Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
First Reading: Jon 3:1-5, 10
Second Reading: 1 Cor 7:29-31
Gospel Reading: Mk 1:14-20

In this Sunday’s First Reading, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jonah warned the people.

This was the second time God had ordered Jonah to Nineveh. The first time, Jonah had run away. Now, in response to his preaching, the people of Nineveh repented and did penance, and “God changed his mind” about the calamity he had threatened.

Who can read this passage without thinking of Canada, where there are millions of people who not only commit sins, but do not even think they are wrong: adultery, fornication, sodomy, divorce, immodesty in dress, artificial contraception, in vitro fertilization, abortion, consumerism, selfishness, dishonesty, secularization of the Lord’s day, and disrespect for God’s name.

We who know better have Jonah’s duty to tell people of their wickedness and urge them to repent, so that Canada may escape the consequences of all our attempts to live in ways that run counter to human nature, made in God’s image. We have to proclaim the message of Jesus in the Gospel Reading: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of Heaven has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” We must accept his invitation to become “fishers of people.”

If you are a priest, you must “preach the word, stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient – correcting, reproving, appealing – constantly teaching and never losing patience.”

However, if you are a lay person, preaching constantly, even with patience, is more likely to repel people than to attract them.

That does not let you off the hook. First, you must preach by example. If you are Catholic, it will show (or it should) in your whole life: conversation, dress, job, recreation. People will see that, unlike the majority, you do not commit the sins I listed above, even when you are tempted, because they offend God and violate human nature.

Second, you must not be afraid to speak about your belief. You need not drag sin or religion into every conversation, but you must say what you believe when the subject arises.

For example, when people ask a woman who I know whether she has children, she says, “No, I’m not married.” When they point out that marriage is not essential, she says, “No, but I think sex is wrong outside marriage.”

An interchange like this often stops there. However, if you are asked the reason for your belief, you should, as St. Peter said, “be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.” If you do not know the reason, learn it!

Third (if you can do it without being obnoxious), mention religion on your own initiative. For example, when you meet an immigrant from the Philippines, Ireland, or Poland, you can say, “I guess you’re Catholic, like me. Which parish are you in?”

Finally, invite people to the Catholic Church. Take as your own the motto of Bishop Emeritus David Monroe of Kamloops: “Come and see,” as Philip said when he invited Nathaniel to meet Jesus.

If you have never thought of yourself as a missionary, start now!

As witnesses to Christ, we make “an extraordinarily valuable contribution” to society, Pope St. John Paul II said, for we help to ward off “a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis” that can afflict the world (even worse than COVID-19): namely a “confusion between good and evil.”

If we are questioned about our faith, we can answer with glad confidence: yes, we believe in God, for atheism is not a reasonable alternative; yes, we are convinced Catholics, for only the Catholic Church has the fullness of the truth God has revealed to humans.

We know that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish.” However, we must heed St. Paul’s warning: the time for repentance, however long it may be, is not growing shorter.

Father Hawkswell is again teaching “The Catholic Faith in Plain English” free of charge. All the materials (video and print) are available online at Session 19, “Mass: Sacrament and Sacrifice,” will be available Jan. 24.