Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 24(25):4-6,7b-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.
In this Sunday’s readings, at the beginning of another liturgical year when we are once again invited to reflect on our discipleship of Jesus, the readings speak about the calling of four disciples, the response of the people of Nineveh and the need to be prepared for the moment of our encounter with God.
We are all called to be disciples; we are called in many and various ways. In the gospel Jesus invites four fishermen leave their father’s business and follow him more closely, becoming catchers of people. Jesus also invites all who care to listen to his message, telling them that the kingdom of God is close and they need to repent, turn to God, be prepared and believe the Good News.
The first reading, from the book of Jonah, speaks of the urgency felt by the people of Nineveh. As soon as they heard the prophet’s message, they repented, proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. Jesus is not asking us to put on sackcloth, but he expects us to show our determination to change our life and to follow him by the way we live. I cannot be satisfied with simply listening to the word of God. I need to accept the message, leave the style of life I have been living and turn to God, like the disciples and the people of Nineveh.
Paul reminds us of the need to be always alert. We do not know when it will be our time to meet God; what we know is that our time is getting shorter. The end of times does not need to come with a big bang, darkening of the sun and falling stars, it comes the moment I die and am welcomed into God’s presence. Paul is not promoting a fear of death and of our meeting with God, but is inviting us to be prepared for this encounter.
The meditation about death, a part of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, was an important aspect of Joseph De Piro’s spirituality.
For Joseph De Piro, the year 1898 was not only the year of his great ‘yes,’ but also a year during which Joseph and his family, went through very difficult times. In the beginning of that year, Alexander and Ursola De Piro decided to go to Italy for a holiday. In Florence Alexander felt sick. When they arrived in Rome his condition worsened and he died suddenly on 10th January. At the age of 49 he left Ursula a widow, and his nine children orphans. Berti, the sixth sibling in the De Piro family, also fell seriously ill and died shortly after.
One of Joseph’s contemporaries witnessed that Alexander had objected to Joseph’s becoming a priest. Alexander’s death meant that the young Joseph was now free to decide his own future. The deaths of his father and his brother had an effect on Joseph. From his discernment notes before choosing the priesthood we learn that these family tragedies clearly influenced Joseph. In his reasons in favour of becoming a priest De Piro lists death on its own, refers to his father’s death and also mentions his brother’s illness. One may easily get the impression that Joseph abandoned Law and joined the priesthood because of his fear of death. De Piro wrote: “The meditation on death. Upon reflecting on my life I feel that this is the true condition to which I am being called.” Joseph does not hesitate to admit his fear of death; he also explains that he does not stop on fear. His fear encourages him towards perfection.
De Piro lived a different spirituality from that common among his contemporaries. Death was usually considered only as one of the ‘last things.’ Joseph indicates that death has to be continuously in one’s mind so that one can uninterruptedly struggle towards perfection. Thus death assists the individual prepare himself daily for the final end. Through this way of life, death becomes: “the means by which I can reach true happiness.”