Few memories are as clear as this one. I stood in the stacks in my college library; my eyes scanned the metal shelves in row on row; and I thought, “I will never be able to read all of these books.” In a sickening flash, I knew my life had limits. The door to Christ had opened another crack.
This memory was brought back to me this morning after—yikes!—40 years when I listened to the Gospel about Matthew the tax collector and especially to our pastor’s homily that followed. Father effectively repeated what a revered mentor had once said to me in a non-Christian context: Every time we are saying yes to one thing, we are saying no to something else, to many other things, in fact.
The homily began in an amusing way, with a child who wants to do everything—to be a Marine, an astronaut, and a garbage collector. Father didn’t say, but I thought, Yes, and some of us also want to read every book in the world and be able to say we have done so, and some of us want to possess every woman and eat everything in the candy store window, as well. Even today, in my mad, over-scheduled “adult” life, I want to “get so many things done” today—and tomorrow too, even before I’m done with today. In many ways, at many times, I am still a kid in front of a candy store, oblivious to my limits and the choices they demand of me.
Father noted that before his encounter with Christ, Matthew had said yes to being a tax collector, which in the Roman colony of Palestine meant saying no to the good opinion of his Jewish fellows and neighbors. Then the Apostle-to-be said yes again, to Christ, and everything changed.
This is the difference between one yes and another: Saying yes to finishing a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer today will mean saying no to exercise, to laundry, to preparing my taxes, to watching the Red Sox’ spring training broadcast. Except for sacrificing the Red Sox, that sounds pretty good. Saying yes to Christ means saying no to none of these things, but only to the frenzied ego-driven panic in which I often live my life, choosing, choosing, choosing . . . nothing whatsoever, as it turns out, at least nothing I can take with me.
As Catholics, we make much of “Mary’s yes,” but sometimes that seems beyond me. In many ways, I feel more kinship with Matthew.