Rev. John Kha Tran

Three apprentice devils were preparing to come to earth to finish their apprenticeship. Satan, the prince of Darkness, appeared before them and questioned them about their plans to tempt and ruin people.

The first devil said, "I will tell people that there is no God."

Satan answered, "You will deceive only a few that way because deep down people sense that there must be a God."

The second devil spoke, "I will tell them that there is no hell."

Satan replied, "You will fool only a few that way, because deep down people know one day they will have to answer for their misdeeds."

Finally, the third devil declared, "I will tell people that there is no hurry." With that, Satan laughed with delight and predicted, "You will ruin them by the millions."

Jesus appeared in Galilee to proclaim the Gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel."

The Meaning of Repentance

To repent is more than to be sorry for our mistakes. There's more to it than saying extra prayers such as the prayer of contrition, or doing a stint of fasting and being sorry for our past sins. To repent is to turn around, to change our minds and hearts, our attitudes and our way of life to make it more Christ like and heavenward. Like Simon and Andrew, repentance means to leave the old nets and everything else behind to follow Christ. And the time to do this is not tomorrow, next week, next month or next year but now. Hesitation and undecided attitude are the temptation of the devils keeping us from responding to God’s call.

First we repent because we realize that we have done something wrong. We see the damage caused by our mistakes. We regret and we take action to fix it. We resolve to reform and improve ourselves. The sad thing is that we often do not realize that we are wrong; therefore there is no need of repentance. Some people are sensitive in their relationship with God and with others. They would be remorseful if they forgot to pray or got distracted in their prayers. If they were late to Mass they would feel guilty. They go to confession regularly to ask for forgiveness because they were angry or uncharitable to their spouses and to their friends. They even feel guilty because they have not been kind and generous enough. Others could go on in months without saying a single Our Father or a Hail Mary without feeling missing anything. They could skip any Sunday to go fishing, hunting or playing sports without feeling guilty. They have cursed, stolen, cheated, lied, been selfish etc. Some has used contraception, having pre-marital sex, being married outside of the church or working at abortion clinics without feeling a bit of guilt. In our country we have seen morals going down and down. Many people are losing the sense morality. Many of the debates on public policy are not based or right or wrong, but legal or illegal, rights and laws. Abortions, pro-choice, same sex-marriage supporters are saying that they have the rights to do it; so make the laws to protect their rights regardless it is right or wrong. The laws allow them to do it; so there is no more guilt. There is no need to repent.

The Power of Penance

The first reading tells us that God has determined to destroy the city of Nineveh because of their great evil and wickedness. So God wants to send Jonah to go to Nineveh and make his message known to them. "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed."

The people of Nineveh respond to Jonah's message immediately. Instead of sitting back passively and allowing things to develop in what could be called a somewhat fatalistic way, they choose to believe in God’s message. And they are able to change God's mind. They proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least. They choose to do the right thing. And they are spared the punishment.

This reading is a great encouragement and consolation for us. It gives us hope that God truly does hear our prayers. It also teaches us a lesson about God's mercy. God does not wish to punish us. Rather He quickly responds to our act of repentance and acknowledgment of our sinfulness. The contrition we have and the acts of penance we do with sincerity do matter to God. We can influence God with our prayers and penance.

Leaving the Old Nets

Secondly we repent because we see God’s way is better than our way. In the Gospel reading, we have Simon and Andrew. They are fishermen. When Jesus sees them working in their boat, He invites them. "Follow me and I will make you fisher of people." They respond to the invitation immediately. They drop everything to follow Jesus. Later James and John also leave everything and join the Lord too. They are able to leave their father, their nets, and their friends behind in order to follow Jesus because they believe that Jesus is offering them something better than what they are having. To work for Jesus is better than to keep their current job. To be with Jesus is better than to be with anyone else. To follow Jesus will give them a better future; therefore they leave their nets and everything including their family behind in order to join Jesus. They fall in love with Jesus and with God. They leave the life without Christ behind in order to take on the life with Christ.

When Christ invites us to follow him, there are always some "nets" of our own that will need leaving behind. We cannot answer the call of our Lord to follow him and still drag along the old "net" of addiction and immoral activities. We cannot at the same time remain enmeshed in the disease of alcoholism or addiction to drugs or food or anger, or selfishness or you-name-it and at the same time follow Jesus. If we respond to the invitation to follow Jesus then the old nets has to be left behind.

We can be Jonah to the people of our country today. We can be Simon and Andrew, John and James leaving the old nets behind to join Jesus using the new nets to catch human souls for the Kingdom.