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Reflection on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on January 21, 2024, by Johanna Brian SL

Our readings today continue the theme of call and response.  As a child, I grew up in a small town in close proximity to a Baptist church, and I had an opportunity to watch what they did and how they did it. They talked about the necessity of knowing that you are “saved,” and they had a ceremony called “altar call” when people came up to the preacher and made a public commitment to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.  I thought being saved was a given if you were a member of the Catholic Church, which was the one true Church that you had to belong to if you wanted to go to heaven. I also clearly understood that some people had a “vocation,” which was a special invitation to a very specific and obvious religious way of life.  Priests and Sisters were sort of an elite group and had a responsibility to be better and do more than ordinary folks. Vatican II made it clear that everyone is called!  

Many years have passed since Jesus called John, Philip, Andrew, Simon and James and they responded with such promptness and willingness. The invitation to repent, to believe and to work in the building of the kingdom of justice, peace, love and compassion that was preached by Jesus is still being broadcast loudly and clearly today. It has been and is still being faithfully heard and responded to by many people down through the centuries.

Last week we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, who heard the call loudly and clearly. On his special day, 16 of us gathered and read aloud the speech that he gave on April 4, 1967 — exactly one year to the day of his assassination on April 4, 1968. The speech is entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A time to break silence.”  With specific examples, he emphasized the futility and evil of war and concluded the hourlong speech with an urgent plea that we, as a nation, turn away from the pursuit of military solutions and focus our time, energy and resources on the building of a worldwide fellowship, which will put the neighborly concerns of love above tribe, race, class or nation.  He reminded us once again of the choice we are facing if we fail to do this: We can either live in nonviolent coexistence or we can die in violent co-annihilation. 

Along with encouragement to become actively involved, King also made it clear that we must pray.  Recently, JoAnn and Susan submitted an article in the Midweek Mission Message called “ Fallow Time of Reflection.” They reminded us that winter can be a beneficial time of rest and prayerful contemplation as we try to deepen our trust that God is somehow present and at work in all of the chaos, confusion and hopelessness we see around us.

I also find encouragement in the story of Jonah in our first reading. The short election we read doesn’t mention the fact that he didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites. He balked, lied, manipulated and only got there through God’s special intervention. Nor are we told that he was not pleased when the Ninevites were converted from their evil ways because he really hoped that God would destroy them. The point is, our God is a God who loves, supports and is willing to work with the likes of Jonah, who show us exactly what not to do and who set the bar of acceptable performance very low.

I would like to close with the words of a song written by Jane Marie in 1953 that is based on a text adapted from the writings of Thomas Merton in which God is speaking to Jonah. It’s called “A Song of Mercy,” and offers us these words to ponder: Have you had sight of me, Jonah, my child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. What was vile has become precious; what is precious is never vile. What was cruel has become full of mercy.  What is merciful never was cruel.  What was poor has become now infinite. What is lasting is never poor. What was fragile becomes full of power. What is nothing — I touch — it is. Have you had sight of  me, Jonah, my child? I am mercy within mercy within mercy.  I have forgiven all the world without end for never have I known sin.

Using the words of the responsorial psalm, let us continue to pray: Teach us your ways O God. Amen.


Johanna Brian SL

Johanna came to Loretto from Colesburg, Ky., which is just over the hill from Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky. She attended Bethlehem Academy and Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Mo. She also attended Webster University and St. Louis University. Twenty-six of her 38 years of teaching were spent in El Paso, Texas, where she taught English and religion. For the past 25 years, Johanna has been on the staff at The Healing Place in Louisville, Ky., helping women to recover from alcoholism and drug addictions. Since moving to Loretto Motherhouse a few years ago, she has been having a great time participating in all that is going on there.