more of that method of choosing leaders either in scripture of tradition. The reason is that he was chosen prior to Pentecost, prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit; Peter and the remaining apostles did not feel the confidence that comes with such divine guidance, and so they rather left the final decision as to who would replace Judas not so much to chance but as to divine intervention, feeling that it would be God's hand rather than man's who would decide. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would as Christ promised lead his Church into all truth, there was no longer a need for such methods.

But all this gives us no link between St Matthias and mothers. Unless we are to make the obvious statement that Matthias had, like all men, a mother. But that is perhaps too slender a connection … or is it? Something that I notice frequently in the histories of the great saints is that so many times it is mentioned how pious their mothers were … often their fathers also … but especially it is remarked what good and holy women their mothers were, and how carefully they had brought them up in the faith, teaching them to pray, encouraging them to draw ever closer to God day by day. One of the most famous examples of such a mother is, of course, St Monica, who spent years trying to convert her son to Christianity … her years of work finally paid off, and her son not only converted, but became a priest and a bishop … we know him today as St Augustine.

Given the importance of mother's in the formation of their children, not just physically but morally, it is surely not too much to suggest that St Matthias must have had such a mother, one that was pious and good and holy and who taught her son to live according to the example of her life and encouraged him to continue in that holy living once he was a grown man … the power of a woman to influence for the good a man whom she has raised as her son should never, I think, be underestimated … my mother's opinion was something I valued for as long as she lived … and there are few decisions I make, even now that she is gone, without wondering what she would think of them.

So I think it is reasonable as we give thanks for the faithful witness of St Matthias today, to also give thanks for his mother, and for all she must have done to make him the man that he became, a man who walked shoulder to shoulder with Christ, who was selected by the Apostles to be included in their number, and was faithful to the message that Christ brought us unto death. A powerful testimony to the power of mothers … and a reminder to us all to the good work that the Mother's Union has done and can do in the future … which is why that I pray, on the feast day of St Matthias, that their work will continue. Amen.

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