You have before you life and death. Choose life!

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3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Jan. 22, 2012
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The Lord spoke to Jonah, and told him to go to preach a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. And Jonah went.

But that’s chapter 3! If you remember back to chapter 1, the Lord gives Jonah the same message; and Jonah said, “Nothing doing,” and went in the opposite direction. Instead of going northeast over land to Nineveh, he went west to the sea coast and boarded a ship going as far west as he had ever heard of. Why? Because Nineveh was the capital of an empire that regularly committed terrible atrocities. Jonah was afraid of them, with good reason, and wanted them destroyed. And he tells the Lord: “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish.” (Jonah 4:2)

But once Jonah got there, and preached for just one day, the entire city responded, changing their ways and showing their sorrow for their sins. Why did they respond so quickly? We don’t know. But somehow they came to grasp something that Moses had said centuries earlier: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life…” (Deut 30:19) That day, the people of Nineveh chose life.

For we need to understand that the Lord’s moral directives to us are not random or arbitrary. He isn’t trying to keep us from having fun. And they aren’t even like traffic laws and traffic signals, which are good but could be different. No, the moral laws given by God, which the Church faithfully teaches, are written into our being. They correspond to our nature, to the nature of the universe, to the nature of God, our Creator. When we break a commandment and choose contrary to what is good, we hurt others and we hurt ourselves.

And so it is no surprise that our Lord Jesus, beginning his public ministry in today’s Gospel reading, would proclaim a message of repentance: of turning away from death and choosing life. For he would later say: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Of course he would urge us to change our ways and choose life.

And so would his apostles, whom he called to become fishers of men. And so do we.

Don’t we? Hmm, maybe not! Maybe we’re reluctant to let others know that they need to repent—not because we hate them, like Jonah, but because we are afraid that they will react badly, to us and to Christ. And that’s a good concern. But we should remember that, as long as they continue doing what is morally wrong, they are doing real harm to themselves and to others. Our message of changing their ways and choosing life is a message of hope, which will bring them tremendous blessing when they are able to hear it. And they might be more ready, now, than we think.

Today, January 22, we mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States 39 years ago. Surely that’s a sensitive subject, likely to make people put up walls and push back in anger. But here too the Lord urges us in love to choose life: the child’s life; our own life; the life of those we know and love. For the costs of abortion have been staggering: 50 million children destroyed since 1973; and tens of millions of walking wounded. For some 40% of American women will have at least one abortion by the time they turn 45; and a similar number of men will be directly affected as well.

Surely this includes many people that you know; perhaps it even includes you. You might feel that you are the only one; but you’re not. You might feel that no one knows your secret pain; but the Lord knows, and so do many who care. They know that you may feel guilt and regret; sadness and hopelessness; like you can never be forgiven. But the Lord is gracious and merciful, rich in clemency. He longs to embrace you and give you healing.

Our Lord Jesus called fishermen to become fishers of men; he called those who were mending their nets to become menders of hearts. What mending, what healing, does he call us to give and to receive?

  • The love of a patient, compassionate friend, with a listening ear and a caring heart.
  • The mercy and forgiveness found in confession, the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • The trained support available through Project Rachel to heal those wounds.
  • And the tangible support available through the Gabriel Network so that no one needs to be pushed into an abortion through difficult circumstances.

Please see the bulletin and bulletin boards for more information on these, and to see how you can receive the healing that you need, or give the healing that others need.

You have before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life. Tomorrow will be the great annual March for Life, and all the events surrounding it. They will be beautiful and joyful events, full of life and hope. The Verizon Center and the DC Armory will be full of young people being urged to value the life of every human being, at all stages, including those who need extra support. They will be taught to love and give. What a culture is being formed! A culture of life.

Our Lord came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly. Choose life.

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