Miserando atque Eligendo
The editorial in today's L'Osservatore Romano recounts an event that transpired on this day sixty years ago:
As the Bishop of Rome confided to his priests, it was on the feast of St Matthew 60 years ago – 21 September 1953 – that he suddenly discovered his priestly vocation. The 17 year old went to confession and, as Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti recount, “I understood something strange. I don't know exactly what it was, but it changed my life”.
There is the root of the Jesuit and the Bishop who chose as his episcopal motto a unique Latin expression used by the Monk Bede to describe the calling of the Apostle Matthew, when Jesus “had mercy on him and chose him” (miserando atque eligendo). This phrase expresses perfectly the heart of our Pope, clearly shown again in his interview: the awareness of being loved by God and the need to respond to his gaze.
The Pope himself in his "Interview" speaks of visits to one of his favorite places in Rome:
When I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.
“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
Recent analysis shows that Caravaggio first painted Christ entering alone. Only later was the figure of Peter added, hesitantly imitating, with feeble finger outstretched, the gesture of his Lord. But the mediation of the Church is crucial ... as is the office of Peter's successor.
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.