OT III [B] Jon 3:1-5, 10; I Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1: 14-20
One of the many amazing things about Christianity is where it starts. There are many religions in the world, and most of them express mankind's search for God. But Christianity is all about God's search for mankind: it starts with God, not with us. That's what happens in today's First Reading, for example.
The people of Nineveh, a metropolis in the ancient Middle East, are living sinful lives: lives full of pleasures and noise, and maybe even full of popularity and great achievements, but empty of meaning and lasting happiness. That’s what always happens when people rebel against God’s plans and the moral law that he built into human nature. And God's heart is moved with pity for those sinful people.
So he sends a prophet, Jonah, to wake them up, to put them back on the path of God's plan for human happiness - the only plan that will truly work. Through Jonah, God went in search of the Ninevites, because he cared so deeply about their happiness. And the same thing happens in today's Gospel passage.
In this passage, St. Mark shows Jesus doing what he came to earth to do: calling people into a personal relationship with God. That’s really the core of what Christianity is all about.
Notice how he calls his first Apostles by name - Peter, Andrew, James, John... He had met all these men before, as we read in John's Gospel, but now he calls them to follow him more closely. He calls them, because he wants to give them more meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, happiness. He wants to bring them into his Kingdom. No matter to what life, work or ministry God calls us, He first calls us to conversion, to reform, to repentance -- to continually becoming new people.
Real repentance means that a man has come, not only to be sorry for the consequences of his sin, but to hate sin itself. We often think of repentance as feeling guilty, but it is really a change of mind or direction -- seeing things from a different perspective. Once we begin to see things rightly, it might follow that we will feel bad about having seen them wrongly for so long. But repentance starts with the new vision rather than the guilt feelings. By true repentance we are giving up control of our lives and throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God. We are inviting God to do what we can't do ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us. This means that repentance must be the ongoing life of the people in the Kingdom.
Sometimes God calls us to make big changes in our lives, as he did with his first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is what happened not too long ago to a man named Marcus Grodi [GROW-die]. He started out his professional life as an engineer. He was a strong Christian, but not a Catholic, and he soon decided to go into the ministry - to become a Presbyterian minister. For years he served various churches, but he kept running into a problem.
Whenever there were different opinions about how to interpret a particular passage of the Bible, or about how to arrange the worship service, or about what stand to take on a particular moral issue, he found that he and his other minister friends would often disagree. Then each one of them would teach his congregation their personal opinion, as if it were the Gospel truth.
For Marcus, that was a strange situation - it seemed as if he was supposed to constantly reinvent the Christian faith instead of actually passing it on. In fact, the different protestant Churches have no single catechism, and no single authority, like we have in the papacy, to preserve the original teachings of Christ and apply them accurately to the changing challenges of history.
Eventually, the anxiety of not knowing whether he was really teaching Christian doctrine forced him to change careers. So he began to pursue a doctorate degree in biology, with an eye towards working in the field of pro-life bio-ethics. This required a long daily commute, which gave him a lot of time to reflect and to pray. Gently, and sometimes surprisingly, God's Providence guided him step by step along a path on which his questions about the Christian faith were finally answered.
God continued calling him, and eventually he not only entered the Catholic Church, but also started a national ministry to help other non-Catholic pastors and ministers who find themselves facing the same difficulty he faced. It’s called The Coming Home Network.
He now has one of EWTN's most popular televisions shows, The Journey Home, and he has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of searching souls to find and follow God's call in their lives. God really is still calling; he has something to say to each one of us, every single day.
The mission of preaching, teaching and healing which Jesus began in Galilee is now the responsibility of the Church. Our own unique vocation and our relationship with the risen Lord are the same as that of the universal Church. Be we religious, priests, married or single people, we are all called, and in this call we become what God wants us to be. The call, of course, begins with our Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. It is strengthened throughout the years with the Eucharist and Reconciliation, healed and consoled by Anointing and made manifest in Matrimony, or Holy Orders. God is relentless in calling us back to Himself, even when we stray away from Him.
Let us be shining lights in the world as Christ was and make a personal effort to bring others to the truth and the light, so that they may rejoice with us in the mystical Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God.