To Repent is a call to improve the purpose of our life: do we live for myself, or do we live to build our community?


To Repent is a call to improve the purpose of our life: do we live for myself, or do we live to build our community?

Repent!  When we are children it means, stop being naughty and say ‘sorry’.  However, as adults, we should focus less on a small naughty sins and more on our purpose in life.

Often our personal sins are a consequence of the purpose we have in life: university students used to say (in my day): live fast, die young an’ leave a good lookin’ corpse!  So obviously, that kind of purpose would lead people to excessive pleasure seeking and selfishness.

It is instructive to note what happens after Jesus calls people to ‘repent’.  Jesus immediately starts calling disciples: to change from catching fish to catching men.  In other words, Jesus called them, and us today, to a new purpose in life.  What is your purpose?  Money, family, community?  Do our actions contribute to our stated purpose, or to personal pleasure?

Repent means: to change direction!  We see this in the first reading.  The experts tell us that the story of Jonah is not historical, so the details are meant to teach us something:

1) it takes 10 minutes to walk across the ruins of Nineveh: why does the story say 3 days?  Perhaps a reminder to us that when we call people to repent, we must also listen and learn a person’s reality, and give guidance: which all takes time.  Perhaps it indicates how far the people had gone away from God.  Three indicates the time necessary to achieve the purpose.

2) the warning that 40 days more and Nineveh will be destroyed: 40 is a common period through the Bible, meaning urgent period to change our attitudes and behaviours.  This can apply to our personal lives, and the life of our communities.

Often, when people get into trouble, they complain: “but nobody told me!”  The younger we are the greater our right to be told what is good and bad; however, as we grow older we have to take responsibility to see, judge and act by ourselves.

It is good that many people are focusing on changing our lifestyles to reduce pollution on the earth, and reduce the destruction of forests to improve the environment.  However, there is an equally serious issue to address on the health of family life in our world today.

Without healthy family structures and support, our communities suffer today, and will get worse tomorrow.  It’s true that within our traditional family structures, many bad things happened.  However, the model of family and extended-family support, created many opportunities for self-correction and healing for any hurt an individual received.

The cultural change from seeking good for the community, to seeking good for the individual, has led many people away from traditional family life: even to not having children.  So, today, we need new prophets or disciples like Jonah to help people understand the danger we are in.

It’s helpful to know that Jonah was a reluctant and judgemental prophet!  In other words, he was not a model person or even an enthusiastic person!  But eventually he did what was asked.

In the same way, we might look at ourselves and think we are not good enough to be prophets.  But we can’t be any worse than Jonah!  Ha, ha.  Pope Francis recently summarised the role of disciples as three steps: to seek, to stay, and finally, to proclaim.

In regards to family life, how do we SEEK Christ?  Surely it is in the love between husband and wife that brings new life.  Then, as Mary and Joseph did, they stayed with the baby Jesus.  As my Uncle said: married life is character building for both the children and the parents.

So, the time that family members STAY together is critical for developing the character of each generation so they can live peacefully with others and we learn that we can only benefit when each member sacrifices themselves for others.

After staying together for some time, we PROCLAIM, by living our lives in a way that supports ourselves and empowers the community where we live.

Finally, the first reading reminds us to have a sense of urgency.  As we look around the world today, the urgency is very necessary: high youth suicide, increasing single parent families (for many reasons), increasing violence/ crime in all our societies.  Not to mention the addictions slowly destroying individuals, families and societies: alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc.

Jonah warned that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days.  This is not to say that God would destroy Nineveh, but that their own behaviour would destroy it.  Even St Paul in the second reading reminds us of the urgency: “Brothers [& Sisters]: our time is growing short.”

God is inviting us to be part of the solution, to bring healing into our communities, by being good role models: full of generosity, humility, understanding and finally to persevere. In Swahili there’s a proverb: Toba ni vitendo = Repentance is deeds.

By Gerard Conlan, OMI