I like Jonah, the Old Testament prophet called reluctant by many commentators. God was nudging Jonah to be all that he was created to be, and Jonah did what I too often do, running as fast as he could in the other direction – even to escaping on a ship, then getting blamed by the other sailors for the storm which threatened to shipwreck them all.
Thinking that Jonah was the cause of the storm (for running away from God) the crew tossed him overboard at just the right moment to be swallowed by a whale who after three days threw him up on the shore. It’s a great story, a must for children – perhaps in 3-minute animated form at this link.
I like Jonah. I understand him. I get his reluctance. I feel his fear. I can even read his mind as he sensed God was asking him to do something that he didn’t want to do.
Jonah’s stinking-thinking mind might have gone into overdrive at that moment. If I do what I know God wants me to do, what will other’s think? I will probably lose, the future I have in mind for myself. I will have to give up on my own goals, and the negative list goes on and on imagining worst-case scenarios and the fear grows and deepens.
A powerful reflection on this will-I-won’t-I theme was given by Pope Benedict in his first homily as pope in April 2005. As a 78 year-old, after a long, full and active life, he was looking forward to retirement. Instead he finds himself elected pope and speaking to the world.
With complete confidence in Jesus Christ the new pope concludes his homily with these inspiring words.:
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.“
I love that quotation, and many times in recent years it has given me hope.
A few times in my own homilies in recent years I have asked the people to complete this sentence with the missing word: “One of the problems that I have as a priest, is that the expectations that people have of priests are far too +++++++ ? I usually have to clarify that I really do want them to call out the missing word and I then repeat the sentence, “… far too ++++++?”
People always think the missing word is “high.”
But they are wrong. Something greater is at stake.
One of my greatest challenges as a priest is that people expect too little of me. People’s expectations of priests are tragically low, expecting their priest to be nice, say yes to baptism and preference form requests quickly, give a short homily that includes a good joke and not upset anyone.
Healthy Christ-centred people will expect much more.
People are entitled to expect their priest to be a person of God, in relationship with Jesus Christ, a person of prayer who loves ministry is above all else a doctor of the soul. Not a social worker. Not a manager of a parish or a co-ordinator of ministries, but a doctor of the soul.
I have used the example of a priest, but this high-calling to something greater is the true calling for every baptised person. When we strive for this “something greater” we find true life with a depth of peace and joy that is beyond human achievement.
Too often we reduce our life of faith to religious practice. The term “practicing Christian” most commonly describes one who is at church on Sundays. Imagine if we shifted the definition and spoke only of those who seek to live in intimate and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ as practicing Christians.
I’m certainly not taking anything away from the centrality of Sunday worship. Those who are truly living in relationship with Jesus will know their need to regularly be with others who are also seeking and practicing this deeper divine relationship every moment of every day and night, not only for an hour once a week. Without the Eucharist we cannot live. (Ref. Martyrs of Abitinae)
Another of my favourite Pope Benedict quotations: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”
While we all appreciate and need a bit of comfort, it is really the full adventure of life that we seek. We are made for greatness.
God made Jonah for greatness, and in the end, because Jonah was a man of God who wrestled with God, eventually accepting that God wanted more for Jonah than Jonah wanted for himself, Jonah found greatness.
Jesus recalls that Jonah was a powerful sign for the people. Even the pagan Queen of Sheba who lived far away could see it and came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, “but there is something greater than Solomon here” says Jesus.
And when Jonah preached (recalls Jesus) the people repented. Jesus concludes “and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
- What signs do you see in your own life that you were made for more than comfort
- Prayer today (initials added to the list below): For a community experiencing traumaHealing for a person suffering from anxiety, griefGuidance in making an important decisionFor direction in spiritual lifeHealing of past hurts, resentments, jealousyFor a person terminally ill with lung disease, husband with dementia, serious medical condition, without work because of COVID, for deeper faith, for one having Chemo & Radio therapy. in ICCU since 13th Jan, suffers with COPD, depression, has an EEG test, eye problem, stent put in, brain tumour, a good tenant,
- Thank you to those who have sent donations to support the Food For Faith mission. If you have also sent an email with contact details your receipts will follow in the next few days. S0me have committed to a monthly contribution and this is especially helpful for our budgeting. More information on how to donate to the development of the FFF mission at this link. Once again, thank you. Be assured of my prayers for you and for your intentions.