Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Optional Memorial for Saint John of God, Religious)

“Jonah Preaches to Nineveh” by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1639-1721
Reading I: Jonah 3:1-10
Commentary on Jon 3:1-10
Jonah had tried to run from God after the first time the word of God came to him. He was swallowed by a giant fish and spewed out on dry land. Following his miraculous rescue from the belly of the great fish, the Prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh, a traditional enemy of the Jews.  He is sent to spread the news that, unless they repented their ways, the city would be destroyed. It is not explicit in this reading, but Jonah was sure he would fail and the city would be destroyed. This selection, then, describes his unexpected success and God’s subsequent redemption.
Placed in context of the season of Lent, the reading reminds us of the need for repentance and the promise of God’s mercy.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Psalm 51 is the most famous of the seven penitential psalms. These strophes are consistent with the theme from Jonah 3:1-10 pleading for the remission of sins. This selection from the great penitential psalm is a lament. It expresses sorrow for sin and an understanding of the need to reform the heart.
CCC: Ps 51:12 298, 431; Ps 51:19 1428, 2100
Gospel: Luke 11:29-32
Commentary on Lk 11:29-32
Jesus is asked again for a sign that would prove to his audience that he is what he claims to be. His response is vehement: the only sign that will be given to them will be the sign of Jonah, the message that they are under a condemnation from God unless they repent and return to faithfulness. This is followed by another reference to the Old Testament “the queen of the south,” a reference to the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10: 1ff),  who came seeking the wisdom of Solomon. Using this imagery, the Lord refers to himself as God’s Wisdom incarnate.
The final verse of this passage summarizes the message. Christ’s call to repentance carries more weight than Jonah’s call did for the Ninevites (Jonah 3:1-10) and his wisdom is greater than that of Solomon.
We continue our inward search to become more effective disciples of Jesus. One critical element of that search is to look at our character through the lens of the perfect example, the Lord himself, and see what needs to be changed. Frequently, the changes we discover require repentance.
When all is said and done, repentance has two components. First there is recognition that the behavior that requires forgiveness is something for which we are sorry. There cannot be repentance without that sense of sorrow or contrition. If we commit a sinful act and feel no remorse or sorrow, then we do not recant that action. It would be like going to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and at the end of our act of contrition feeling that there is really nothing to be contrite about.
The second element of repentance is our reaction to that sense of contrition, sorrow, or remorse. We must change our behavior in such a way that our previous actions, which have offended God, do not have an avenue to return. We must be mindful that the evil one is constantly looking for ways to turn good intentions into evil outcomes.
In order for us to truly change ourselves, to repent and move toward God, we must look carefully at what we do and how we act. We must see there the fundamental weakness and use God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to bolster that area of our character. This has been a very “theoretical” kind of examination of the repentance theme; we must make it very personal for it to be effective in our lives.
So let’s sum up repentance in one short, very personal, statement: Repentance is our recognition that we have pierced God with our failure to love God, ourselves, others and even his creation.  Once we have recognized our failures, we express true contrition for them, followed by a pledge and action to prevent its reoccurrence, or in the words that accompanied our ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

[1] The picture is “Jonah Preaches to Nineveh” by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1639-1721
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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