Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
When I read the account in Jonah of how the city of Nineveh was so large that Jonah took three days to get through it, I think back to the urban hikes that one of the Jesuits at Fordham University used to lead from the Bronx to the southern tip of Manhattan. Even that only takes the better part of a day. So, when I think of Nineveh, I think of a truly massive city, larger (in terms of land, anyways) than New York City, repenting so quickly at the order of the king. This is truly a strange sight.
Part of what makes this repentance, spoken of favorably by Jesus in today’s gospel, so strange is how swiftly the king declares that the fasting needs to occur. I cannot imagine a mayor of New York (or any other civic leaders, really) hearing a preacher and then ordering the entire area to repent. At the heart of this repentance is that the king takes God so seriously, and presumes that God will immediately perceive the actions of the city, perhaps even having mercy on them. The king is amazingly matter-of-fact when he says “Who knows, God may relent and forgive.” God’s presence is something genuinely felt in day to day life for the Ninevites. As we seek to repent of our own sins this Lent, cultivating that felt presence of God in our lives is an indispensable element in that repentance.
Grace: To see the disorder that sin causes in my heart and recognize the effects of tepidity in my life.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 28:16-20
Reflection: Our vocation as Christians is to draw close to the Heart of Jesus and in that encounter to be transformed in such a way that our hearts become like the Heart of Christ. When we draw near to the Crucified and Risen Lord, we increase in hope, faith, and love. In that encounter, our hearts become like a fire in us. This fire within us is a source of mercy for others, for it can lead them to a personal encounter with the Lord. This fire within is the thrust and dynamism of all evangelization—animated by our encounter with Jesus and strengthened in our faith, we tell others how the Word of God has taken flesh in our lives hoping this Good News inspires others to draw closer to Jesus.
Our hearts were created to live this dynamism, to seek and find God in all things, to share our sightings of God with those who already have been baptized, and to reach out to those who have drifted away from the Church. Sin and self-centeredness make us numb and extinguish the fire within us. Sin makes us lose sight of our vocation to seek and find God in all things. When we forsake our human vocation, our hearts become tepid and dull, for they were created to rest in God alone. The tepidity or dullness our hearts experience when we feel separated from God are contrary to the dynamism we experience when we praise, revere, and serve God. Tepid hearts lose their desire for communion with God and give in to spiritual sloth.
In his Rules for Discernment, found at the end of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius reminds us that when our hearts are tepid and inclined to low and base things, we ought to increase our prayer, penitence and self-examination. These practices re-energize our lethargic and drowsy hearts and rekindle the fire to go out to all peoples to proclaim the wonders God has worked in our lives.
Prayer: O Lord, you are profoundly present in all things, but at times we lose sight of that. Help me to recognize the ways that sin causes disorder in my heart. Draw my heart closer to Yours, that it may be set on fire for the sake of Your kingdom.
In prayer, ask the Lord to help you see the things that decrease your faith, hope, and love. Ask Jesus to help you recognize the moments when your heart is tepid and inflame your heart with a deep love for the Father and a profound desire to serve His people.