Repent and be Faithful
Wednesday March 3, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Jonah 3:1-10) Gospel (St. Luke 11:29-32)
In the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Jonah, we hear about something that was truly extraordinary. That is, the prophet began going through the city of Nineveh – which was a pagan city (it would be in modern-day Iraq) and these were people who were not part of the people of God, living in a horribly sinful way – and as the prophet began walking through the town announcing that forty days more and Nineveh would be destroyed, the people believed him. They called a fast, put on sackcloth, and they called out to God. Imagine if somebody started going through our city and announcing, “Forty days more and the Twin Cities are going to be destroyed!” People would probably kill that person, or at least they would put him into a locked ward someplace, because they would automatically assume, “This person is insane.” Secondly, if they decided that were not the case, they would at least say, “This person is going to make the rest of us insane; therefore, we need to get rid of him.” How many people in this city do you think would actually repent and get their life turned around if a prophet started going through the city telling us that it was going to be destroyed? We realize then what an extraordinary thing it was.
But the fact of the matter is that Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, but we have something greater than Jonah. Jonah was the prophet of the Lord; we have the Lord Himself, and so each of us is called to repent. It is quite clear, at least as things are, that neither city nor state nor country have any intention of turning around. They have heard the Gospel; they have rejected it. But, on an individual level, we still have the opportunity to do so. And we are called to the same kind of repentance, to be able to turn from our evil ways and to live according to the way of Christ.
There are people in our society who would be just like the people in the time of Christ, and they are looking for signs. The signs are abundant and yet they are going to ignore them because it does not matter to this generation what God does because they have decided that God does not exist or that He is, at least, not an important part of our lives. Therefore, it does not matter what He does because we are going to ignore it. We will find some scientific reason to explain why this might be able to happen – even though it does not make sense – then we can all just simply shrug it off and say, “Good enough. The scientists can explain it; we don’t need to believe.” That is exactly what we do. We leave it alone and we walk away. And even when something does happen that is pretty evident that no one could say that this was not God, it lasts about a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks at the most, and then it is just back to life as usual because it is now ancient history in this computer age where everything is immediate. So we pay no attention. We want to live our secular lives paying little or no attention to God.
The Lord, in our day, I think, is giving us ample warning. We know not the time or the hour, but we can say that it is not too terribly far away. Each one of us is called to repentance. The difficulty is that if we just look back even ten years ago, first of all, how many people were trying at that time to be faithful to the Lord because they had thought the same thing: the time is short. So they turned their life around, thinking that they would save themselves. It was not because they wanted to serve the Lord; it was because they were afraid for their own self. And when things did not happen in the timeframe they expected, they fell away. If we look at our own selves, we might say, “Ten years ago, maybe I wasn’t on the right track, and God in His mercy has gotten me turned around.” But now we need simply to be faithful to God regardless of anything else. It does not matter what the timing is because God wants us to be faithful. Whether something were to happen this afternoon, or whether something were to happen twenty years from now, it does not matter. God wants each of us simply to be faithful, to turn around, to repent, and to stop living in an evil way. That is what He expects of each of us. And not just because we want to save our own hind, but because we recognize that He is God and the call that each one of us has is to know, to love, and to serve Him. That is the reason. It is about God; it is not just about us. But since we live in a self-centered society, all that we think about is the self. And if all we think about is the self, we are going to ignore God no matter how obvious He makes Himself. So that is the point we need to be careful of.
We have a greater than Jonah with us. We have a greater than Solomon with us. How much does it matter to us? That is the question we have to ask. And when we recognize Who He is, then we need to repent and we need to live according to His Will so that we will be able to be found worthy on the day of the Lord, that we will be found faithful – not for any selfish reason, but because He is God and because we love Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.