The St. Andrew’s College Seminary community recently had our spring retreat which focused on the story of the prophet Jonah. The leader of our retreat, Fr. Robert Williams, began by asking us to look at our own “yes” as we reflected on Jonah’s journey of discernment to saying yes to God. When thinking about a fiat, a yes to God, I tend to think of Mary and her prime example of consenting to the will of God. Through this retreat though, I realized that Mary is definitely a great example of saying yes, but that I might need to reflect on my yes through the example of someone who is more of a typical human since Mary is full of grace and is the example of such a high degree of sanctity. Fr. Robert said that Jonah’s yes was a real mess and is filled with truly human prayer, and so Jonah has provided me with that human example throughout our retreat and in the weeks since.
Jonah’s vocation, his calling from God, is definitely not an easy one since God tells him to go and preach to his enemies, the Ninevites. Fr. Robert expressed how Jonah hesitantly said yes to his undesired vocation and then asked all of us if our yesses were hesitant. After the first conference of the retreat, I reflected in prayer about this question: “what does my yes to God look like?” Right now, my yes is to be open to discovering whatever God is ultimately calling me to do. This is the mission of every college seminarian, to grow as a better disciple of Christ and to focus on figuring out where He is calling us to serve Him through our lives as His disciples.
After praying about what my yes looked like, I came back to something else that Fr. Robert had said, that Jonah’s yes was not a complete yes since he was unable to love his enemy. This set me up for the first way that I wanted to bring the graces of this retreat into Lent, in working to better love my enemy. To love our enemy though, we all must first do as Jonah does and personally recognize and accept God’s love and mercy. After we accept His love and mercy, we are then able to love our enemies with that same love and mercy of God.
Something else that Fr. Robert said that was also a great thing to bring into Lent was that “God doesn’t punish for sin, but he gives us the freedom to sin and to experience the pain, suffering, and sorrow that it brings with it.” In essence, Father was really saying that sin itself is its own punishment as it causes our pain and suffering. So during Lent, I am trying to really accept that I am the cause of my own suffering and pain through my sin just as Johan does when he is the cause of the chaos of the sea that his ship was sailing through. Jonah gives a great example for all of us in his response of throwing himself into that chaos that he caused. Jonah accepted that he was at fault and he recognizes that he needs to trust in God to guide him through the chaos, just like we all need God to do for us in our lives. Once we trust in God, we need to do as Jonah does and surrender fully to God and to His will. The chaos of our lives is too much for us to handle alone, so we need to follow Jonah’s example and surrender complete control of our lives to God who helps us to handle the chaos of our lives.
Jonah ends up succeeding in his vocation of converting the Ninevites, but ultimately fails to really see God’s mercy. Even after he preaches God’s message to the Ninevites, Jonah waits outside of the city for God to destroy it, failing to recognize that God’s mercy, the mercy that he preached about, is absolute. So, at the end of the retreat, I asked myself how I was going to respond to God’s love and mercy in my life. As Christians, we are all called to experience and share God’s love and mercy each and every day. So what I am trying to do through this Lent and through the example of Jonah is to trust in God’s mercy fully so that I might be able to live out my vocation as a disciple of Christ, sharing His love and mercy with others.