Fr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College, Vatican City
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
January 23, 2000
Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
God raises up prophets for every age. He raised up Jonah to convert Ninevah. He raised up St. Paul to bring the Corinthians and so many other communities to the fullness of truth. And he has raised up us for this age. Our message is the same as theirs, the same message we hear Jesus himself proclaiming in the Gospel: This is the time. The reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel! We are called to preach conversion from sin and conversion to God.
Like Jonah, we might be tempted to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, because the magnitude of the task in front of us and the anticipated hostility of the audience terrify us. But the Lord helped Jonah to die to himself forcing him to do a three-day retreat in the belly of a whale, and will likewise help us to die to ourselves if we allow him. We might be intimidated by our own sins, like St. Paul was at the beginning. After all, he used to kill Christians for a living. But the Lord cured his blindness through his conversion in the waters of baptism and sent him to proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation to other sinners. As surely as he called Peter, Andrew, James and John, God has called us sinners to continue his ministry, to continue their ministry of announcing to the whole world by our conversions and faith that the time is now to repent and to believe in the Gospel. He has called us, first, to convert and believe in the Good News, and then to go and proclaim, like Jonah, like Paul, like the first Apostles this same message. And he called us to do it now. “I tell you, brothers,” St. Paul urges us, “the time is short.” The time is indeed short.
Over the past few months, we have reflected on the great need for authentic preaching, for homilists who proclaim the Gospel in season and out of season, who preach what they really believe, who preach what their listeners really need to hear, who put what they preach into practice. We also discussed what things in our own lives and backgrounds still keep us from carrying out this mission, and this seminar has made us aware of other things, perhaps, that we haven’t discussed here, that hold us back. The message from the readings this week is that now is the time for putting the resolutions we’ve made in this seminar into action, so that we may become authentic preachers of the Gospel, in and out of the pulpit.
Why did Jesus call Peter, Andrew, James and John, later Matthew and Paul? Not because they were the smartest, most talented, most holy, most courageous men he could find. Rather he called them because they were capable of leaving everything behind and following him. Today’s Gospel says they “immediately” abandoned their nets and became his followers. They were not ones to put their hands to the plow and look back. They were not ones to wait until they could bury their father, or to say farewell to those at home. They were the ones who realized, no matter how many times they might fall afterward, that they were now in the time of fulfillment. That the reign of God was at hand. And that Jesus was worth everything they were leaving behind and much, much more. They left everything immediately to follow him.
Here in seminary, no matter if we’re priests, deacons, or seminarians awaiting ordination, we live constantly in the future. We await ordination, we await first assignments, we await the completion of exams and degree programs. The temptation is ever present to procrastinate in our discipleship, to say to ourselves — as I’ve said hundreds of times to myself — “when I get to the parish, then I will do” those things that right now I know I should be doing at this moment and not putting off. Rather than leaving everything immediately, right now, and following the Lord with all our minds, hearts, souls and strenght, we delay giving the Lord that 5-10 percent or more that Bishop Neinstadt described so well on Sunday.
As we wind up this seminar, God in his loving providence has given us in very simple terms the standard by which we can determine if we’re being authentic preachers. Authentic preachers are those who are constantly reforming their lives and begging God for the grace for increased faith in the Gospel. Authentic preachers are those who preach in their own lives that now is the time to put resolutions into action and who don’t duck difficult subjects in the own lives or in those God has entrusted to them for other “venues” or for “better occasions.” Authentic preachers live now in the kingdom of God and thereby proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. And the time for us to reform from whatever holds us back and to become these authentic preachers is now. May God bring this good work urgently to completion.