Sunday Sermon for January 22, 2012, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

All three readings today contain a warning and a call to repentance. In the first reading the Prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh to announce that forty days more and the city would be destroyed. In the second reading St. Paul reminds us that the world in its present form is passing away. In the Gospel Jesus proclaims a time of fulfillment and says that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

In response to the warnings given through Jonah the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth and turned from their evil ways. In the Gospel our Lord calls for repentance and belief in the Gospel, then calls His first four Apostles who immediately drop everything and follow Him. In the second reading St. Paul tells us that we have to make a radical change: those weeping as if they were not, those rejoicing as if they were not, those buying as if they owned nothing.

Perhaps it is most providential that these readings fall upon the American day of infamy when the Supreme Court declared it legal to kill babies in the womb. It also comes toward the beginning of a year that is filled with expectation. Some misguided souls think the world will end because the Mayan calendar ends in December, others are expecting a very tumultuous year with wars, financial chaos, countries defaulting, new governments being set up, and so on. In other words, people are expecting major events in this year.

God will use these events to try to get our attention, much the same way as He sent Jonah to get the attention of the Ninevites. With all of the change that keeps happening I find myself amazed by two things: first, the only major changes have taken away our freedoms, but nothing of substance has happened to address the real problems in the world and, second, the apathy of the people.

The people of Nineveh were obviously pretty deep into sin, what variety we are not told, but serious enough that God was going to destroy the place. I am not sure if it was as serious as killing babies, which ought to put us on alert. Regardless, just as they were not apathetic about sin, neither were they apathetic about repentance. Peter, Andrew, James and John proved that they were not apathetic when our Lord called them. In each of these examples we see that there is a complete change in the way these people lived their lives after they heard the Word of God. There was no apathy in them.

As I look around our society today, apathy is all around us. In fact, if you are serious about anything other than sports teams you are considered to be fanatic. This is especially true of anyone who is serious about the Faith, prayer and living a life of virtue. It is interesting how otherwise apathetic people become quite agitated and lively about their ridicule of someone who wants to live according to the Word of God. Everything around them can be crashing down but none of it seems to faze them, but bring in a friend or close relative who begins living their faith in a more active manner and suddenly the apathy disappears, not about any of the things crashing around them, but only about the one living the Faith.

I find it astonishing that things like abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, as well as lying, stealing, cheating, drunkenness, pornography and other evils are not only accepted with apathy by these people, but they are often embraced as normal and acceptable. But try to make a stand against these things and watch the reaction.

On this day of infamy and providential readings that seem to be directed right at us as a people and as a country, how many do you think will respond by heeding the warning and responding to the call to repentance and conversion? Sadly, for most people this will probably go in one ear and out the other. However, if you took away the entertainment or if something happened to their money, the apathy would be lost quickly.

Money and entertainment have become more important than God and babies. We get fired up about the former, but we remain apathetic about the latter. With all of the hype about the coming year and with the Lord and the Church clearly calling us to repentance and warning us of what will happen if we do not repent, I will be convinced that, as a country and as a people, we have repented and heeded the Lord’s call only when we have removed abortion from our midst. The other evils will follow, but not until we decide that human life has dignity and cannot be manipulated or exterminated.

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