Monday, 5 October 2009

Vocation in art

I'm very much a lover of art of the counter-reformation, so I have been very pleased these past two weeks, as one of our lecturers has been talking to the first year about Caravaggio, in particular, his painting 'The Calling of St Matthew'.

It's a very famous painting, found in Rome. On the right, underneath the faint halo, we see our blessed Lord with a stern look on his face, pointing towards Levi, sat at the table. Christ's hand mirrors the hand of God in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. It is interesting to note that His body is facing the viewer, as if he is turning to walk away. He is giving one chance to Matthew to come with Him: Follow me! The gesture of the hand is very subtle, but the message is clear.

In front of our Lord, is St Peter, representing the Church on Earth. In the context of Oscott, this represents the necessity of the Church's discernment of our vocations. We as individuals have heard something, sometimes a voice like the clashing of cymbals, more often, like a gentle breeze in our souls, which has come from God. The Church, however, helps us decide whether this calling is divine. This process of formation takes place in seminary. Peter is also pointing at Matthew, so Mother Church agrees with her bridegroom in this instance!

These two figures, Christ and Peter, are the only vertical figures, representing their heavenly location.

The light of the painting is cast onto the table scene, the horizontal earth. But Matthew is not the only one. There are other people in his life, colleagues and friends, but Christ is not pointing at them.

Reclining onto Matthew's shoulder is the youngest figure, dressed in fine clothes, the cool kid on the block. He can see something is going on, but he cannot respond, the interest is not deep enough.

Opposite, we have another young man, his first reaction to Christ's presence is to draw his sword.

On the far left, one man is so busy with his money, he does not even notice the Son of God is in the room. Next to him, an old man, inspecting the coins on the table. Wearing glasses, the worldliness of his life has preventing him from seeing reality without an aid.

Finally, in the centre, we have Matthew. A Levi, he is of the historical family of priests in Israel, but time has made that function defunct. So far has he come from his deepest purpose, he is wearing a coin in his hat, representing his office as a tax collector, one of the most hated people in Israel. In humility, he points to himself, asking, 'is it me?'

The Lord is calling him. Follow me. But one last figure remains in the painting, in fact, it is the largest feature of the canvas. If we follow Jesus, we are to carry the cross with him. Discerning a vocation, as well as living it, is no easy thing, but this did not stop Matthew, and many millions after him, from standing up from our lives and entering into that mysterious relationship with God which is true freedom, true love.

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