The Church is Love: More on the Legacy of Fr. Matthew Baker

Fr. Matthew teaching at Hellenic College
Fr. Matthew teaching at Hellenic College

It’s been astounding over the past few days to watch the fundraising campaign for Fr. Matthew Baker’s widow Presbytera Katherine and their six children raise so much in such a short time. (And if you are able to give, please do. That may look like a lot, but the Bakers will be dealing with a loss of income that will affect them for many years. What’s been raised so far is really only a beginning.) I’ve never seen anything like it—more than a half million raised in just four days for a family in need, given by thousands of donors.

Aside from this being a testament to what is possible when people feel a connection and have a genuine sense of the story behind a need, this experience has underlined for me one of the things that Fr. Matthew always witnessed to: the Church is love.

This might seem an obvious thing to say, but the sad reality is that life in church is often very much not about love for many people. There were times during our seminary years together when it was very difficult to sense love from the people who were supposed to be tending to us during our formative years in training for the priesthood. Indeed, sometimes what we experienced went beyond mere indifference to outright betrayal. (I won’t go into details, and those involved are no longer there, anyway.)

And parish life is often not about love, either. There are too many Orthodox parishes where the face of a stranger is the face of an invader, where everyone is a threat and not an opportunity.

Fr. Matthew often would tell me as he pursued his studies that a lot of his experience in the academy was not about love. No one expects the academy to be the Church, of course, but generosity and charity of spirit are part of what makes the actual pursuit of knowledge possible. Reason and learning without love are just cold calculation and prevent growth.

Yet somehow in the midst of all that was antithetical to love, Fr. Matthew was able to love. And now we have seen a powerful demonstration of love for him and for his wife and children.

Love truly is what holds the Church together, because it is the love of God Who sent His Son to become one of us, to die for us and to raise us with Him which is what constitutes the Church. God Himself is love—Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a communion of eternal love. This is the Gospel, that God so loved the world.

One of the gifts that Fr. Matthew gave was his ability to challenge other people to be more than they were, but not doing it in a threatening or critical way. I have been thinking these past few days especially of how he was able to pursue knowledge, marriage, fatherhood and priesthood all with a nearly inexhaustible self-giving. It took him a while to find a balance in all of these things, but he seemed to find it. And I have especially been thinking of how I can do all those things better myself. In most ways, I’m still not entirely sure.

This past week has seen me thinking a lot about the kind of person I am. I didn’t really expect that.

I was going through some of my old email archives of exchanges with Fr. Matthew and found some messages where he really was challenging me quite deeply and directly. He said that I should be charitable to someone who actually had a struggle similar to one of my own, someone whom I had been judging and and on whom I was laying unrealistic expectations. Instead of seeing this person’s weakness as a threat, I should see the weakness as something we had in common.

Perhaps that is part of his gift, that he was able to love others when he saw their weaknesses because he had come to know his own.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing so beautifully and honestly about your beloved friend father Matthew and the challenges you both faced. My heart breaks for his family, I have 6 children 5 boys and a girl like the Bakers and I know the challenges of raising a big family, I cannot even imagine having to do it without my husband. I pray that we, the body of Christ , steps up and demonstrates the love of the Savior and comes alongside Presvytera and her children so that she may never feel she has to do this alone. Aside from the fundraiser will there be something permanent set up to help them? Thank you again for your words of love and encouragement that I look forward to reading daily.

  2. Dear Father Andrew,

    I never met Father Matthew, and before his death, I did not know his name. But after reading your most recent posts about him, I am deeply moved by his untimely death. I know a blog could never do justice to the fullness of any person, let alone such a great person who is so beloved, but you have greatly honored this man with your words. May we carry on his legacy, shining the light and beauty and truth of God to our world in a powerful way.

    Memory eternal to Father Matthew!

  3. As I read more I am convinced even more that a great voice for love has been lost. Thank you for your reflections, Father. God bless to Fr. Matthew’s family and all those affected by this tragedy.

  4. Father Bless!!! Your posts over the last few days along with your links to Father Matthew’s work have truly helped me to experience joy in sorrow. Thank you.

    I was especially moved by the sermon you posted that Father Matthew gave on the Sunday of the Holy Cross. The words below seem so appropriate as you reflect in this post about their experiential reality in your ‘spiritual brotherhood’ with Father Matthew. Perhaps, part of his legacy is to ingrain these words more deeply into all our hearts:
    ______________________________
    This is a high calling, an arduous task. Yet I suggest we can make a start today by beginning, not with our strengths, but with our weaknesses. If we can look realistically at our own deep limitations – the ways which we so often fail in bearing our own crosses – then perhaps we can begin to approach others with that gentleness which – as one of the Desert Fathers said – comes of remembering that “each and every person we meet is engaged in a deep and bitter struggle.” Then we can begin to see the wounds which we have received in life for what they truly are: a way in which the Lord is preparing us to bring healing to others. We can begin to exercise the priestly virtue of compassion. As in the Holy Eucharist itself, our very brokenness can become the opening through which life may be shared with others. Then our crosses truly become the Holy Cross. By coming to terms with our own weakness, by showing gentleness towards the weaknesses of others, we can begin to make our whole life a sacrifice: a priestly offering to God, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest.

  5. Fr. Andrew,
    Thank you, brother, for sharing what you have so far about Fr. Matthew. Echoing what others have said, while I wasn’t blessed with the opportunity of knowing Fr. Matthew personally in this world (though it seems like our paths should have crossed) I have been deeply touched to get to know him, as it were, through your eyes and ears. In particular, that theme of spiritual brotherhood, as well as your description of Fr. Matthew as so self-giving in so many ways has provided me with inspiration, as well as somehow putting me, like you, in a very reflective state. While, like the rest of us he may have had his struggles in this world, I rejoice to know that there has been, and is, such a person. And even by such an indirect route, I feel as though I have discovered a brother I didn’t know I had, by whom I, too, am encouraged and strengthened. I am grateful for that.

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