3rd Sunday Ordinary Time B

They abandoned their father

Columban, who died in 615 A.D., was the greatest of the Irish medieval monk-missionaries. A well-educated youth, he had a very passionate nature that caused him great concern. “Flight from the world is the only solution,” a holy hermitess advised him: “flight even from your own native land.”

Following her counsel, he entered the monastic life and studied the spiritual way at the feet of some of the most noted – and strictest – Irish monks. He lived in the monastery of Bangor until he was about forty-five. Then he sought permission of the abbot to head a group of monks as missionaries among the Germans. In germanic Burgundy he founded the monastery of Annegaray, and then the more famous one of Luxeil. To the men who flocked to become monks under his tutelage, he gave a very strict rule, heavy with penalties for even slight infractions. If his followers observed so stringent a way of life at all, it was doubtless because they saw St. Columban himself observing it to the last letter. On account of political opposition, Abbot Columban moved away from Burgundy into Switzerland, and eventually into northern Italy. Here the Germanic King Agilulf gave him land for a new monastery, and the Abbot, now in his seventies, erected the Abbey of Bobbio, where he died not long afterward.

When young Columban had first felt the call to become a monk, his mother had objected very strongly. To prevent his departure, she had even thrown herself across the doorway of their home. This did give the saint pause, but only for a moment. He stepped over her and went his way, never to return.

What did Zebedee the fisherman say when his sons, James and John, left him for good to follow Christ? The scriptures do not tell us. He quite likely grumbled for a while about the fate of the family business. What did St. Columban’s mother do when he stepped over her and left? History does not tell us. Being a sensible Irishwoman, she quite likely got up, dusted off her clothes, and sought consolation in a cup of tea. Both she and Zebedee, God-fearing persons that they were, probably came to realize all the more clearly thereafter that children are a gift form God, and so He has first claim on their service.

“They abandoned their father Zebedee.. . and went off in His company.” (Mark, 1:20. Today’s Gospel).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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B199: Do the scriptural messages on Sundays always call for a response from us, or are they only meant for the listeners of those times?

Scripture always calls for a response from us. In the First Reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) we have a condensed version of the “Jonah story,” which helps us keep our focus on the workings of the Lord. The Lord “calls” and “sends” Jonah to warn the Ninevites about their need to repent and reform their lives before it is too late. The Ninevites believed the Lord’s message and responded in penitential fashion, thus softening their hearts to receive God’s mercy.

In the Gospel today (Mark 1:14-20) we hear the Lord himself at the very beginning of his public ministry, warning everyone to believe the good news, repent and reform their lives. He also “calls” Peter, Andrew, James and John to “follow” him, so that they can become empowered by Jesus to bring others into the kingdom of God by following his example. As you well know, the rest of the gospel messages demonstrate the mercy of God being granted freely and extravagantly by Jesus in the form of physical healings and forgiveness of sins, for those who do believe and show a repentant heart.

Everyone remembers the “full” story of Jonah, who only reluctantly went to Nineveh to pass on God’s word, and even then only after he rebelled and after he was given a second chance. The four apostles, on the other hand, abandoned everything and “immediately” followed Jesus. Who would you compare yourself with, in your own response to God’s repeated daily call to reform your life: Jonah, or these four apostles?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! God is constantly calling each one of us to repent, to confess our sins, to do penance, and to amend our lives. I cannot receive communion if I have sinned mortally, without first confessing my sins and receiving absolution in the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) (CCC #1415). If I do receive communion while not in the state of grace, it is a sin of irreligion called a sacrilege which is a very serious offense against the 1st Commandment (CCC #2120). Is God calling me right now to respond to his call to repent by seeking out a priest and making a good confession?

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The World As We Know It Is Passing Away

St. Paul may have been mistaken about the time table for the end of the world, but his advice is still good. The world as we know it is passing away. The world of the future will undoubtedly be different from the world of today. These changes are often not to our liking. That’s what happened to Jonah in today’s reading. The world as he knew it passed away with the call from God. Jonah resisted the surprising call to prophesy in Ninevah. Then he was angry at the unexpected conversion of the Ninevites and God’s change of mind. The apostles, fishermen whose world revolved around the Sea of Galilee, heard an unexpected call from an itinerant preacher from Nazareth and it changed everything. They left everything they were used to and became apostles to the world. Perhaps God is telling us to see his hand in unexpected changes, reminding us that we are a pilgrim people who cannot be settled down into comfortable routine. Even when the changes are not for the better, how we deal with them is what matters.

Teach me your ways, O Lord. I need your direction and your help to deal with unwelcome changes I didn’t want or expect. Teach me humble surrender to your will. Remember your compassion and kindness and be with us in difficult times as well as in the good times.

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