Third Sunday in Ordinary Time “B” – Fr. Rick Sherman
January 24, 2021
Jon 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25:4-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
‘REPENT!’ is the resounding word in today’s readings. God is calling us to believe in the gospel and then to participate in the Kingdom of God that is upon us. Repentance expressed in the Greek term ‘metanoia’ means a profound conversion of heart. Not just the feelings, but the biblical heart. That “deep place of our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others… the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, the place of covenant.” (CCC 2563). When we experience this level of conversion and change, we are already participating in the Kingdom of God, although not completely, like we will in Heaven.
This happens individually, but since we are relational beings, conversion also happens at all levels of our lives: among friends and spouses, with families and church communities, neighborhoods, cities and even nations. In the first reading today from the prophet Jonah, we see the ‘great, enormously large city’ of Ninevah being called to conversion. Collectively, their behavior and the state of their hearts grew so sinful that God was ready to destroy them lest their evil spread to other areas.
The gospel gives us some other interesting insights about conversion or metanoia. Notice that when Jesus calls these fishermen to conversion and then to follow Him, He declares that they will now be ‘fishers of men.’ They will not be chemists, or cowboys, or gourmet chefs, but fishermen on a higher level. All their experience and natural gifts for fishing will now be used to catch souls. This requires them to leave the boats and nets from their old professions and to also make major adjustments to their relationships with friends and even family. Their whole world is changing. You might say their whole KINGDOM is changing.
As we see from reading the rest of the gospels, this process of conversion and metanoia is ongoing. Just when the apostles think they understand the ‘whole discipleship thing’ and who Jesus is, they are faced with new challenges and doubts and a deeper understanding of their mission. It’s often very scary.
We can expect the same with us in our own lives. God continues to call deeper gifts and strengths out of ourselves. Many of you have had to live and suffer through some great physical struggles, challenges of health of all kinds over the years. Just as many have had to accompany others in their physical and emotional struggles maybe not even realizing the conversion that was happening within you and those around you. But the change and the new life is apparent. Life is now more real, hopefully more beautiful, and meaningful after all the struggles. This process is also called Pascual Mystery. Sometimes the changes within us are rather obvious to our family and friends and sometimes it is more subtle.
I recently retired from active day-to-day ministry in 2019 and was afforded the opportunity to live a more solitary and contemplative life here in Kane County. I’m still a priest, still have the same name and even wear the same size clothing pretty much. I have the same Subaru but did get a new bicycle. I have visited with a number of folks from previous parishes since I have moved to Kanab and no one has suggested that I have changed dramatically, if at all. However, I can feel some subtle but real changes happening in my interior life and even some physical changes. But it is an ongoing process to be sure. For years I have only half-jokingly referred to myself as a hermit or monk trapped in a parish priest’s body. I always felt the draw to more and more time alone and in silence. Time to think and contemplate things as long and as deeply as I want. Now I have the opportunity but can also see the need for ongoing conversion and fidelity. All too often I fill the silence with more and more news and commentary, with web conferences and seminars. I can easily drift into a weekend of TV sports and the endless sports commentary. Even though I may squeeze in the various rituals of daily prayer, I often have not given myself the time and space that is needed to actually enter into the realm of something as lofty as God’s Kingdom. More and more I can feel the need to fast and abstain from the things and voices that interrupt the silence.
Since I was able to retire while I was still healthy and ambulatory and with a little pocket change, it’s easy to pretend I’m 35 again and can just drift around, do road trips, maybe even get into shape for some short backpacking trips. Perhaps take a few months and visit family scattered throughout the country. Hang out in trendy coffee shops, check out the best street tacos, maybe even browse around a museum or two…heaven forbid. My nephew in St. Louis has been known to scare up some pretty good seats at the Cardinals games.
But that is not the contemplative life. That is not really what God has called me to be at this important stage of my life and at this important time in American and world history. The world is not crying out for one more person to be drifting around the country and parks and drinking in the sweet life of leisure. I’ve already had a rather extended footloose and free phase of life when I actually was in my 20’s and 30’s. Our world is drastically in need of serious lives of focused prayer. Our world needs a new Kingdom. Our grandchildren need a new Kingdom where they can feel a little more footloose in their younger years… without being harnessed with debt and race problems and unbreathable air and a melting planet.
I’m quite sure that God is calling me out of my duplicitous life and my divided heart. The life of a contemplative, of a hermit or a monk is actually rather intense and even severe. It cannot be sloppy and without a definite focus and structure of days, weeks and months. I cannot just drift, as pleasant as that might be for a while. As we accept the extra years that good medication, technology, nutrition and good genes give us, we need to accept the responsibilities that come with being elders of the tribe. It’s probably time to repent, AGAIN, so we can help usher in the Kingdom of God.
What new life is God calling us to in 2021? What role do we play in calling our nation back to genuine conversion… in yet one more new Administration and one more new beginning?