“At the judgment, the people of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” (Mt 12:41)
In this passage, the scribes and Pharisees make a petition to Jesus: “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you,” and Jesus replies, “an evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” (Cf. Mt 12:38-39)
In Scripture through the story of Jonah, we see the prophet sent by God to the people of Nineveh to proclaim, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” In this extraordinarily strong message sent from God the Father, we see the humble response of the Ninevites, who practiced fasting, prayer and repentance of their misconduct, and to whom God in turn showed mercy!
Lent is a wonderful opportunity for the faithful to listen more carefully to the voice and instruction of God. “Thus, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17). What a beautiful invitation to dive deeper into Scripture, God’s words, and to continue to open our hearts to his message.
But what is Jesus’ message to us this Lenten season? It is a call to repentance and belief in the Gospel, a call to a new way of living according to God’s word.
Jesus declares to the scribes and Pharisees, “I am greater than Jonah.” He is the one who sent Jonah to Nineveh, and who came to proclaim in person “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is still his message for us today! Jesus wants to grow in a deeper, more intimate relationship with each one of us and to shower us with his merciful love, but that also requires an active response from each one of us.
The Catholic Church, in the person of Christ, offers us 40 days of fasting, prayer and penance. Just like the people of Nineveh, we, too, need to listen to God’s message to repent and convert from our evil deeds to receive the merciful healing love of our Father and for our deliverance from the destruction of sin. We are all sinners, and this message excludes no one.
Unified in prayer with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, let us pray for the virtue of listening intently to the message of Lent. Let us not be afraid to go to confession to encounter Jesus who is awaiting us with forgiveness and compassion. “A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Cf. Psalm 51:19).
Also, we invite the faithful to an additional request to pray for Christians in the Holy Land who have been facing increased violence, persecution, and hateful attacks. “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked oracle of the Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” (Ez 18:23) God is a God who loves life and peace, he does not desire destruction or death. He is a Father who rejoices over a single sinner who repents.
Let us pray also for the conversion of people who are in error, who promote error that leads to the destruction of human lives, and the deformation of human nature and dignity. May they listen to the message of Lent, a call to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.