Friday, January 20, 2012

Optional Memorials: Martyrs St. Fabian & St. Sebastian - Sunday 3B - Jesus, Jonah Say "Repent"

Today's two saints are optional memorials on the same day but they are treated separately--either a commemoration of one or of the other.  However, a number of icons depict them together because both may be venerated on January 20:


O God, glory of your Priests, grant, we pray, that, helped by the intercession of your Martyr Saint Fabian, we may make progress by communion in the faith and by worthy service. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude, so that, taught by the glorious example of your Martyr Saint Sebastian, we may learn to obey you rather than men. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year "B") - January 22, 2012

[Jonah 3.1-5, 10 [Psalm 25]; 1 Corinthians 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20]

In Second Kings 14:25, mention is made of an eighth-century servant of God called Jonah, son of Amittai.  He was from Gath-hepher, a village of Zebulun in Galilee located not far from Jesus' hometown of Nazareth.  In the time of Jeroboam II (785-745 B.C.), this Jonah prophesied Israel's expansion.

Jonah son of Amittai is mentioned in the Book of Jonah (1.1), though the work's connection with the historical prophet may be tenuous at best.  Still, the message of the “minor prophet” Jonah is remarkable for its teaching about the prophet's role and purpose in communicating God's summons to repentance.

When called by God to preach conversion to Nineveh, a people whose brutal actions had become a byword in Israel, Jonah fled, taking a ship bound for Tarshish.  However, God caused a storm to strike the ship.  Subsequently, the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, whereupon a great fish swallowed him.  After Jonah's prayer, God delivered him by causing the “whale” to vomit him onto dry land.

Then God reiterated the command that Jonah preach repentance to Nineveh--with spectacular results!  “The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.”

What is striking is that the language of conversion gets applied to God: “God changed his mind about the calamity he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it”.

The parabolic book of Jonah closes with God inviting the prophet himself to have a change of heart.  For as soon as Nineveh repented, Jonah went into a deep funk.  He had known that God—being compassionate and merciful—would forgive Nineveh, if it repented.  And Jonah would have none of this (4.1-5).

God reproached Jonah for feeling sorry for a bush that gave him shade but was eaten by a worm (4.6-10), while being indifferent to God's concern for the 120,000 residents of Nineveh and their animals.  We leave Jonah struggling with a call to have a change of heart issued by the God who is concerned that none of His creation should perish (4.11).

Jesus contrasted the outcome of Jonah's preaching (conversion by the Ninevites) with the unwillingness of His contemporaries to heed His call to conversion (cf. Luke 11.32; Matthew 12.41).

Mark describes Jesus' preaching as issuing God's demand to the Galileans of His time to change their hearts because, through His preaching, God's Kingdom had arrived in their midst (“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News”).

Mark follows Jesus' call to conversion with peremptory commands to four individuals—Simon [Peter] and Andrew, James and John—to leave their occupation (fishing) and family (Zebedee) in order to fish with Jesus for people to inhabit God's Kingdom.

Jesus' invitation that his disciples have a change of outlook touches them negatively and positively.  Negatively, discipleship meant for them leaving their way of life and former ties.  Positively, it meant following Jesus.  Henceforth, they will not only accompany Jesus, but he will let them share his ministry and eventually continue it.

As the gospel proceeds, we will see these and other disciples called to “be with Him and to be sent out to proclaim the message”, even having authority to cast out demons as Jesus did (3.14-15).  Jesus' disciples will be invited to an ongoing rethinking of their outlook on life—to conversion.

The assertion that the Kingdom has “come near: in the preaching of Jesus conceals a tension between the present but hidden fulfilment of God's Kingdom in the ministry of Jesus and the Kingdom's future completion in power, the focus of Jesus' teaching in parables.  In Jesus' ministry the Kingdom of God entered into history, even though its full appearance is yet to come.

Paul's writings emphasize this ongoing tension between the “already” and “not yet” dimensions of God's Kingdom.  He claims that “the appointed time has grown short” and “the present form of this world is passing away”.

For disciples in every age, therefore, living Christian life is paradoxical (“those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions”).  It requires an utterly new mind-set, conversion.

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