Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Priests)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the words of the Scripture which we heard of God’s abundant love and mercy for us all His people, as He is truly our loving Creator and Father, just as the Lord Jesus called Him Father, by virtue of Him being the Son of God. Through the sharing we have in the humanity of Christ, we all, who are His brothers and sisters, share in the same fatherhood we have in God.
Through our first reading today, which is a continuation of yesterday’s account on the mission of the prophet Jonah, who had been tasked to deliver the message and warning from God to the people of the city of Nineveh of their impending destruction, when God saw just how repentant the people of Nineveh were, and how all of them from their king to the slaves humbled themselves and mourned, He spared them all from their fated destruction.
But in our passage today we heard then how the prophet Jonah became angry with God because He spared the whole city of Nineveh from destruction. The context of this is that Jonah must have been angry and frustrated because first of all, there was a prejudice that the Assyrians who inhabited Nineveh were sinful people, wicked and godless, pagan worshippers and idolaters who did not deserve God’s love and mercy.
And then, secondly, on a more personal level, Jonah had been called by God for this particular mission, he fled from God and refused to accept the task, fleeing by a ship to a faraway place hoping to hide away from God. Yet, God made a great storm to strike at the sailing ship and Jonah had no choice but submit to God’s will and asked to be thrown into the sea. A great whale swallowed Jonah for three days and nights before he was sent ashore to continue His mission.
Jonah’s story is in fact a representation of Christ, Who would go on to bear the burden of the Cross, suffered and died, and went down into hell for three days just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale. The Lord sent His Son into this world with a mission to deliver His people from death and eternal damnation by delivering them from their sins, just as much as Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh to bring to them the news of their upcoming doom.
The difference is such that while Jonah was angry when the Lord forgave the people of Nineveh their sins and wickedness when they sincerely repented from those sins and humbled themselves before Him, the Lord truly wanted His people, whoever they are and whatever they have done, to be saved, even the worst of sinners, as long as they are willing to make the effort to reject sin and embrace Him and His loving mercy.
God has always been willing to welcome us back because He truly loves each and every one of us, and no one is truly far away from the reach of God’s love and mercy, and as long as we are willing to open our hearts and minds to welcome God into our lives, we can be transformed, redeemed and forgiven just like what happened to the people of Nineveh. And that is why, today we are all called to seek God with a new commitment.
And one very good way for us to do it is through prayer, just as Our Lord Himself has shown His disciples in our Gospel passage today. For prayer is an intimate communication between us and God, and it can be either personal, communal or even both. Essentially, prayer opens the channel and link between us and God, allowing us to have a meaningful communication with God. But we must be careful and not end up making prayer into a channel of seeking things from God as what many of us often did wrongly with our prayer habits.
Many of us mistook prayer as a means for us to gain something quickly through God, and we mistook God as someone that can be at the whim of our desires. No, brothers and sisters in Christ, for the true essence and meaning of prayer is for us to be more attuned to God and be more understanding and knowing what God, Our loving Father has willed for us and wanted us to do with our respective lives.
That is why today perhaps we should look at the examples shown to us by the saints whose feast day we celebrate today. St. Denis, holy martyr and bishop and the Patron Saint of France, as well as St. John Leonardi, a holy priest of God. St. Denis was martyred during his mission as bishop at the time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, while St. John Leonardi was remembered for his establishment of the religious order known as the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God.
St. Denis worked hard in ministering to the people of God, the small yet growing community of Christians in the region now known as Paris, the capital of France. He was persecuted, arrested and condemned to death during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius, who carried out a brutal persecution of Christians. He was sentenced to death by decapitation or beheading.
Yet, miraculously, St. Denis continued on preaching after he was beheaded, picking up his head and walking for many kilometres while preaching before he eventually died and was buried. Many people and pagans who witnessed such a miraculous occasion believed in God and became Christians. The faith and commitment of St. Denis in loving God should be an inspiration for all of us to follow.
Meanwhile, St. John Leonardi was remembered for his great love for God and pious devotion, his courage and dedication in serving God even when he was faced with great odds and opposition from the local secular authorities who disliked his works in establishing the religious congregation among others. Yet, all these obstacles did not stop this courageous saint from continuing his ministry and works.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on what we have just discussed earlier, and let us all discover in our hearts that deep and strong, genuine love that each and every one of us should have for God, just as He has loved us all so much and so great a compassion that He is willing to forgive us our many sins if we repent wholeheartedly. Let us all thus turn towards the Lord with renewed faith, hope and love from now on. Amen.