Sunday Sermon for January 24, 2021, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

In the Gospel reading today Jesus begins His preaching by proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  Jesus’ words about the time of fulfillment were not something surprising to the people of the time of our Lord, but to hear a Rabbi stating this was probably very unusual. 

The people knew the prophecies of the Old Testament and anticipated that God would intervene for them in some extraordinary way.  Sadly, it appears that many thought God was going to intervene in a way they expected. But the way God chose to intervene was not expected, and therefore, was missed by almost everyone because He fulfilled the prophecies in a way infinitely beyond their expectations: by sending His Son into the world.

We also are living in a world of expectation as people anticipate a divine intervention to stop the world from going completely off track.  Our Lady told us at Fatima that Russia would spread her errors, but that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph.  So, there is solid reason for hope as we have watched the errors which began in Russia just over a hundred years ago spread throughout the world and appear to come to completion in our own nation.

In the meantime, we need to consider the other two points our Lord made in His opening statements to the world.  First, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Jesus began the Kingdom of God on earth, but we still pray daily that His Kingdom will come in its fullness.  We are nearing the point where only the Kingdom of God will remain.  Until then, there will be those who will fight against the Lord, but the pattern established centuries ago demonstrates that those who will not accept God’s ways will find themselves outside His Kingdom where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

This is why our Lord added the third point, the command to repent and believe the Gospel.  As we await the fullness of His Kingdom, are we praying and doing penance for our sins?  Are we repenting of those things which we know are enemies of the Kingdom of God and of our own souls?  If we want the triumph of the Immaculate Heart, we need to prepare for it.  The primary preparation is preparing our own souls. 

In the first reading we hear about the preaching of Jonah.  When the people of Nineveh heard his message, they repented, fasted, and put on sackcloth.  I suspect that if someone started preaching in our streets, most people would think the person was insane and they would be locked up.  Thankfully Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus preached at a time when some people actually listened.  Our pride does not allow us to hear the Word of God with our hearts; often it is not allowed to enter our ears.

Even if we are willing to hear the Word of God and to repent, it is not typical that we would put on sackcloth.  We can still fast and, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, there are some practical ways to express our repentance.  He tells us time is running out, so those who weep should live as though they were not weeping, those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and so on.  In other words, if we are going to repent of our sinful and worldly ways, the best thing to do is get rid of whatever leads us to the sin and to turn away from our worldly pursuits.

This does not mean quitting our jobs or leaving our spouse and family to live as a recluse.  Rather, it means striving to live for the Lord.  What are the things of the world in our lives that are either negative or inane?  There may be good things that become attachments and must be let go.  There may be foolish things that are a waste of time and money that can be set aside.  We can increase our prayer time, go to daily Mass and Adoration, volunteer to help the poor or needy.

Simply put, we need to put our selfishness away and find true joy in serving God and neighbor.  Frequently, we do things either because of necessity or because of what we can gain from it.  While others may be served or helped, our motive may still be very selfish.  It is time to put aside our selfish wants and desires and show true signs of our repentance.  Now is the time of fulfillment: repent, believe the Gospel, and prepare your heart which is where the fulfillment of God’s promises will take place first!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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