St. Matthew the Apostle (Feast Day - September 21)
St. Matthew is called by two evangelists Levi, and by St. Mark "the son of Alpheus"; it is probable that Levi was his original name and that he took, or was given, that of Matthew ("the gift of Yahweh") when he became a follower of our Lord. But Alpheus his father was not he of the same name who was father of St. James the Less. He seems to have been a Galilean by birth, and was by profession a publican, or gatherer of taxes for the Romans, a profession which was infamous to the Jews, especially those of the Pharisees' party; they were in general so grasping and extortionate that they were no more popular among the Gentiles. The Jews abhorred them to the extent of refusing to marry into a family which had a publican among its members, banished them from communion in religious worship, and shunned them in all affairs of civil society and commerce. But it is certain that St. Matthew was a Jew, as well as a publican.
The story of Matthew's call is told in his own gospel. Jesus had just confounded some of the Scribes by curing a man who was sick with the palsy, and passing on saw the despised publican in his custom-house. "And He saith to him, 'Follow me.' And he arose up and followed him." Matthew left all his interests and relations to become our Lord's disciple and to embrace a spiritual commerce. We cannot suppose that he was before wholly unacquainted with our Savior's person or doctrine, especially as his office was at Capharnum, where Christ had resided for some time and had preached and wrought many miracles, by which no doubt Matthew was in some measure prepared to receive the impression which the call made upon him. St. Jerome says that a certain shiningness and air of majesty which appeared in the countenance of our divine Redeemer pierced his soul and strongly attracted him. But the great cause of his conversion was, as St. Bede remarks, that "He who called him outwardly by His word at the same time moved him inwardly by the invisible instinct of His grace."
The calling of St. Matthew happened in the second year of the public ministry of Christ, who adopted him into that holy family of the apostles, the spiritual leaders of His Church. It may be noted that whereas the other evangelists in describing the apostles by pairs rank Matthew before St. Thomas, he places that apostle before himself and in this list adds to his own name the epithet of "the publican." He followed our Lord throughout His earthly life, and wrote his gospel or short history of our blessed Redeemer, doubtless at the entreaty of the Jewish converts, in the Aramaic language which they spoke. We are not told that Christ gave any charge about committing to writing His history or doctrine, but it was nevertheless by special inspiration of the Holy Ghost that his work was undertaken by each of the four evangelists, and the gospels are the most excellent part of the sacred writings. For in them Christ teaches us, not by His prophets but by His own mouth, the great lessons of faith and of eternal life; and in the history of His life the perfect pattern of holiness is set before our eyes for us to strive after.
It is said that St. Matthew, after having made a harvest of souls in Judea, went to preach Christ to the nations of the East, but of this nothing is known for certain. He is venerated by the Church as a martyr, though the time, place and circumstances of his death are unknown. The fathers find a figure of the four evangelists in the four animals mentioned by Ezekiel and in the Apocalypse of St. John. The eagle is generally said to represent St. John himself, who in the first lines of his gospel soars up to the contemplation of the eternal generation of the Word. The ox agrees to St. Luke, who begins his gospel with the mention of the sacrificing priesthood. Some made the lion the symbol of St. Matthew, who explains the royal dignity of Christ; but St. Jerome and St. Augustine gave it to St. Mark, and the man to St. Matthew, who begins his gospel with Christ's human genealogy.
Taken from Butler's Lives of the Saints, 1981