3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; January 24, 2021
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Ps 25:4-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed. That was Jonah’s message. He didn’t want to preach it. He had tried to escape God by getting on a ship and going in the other direction, but God sent a storm upon the ship; the crew had to throw Jonah overboard; he was swallowed by a whale and after three days in the belly of the whale he was cast up again on land. At that point Jonah thought he had better do as God said.
Jonah did not want to preach the message of destruction and I don’t really like preaching about coming destruction either. My reasons, however, are a bit different from Jonah’s.
Jonah did not want to preach because he knew that the people of Nineveh would believe, repent, and that God would show them mercy and spare them from destruction. He would end up looking like a fool because Nineveh was not destroyed. Worse, he was an Israelite while Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, an enemy that threatened Israel with destruction. Jonah wanted Nineveh to be destroyed.
I don’t like preaching about coming destruction because people will think I am a nut case, will not listen, and will not repent.
Still, that matters little. What is important is that a preacher preach the word of God. The word of God tells us today: The time is running out … the world in its present form is passing away.
Now that is always the truth of this present life: individually we are all destined to die someday, a day that is nearer with every passing minute; collectively, the world as a whole is destined for the day of judgment, when Jesus returns in glory. The world in its present form will not go on forever and its end (or its transformation) comes about neither by some natural progression nor by human effort, but by divine intervention.
Jesus tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel, which means that we must reorient our whole way of thinking and acting so as to serve the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is what survives this passing world. Jesus says, heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mt 24:35) What survives this passing world is the life of grace, through which we share in God’s very own life and nature and truly become his children in Jesus Christ. In the world to come, grace passes into the vision of God’s face and is brought to completion by the resurrection of the body. That is the fulness of God’s kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will be all in all. (1 Cor 15:28)
This world is passing away, but there are times when its passing is easily hidden from our awareness and there are times when its passing is rudely thrust upon us, as it was thrust upon the Ninevites when Jonah declared to them: Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.
In such times we do well to pay special attention. God is trying to wake us from our sleep.
Symbolically, Nineveh stands for the world that fights against God; it stands for any particular kingdom or nation of this world (all of which are limited in duration); it stands especially for any kingdom or nation that turns against God.
Jonah’s message might apply to the whole world today. The whole world is in the grips of a crisis of such scope that it could well indicate that we have indeed entered ‘the end times’. To paraphrase one Archbishop: if this not the apocalypse, then it is a dress-rehearsal.
Jonah’s message might even more apply to the United States of America today. We can be sure that the wrath of God weighs heavily on this country.
The Bible and our Tradition speak about four sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: homicide, sodomy, oppression of the widow and orphan, and depriving the laborer of his due. (cf. Gen 4:10; Gen 18:20-21; Ex 22:21-23; Dt 24:14-15, CCC 1867) To this might be added the oppression of the people of God. (cf. Ex 3:7-10)
Now it is one thing when an individual, like Cain, is guilty of one of these sins, but it is another when a whole society, like Sodom, institutionalizes one of these sins. In the United States we seem to be in the latter category.
Abortion, the murder of an innocent baby in the womb of his mother, has been institutionalized as a constitutional right since January 22, 1973. Since then at least 60,000,000 babies have been legally murdered.
The US Supreme Court also institutionalized sodomy in the decision “Obergefell v. Hodges” given on June 26, 2015, which recognized a right to same-sex pseudo-marriage. We are well on our way beyond the institutionalization of mere sodomy; transgenderism is also being institutionalized.
Widows are oppressed by a culture that dishonors parents and then abandons them to death-trap nursing homes; we have a society that instead of protecting orphans, produces them, by a culture of divorce that deprives children of fathers; the laborer is deprived first of his work and then instead of receiving his due, he receives a hand-out from the ‘largesse’ of a government that produces nothing of worth, but devalues all honest work.
Further, anyone who professes and tries to live in accord with anything resembling a traditional form of Christianity is increasingly marginalized and excluded from society. We are now the haters, the insurrectionists, and the terrorists.
This has already been the case, but the new Administration is promising to double down on and advance the institutionalization of abortion and sodomy and the marginalization of faith. At the same time the new President presents a false veneer of Catholicism, blessed by some pathetic bishops.
What then must we do?
The American mentality wants a program of action that will correct the problems out there. The American mentality wants a program of political action, but the corruption is so deep it cannot be uprooted by political action; no politician or elected official is capable of ‘draining the swamp’. The American mentality calls to displays of protest but the path of protest on both left and right has proved powerless, except as a tool to be manipulated by the powerful for their own ends. The American mentality calls for establishing community-based, ‘grass-roots’ organizations to address particular problems (whether poverty, racism, domestic abuse, pornography, or for that matter abortion) by creative local action, changing the world one person at a time. Some of this is good, so far as it goes, but it never makes much of a dent in anything.
Jesus has a very different approach: repent and believe in the Gospel.
No program of action will do much good, especially in face of the depth of corruption and evil that has taken hold of our society, unless it is conceived, directed, and put into effect by people who have first of heard Jesus’ call to repentance, reoriented their lives upon the kingdom of God, and started to follow him on the path to holiness. Only saints can transform human society. The food of the saints is the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, first offered in sacrifice then given to us in Holy Communion.
In the past century all sorts of human solutions have been offered to the problems of the world, all to no avail. We have also been given a ‘peace plan from heaven’ but few have paid it any attention or taken it seriously. Nevertheless, she has warned us as Jonah warned the Ninivites: “They must stop offending our Lord any more, for he is already too much offended.” (October 13, 1917)
Our Lady of Fatima has given us four concrete paths of action, rooted in Jesus call to repent and to follow him on the path of holiness. (July 13, 1917)
1. Offer daily the sufferings that God permits in your life for the conversion of sinners – She said: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
2. Pray the Rosary every day – She said: “Pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary…because only she can help you.”
3. Consecrate yourself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – She said: “You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
4. Practice the First Saturdays Communion of Reparation – She said: “I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays…”
Yet even this peace plan will be worthless if we fail to repent, reorient our lives according the truth of the Gospel, and follow Jesus on the path of holiness, loving God above all things and striving to love our neighbor as ourselves. This not some abstract, distant humanity, that we must love. Rather we must start by fulfilling our duty to the man or woman God has set in our path, whether it be husband or wife, son or daughter, father or mother, friend or stranger, attractive or repulsive, saint or sinner. God wants to save them all, if they will, and bring them to heaven.
All this seems little and contemptible in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of God it is something great; his power works through our weakness.