Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm with Jonah!

Ash Wednesday is one of those days when Jonah and the people of Nineveh come to my mind. Nineveh's change of heart in response to the words of the prophet, leaving aside their sinful ways, all lifting their voices in petition to the Lord, asking for His mercy, all from least to greatest focused and depriving themselves in hopes of a reprieve, is a vision for me of how the Church Militant should be in this great season of preparation for Easter. I think of the exuberant, maybe somewhat playful, but eminently devout way we as children of the 1950's, united with generations past and from time immemorial before us, went about making personal sacrifices and doing penance. It was purposeful action even if the deadly earnest of Nineveh was somewhat lacking in our childish approach. I miss that same spirit now in the Church of my adulthood. I wonder sometimes whether someone didn't fumble the ball at some point years back; I can't blame the powers that be within the Church; I have no theories of a conspiracy to tempt us to slack off or to bring about a demontage of all that is right in Catholic culture to explain a certain inertia when it comes to doing penance today.   

I explain this slackness to myself with the conclusion that I think I must belong to that "lost generation" within the Church where the Lenten call to repentance just doesn't resonate as it should in our hearts. Blame it on global warming; blame it on TV; blame it on children's vitamins or Dr. Spock; blame it on 1968! What I mean by that is most simply illustrated by saying that I and a whole generation or more with me can appreciate Jonah's disappointment at the Lord's decision not to destroy Nineveh, but rather to pardon the great city when it repented at the words of the prophet, putting on sackcloth and ashes. Somehow, I guess, there are those among us who, like Jonah, just don't get it, who don't truly appreciate how dear to God's heart are our penance and repentance. Too much of our world, or at least of my world, has little enthusiasm for penance and repentance. Perhaps it is a form of skepticism concerning our perfectibility; no doubt too God is not perceived as being all that close to us; I think it is a malaise which is generally labelled secularization.

However, Jonah's world wasn't secularized like ours is. How can I claim Jonah as an explanation or excuse for my or my generation's reticence about the efficacy of penitential practice? I won't, but I will hold up the example of Nineveh and say, loud and clear, "See!" Such is God's love! Granted, there is no king to decree our penance today, but each of us can contribute to the recovery of that resolve, that sense of purpose in making personal sacrifices before God. A humble, contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn. Our lives must have seasons and times, also for mourning our sins.

Let us all hold each other up in prayer this Lent, beseeching the Lord to have mercy, to withhold His wrathful judgment! The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, who call upon Him in truth.

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