“Oh, are you from Wales? Do you know a fella named Jonah? He used to live in whales for a while.” ~ Groucho Marx
Although largely known for his 72 hour residency inside the belly of a whale, particularly by those of a more secular bent who’d rather argue the plausibility of such a happening as opposed to reflecting on its stirring symbolism, today’s 1st Reading (Jonah 3:1-10) centers on a different event in the life of this prodigious Old Testament figure.
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” This was the succinct and dire message that God told Jonah to bring to the Ninevites. And a very interesting thing happened just one day into Jonah’s voyage into a city so vast that it would take him the same three days, yes the same amount of time he spent trapped in the whale’s belly, to complete his journey and accomplish his task: The Ninevites swiftly heeded the warning and begun to fast while donning sackcloth and sitting in ashes. The animals too partook of this fast as did the king.
Yes, you read that right.
The king laid aside his robe, immediately covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. For a modern-day equivalent scenario, picture President Joe Biden, a man who purports to be Catholic despite supporting partial-birth abortion and other assorted horrors, forsaking Planned Parenthood and their millions in donations that in turn line his campaign coffers, flatly and abruptly rejecting the pro-choice platform to instead become pro-life. He then proceeds to put on sackcloth while sitting in a heap of ashes in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while publicly begging forgiveness for his 40+ years as an abortion advocate. Would Vegas even set odds or take action on such an enormous long shot proposition?
The denizens of Nineveh did not look to rationalize or justify their sins. They did not blame others for their transgressions nor, to their credit, did they doubt God’s mercy. They had the wisdom and the boldness to ask for this mercy and the resolve to do the right thing, which was precisely what they did. They repented. “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way”, today’s Passage concludes, “he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.”
On his daily morning radio program Christ is the Answer, Father John Riccardo summed up God’s unending desire to forgive his beloved children this morning by evoking the image of Jesus on the cross, when in the waning moments of his life, He prays to His Father on their behalf with these words:
“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
As Father John pointed out, “Not only does Jesus forgive us... He makes excuses for us.” In her now-famous diary Divine Mercy In My Soul, Sister Faustina wrote tirelessly about the mercy of God’s Son Jesus, sent to this Earth to bestow this ocean of mercy ~ as she was fond of calling it ~ upon all those who sought to be transformed by it. She wrote about the urgency with which we all should seek out this mercy, sentiments echoed by Saint Paul in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, one of the Ash Wednesday Readings chosen to kick off the Lenten Season, as it always is.. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2). For like everything of an Earthly nature, the time of mercy is fleeting. It will not last forever. Truly itcannot last forever; after all, God’s glorious Heavenly Kingdom awaits. This time of mercy, which we find ourselves living in right now, will one day give way to the day of judgement. Now is a very acceptable time to be awash in this mercy. Now is the day of salvation.
Jonah’s story has always made for a great Lenten reflection. It always will. Hence why these readings are proclaimed every year during the early stages of the Lenten Season. We must all seek repentance regardless of where we are in our faith journey. Moral relativism and this absurd notion that “I’m OK, you’re OK” has been tremendously detrimental to our society. The fact is, none of us are OK. We’re all sick, granted to varying degrees, but no one is impervious to the sickness of sin. But we shouldn’t be alarmed or even discouraged by that. The Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners, not the Museum for Saints that so many mistakenly believe it is.
“There is something greater than Jonah here,” proclaims Jesus in the waning words of today’s perfectly paired Gospel (Luke 11:29-32). He says this after bemoaning the wickedness of the evil generation that was in his midst, those who sought the sugar rush of “signs and wonders” as opposed to undergoing the arduous task and humble task of repentance and transformation. Jesus is of course the something greaterthat he Himself foreshadows, the living sign who was raised from the belly of the earth after three days and three nights.
“A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn” proclaims Psalm 51, a Psalm that, to me, is more synonymous with the Lenten Season than any of the other 149 https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Psalm-51-and-the-Radical-Need-For-Salvation. I’d like to leave you with a few carefully selected excerpts taken from amongst its 19 verses, excerpts that might be useful to reflect upon during this season of Lent, a season of which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said “Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life.”
Psalm 51 (1) ~ Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51 (10) ~ Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me
Psalm 51 (12) ~ Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”