Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent
Order of Malta Evening of Recollection
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Mar. 4, 2020
You know, you really have to hand it to the King of Nineveh. The moment he heard Jonah’s call to repentance, he rose from his throne, clad himself in sackcloth and ashes, and called for a fast, a fast that was observed promptly by men, women, children, and beasts. We have to admit it, the King of Nineveh was pretty effective.
I’ve often wondered what would happen if Jonah visited Baltimore and called upon the powers that be at City Hall, demanding fasting and repentance. What would happen? First, the matter would be consigned to a specific department. Then it would be studied by a committee of the City Council. A resolution would be raised and debated. By the time the ACLU weighed in, Jonah would be in the belly of the whale three days!
Believe me when I say that I am not touting autocratic forms of governance! All I am saying is that the King of Nineveh must have been both wise and powerful: wise in that he understood the truth and importance of Jonah’s message; powerful in that everyone obeyed his command to engage in some form of penance.
What about Ourselves?
It is a popular pastime to ridicule government bureaucracy. But before we spend too much time imagining how inefficient a city-wide response to Jonah’s call to repentance would be, let us make haste to look first into our own hearts. There is plenty of bureaucracy in our own human hearts. If we are honest, there are many compartments, or, if you will, “departments”, which we often consult and engage when we try to wiggle out from under a clarion call to repentance, conversion, and a genuine change of life.
First, most of us run our own private public affairs department. Before we make any significant change in our lives, we wonder if anyone will notice and how it will be received. If I give up drinking or abstain from meat, if I spend more time at Our Daily Bread, if I give up some form of entertainment shared with friends – what will they think? Will they think of me as a religious fanatic or as person undergoing a mid-life crisis? What will my boss or my co-workers think if I appear to be too overtly religious?
After we clear the notion of repentance with our private public affairs department, next we’ll have to deal with our own private department of health & human services. We’ll examine the proposition to deprive ourselves of food or other creature comforts from the point of view of our health and well-being. Won’t fasting be bad for our health? (Most of us know the opposite is true). And isn’t it the case that I work hard each day, that I’m under a lot of pressure, so these few comforts are really necessary for my psychological well-being, or so we tell ourselves (myself very much included).
Inevitably the proposition will have to go to the finance department, especially that part of the proposition which calls not only for prayer and fasting but indeed for almsgiving, for increased charity to the poor and needy. Can I afford to do this, we ask ourselves, what with the downturn in the market and all the other expenses I am shouldering for my children and grandchildren? As in most organizations, getting something past finance is often the hardest part.
And finally, the proposition goes through the various compartments in our soul, the proposition to engage in repentance will grow weaker and weaker until it emerges as a compromise which, at the end of the day, pleases no one.
One Greater Than Jonah
It is not Jonah who calls us to repentance but Jesus, the Word made flesh. And he calls us not from some distant planet but rather here and now, in the Word just proclaimed and in the Eucharistic Sacrifice about to be effected. Left to our own devices, we may not be as effective as the King of Nineveh but under the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and must break down all forms of bureaucracy that we have erected in our souls, all the ways we have compartmentalized our lives. “A humble, broken heart, O God, you will not spurn!”
Hearing the Lord’s clarion call to repent and believe, we will use these forty days undoing those compartments so that with purity of heart and unalloyed joy we might celebrate and share in the Lord’s victory over sin and death at Easter. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!