As Catholics, we often have to remind ourselves that we are not to conform our selves to the culture around us, but to be counter cultural. We need to challenge the culture with the truths of the gospel message. Let’s take a closer look at the story of Jonah and his travels through Nineveh. God first spoke to Jonah to send him on the task of proclaiming His message and Jonah’s response was to head the other direction. He got on a ship bound for Tarshish. As the ship became engulfed in a storm the others on the onboard realized that Jonah was the cause of their distress. It was not long before Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale. After his three days, we was spit out onto dry land and the Lord called him again to get his butt to Nineveh to call them to repentance. Jonah came to realize that God was serious when He said He wanted repentance preached. The people of Nineveh realized the error of their ways and publicly did acts of penance.
How does this apply to each of us? I think we can all see ways in our lives that we have been like the Ninevites, and also like Jonah. Let’s start with the Ninevites. We need to look at each of these questions as it applies to our individual lives and to our society. Are we truly living our lives in a moral way as presented by God through the Church? Are we open to life, or do we use contraception in our marriages? Are our marriages sacramental? Are we in relationships that we treat like marriages, but which are not truly marriages? This ranges from living like a husband and wife, even when not married, to promoting same sex marriages. With the anniversary of the Roe vs Wade decision coming this week, we need to ask do we promote a respect for all innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death? Fundamentally, this is innocent human life. After we have developed that respect for innocent human life in our lives and our society, we can carry it to the next level which would include respect for the not so innocent life which would include the issues of capital punishment and, as necessary, just war theory. Sodomy, adultery, fornication, murder, sacrilege, where do these sins have a hold on us and our society? The message of Jonah to the Ninevites to repent is a message we need to hear today. The big question we have to answer is, “how will we respond?” Will we like the Ninevites put on sackcloth and ashes? Will we realize our sin and turn our lives back to God?
Ok, enough about being like the Ninevites, how are we like Jonah? There are some who would argue that Jonah was afraid to go visit because they were a cruel people. They argue he was afraid of losing his life in the process of challenging them to repent. Others argue that he did not want to go to Nineveh because he wanted them to die. He did not want them to experience God’s mercy. He knew they would hear the message he was sent to proclaim and that they would change their lives. Why do we not want to call others to repentance? Are we afraid that they’ll react in a harmful way towards us? Do we not love them enough to want them to change? Let’s throw another possible answer into the mix. Perhaps we are afraid to call others to repentance because we realize that we have yet to repent of our sinful ways. I’m going to let those thoughts resonant for a few moments while I take a look at some current affairs.
What is in the news? First, in case you have not heard, it was announced Friday morning that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that all new and renewed insurance plans will be required to cover contraception. As Grace-Marie Turner writes at National Review Online’s The Corner blog:
The Obamacare regulation gives faith-based institutions, like Catholic universities and hospitals, the choice of violating the fundamental tenets of their faith by covering the federally mandated coverage in their employee health plans, or of dropping health insurance for their employees — in which case they would be fined for violating the employer mandate.
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, had this to say in a press release.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said.
How has this come to happen? Perhaps we’ve been like Jonah when sent to the Ninevites. We’ve found excuses not to stand up for our faith. Perhaps in part because of our own inclination to sinful activity. Perhaps because we’ve not really studied the issues and realize the greater ramifications that a ruling such as this has on our ability to practice our faith as it is taught. Many of the contraceptives they expect to cover cause abortions as a last means of preventing a birth. :(
That being said, the other big news issue from a Catholic perspective is the anniversary of Roe vs Wade. Monday will be the 39th March for Life in Washington, DC. Among the activities taking place is a youth rally that was held last night and the Mass for Life celebrated at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception tonight. When we look back at Jonah, those marching for life are in many ways like Jonah walking the streets of Nineveh. They are a challenge, not just to the government, but to our society to look at ourselves and the destruction our sin is causing in our nation. They are making the call to repent.
Let us listen one more time to the words of Paul from our second reading today:
I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
The world is passing away and the Kingdom of God will be what remains. In the Gospel we heard:
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
We are all called to repent. We must not give up hope in the fact that God can take us from where we are today to do great things with us. As we heard in the last part of today’s gospel, Jesus called fishermen to be the beginnings of his Church. In the Gospel of Luke we hear:
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Yet, Peter did follow Christ and was made the head of his Church.
Our own need for repentance should not stop us from answering the call that is before each of us. We are called to be a part of the Church that Christ established. We are called to take the truth of the gospel as handed down through the Church to the ends of the world. This starts, right here and right now.
The news stories of this weekend are only a beginning point for our call to be Jonah’s in the world, calling the Nineveh that we live in to repent. Do not run of to Tarshish to avoid the task. Step forward with courage and conviction. If, at the moment your life resembles that of the Ninevites more that of Jonah, follow their example of doing penance and repenting of your sins and perhaps, making today’s psalm your prayer:
R. (4a) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.