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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Jonah 3,1-10

The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second time. 'Up!' he said, 'Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to it as I shall tell you.' Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare; to cross it took three days. Jonah began by going a day's journey into the city and then proclaimed, 'Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.' And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. He then had it proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles, as follows: 'No person or animal, herd or flock, may eat anything; they may not graze, they may not drink any water. All must put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil ways and violent behaviour. Who knows? Perhaps God will change his mind and relent and renounce his burning wrath, so that we shall not perish.' God saw their efforts to renounce their evil ways. And God relented about the disaster which he had threatened to bring on them, and did not bring it.


Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

God seeks Jonah to give him an important mission: to proclaim the Word of God in the great city of Nineveh. God had already called him to do this once before, as described in the beginning of the Book, but Jonah had run away. Nineveh frightened him. And this is understandable. In the imagination of Israel, Nineveh was its greatest enemy, the capital of the great Assyrian empire, which had waged many wars to destroy the kingdom of Israel. Could God not have given him an easier mission? But the Lord is patient. Concerned by the situation in the city, God turns to Jonah again in the hope that he will listen. The text emphasizes the great size of the city. We can compare it to the great cities of today, the megalopolises of our time. They truly are frightening. How can we confront their problems? How can we confront the evil and violence they contain? It is easy to run away, that is, to wash our hands of them and seek refuge in our little protected places, taking care of ourselves and our little corners of the world. It is the temptation to run away that Jonah himself experienced. But after God’s insistence - we should think of how many times the Lord has continued to speak to us - Jonah listens and sets off. The preaching of Jonah is clear, and terrible: "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Preaching always tries to nurture the understanding that if evil grows and is allowed to develop, it will inevitably destroy people and their city. Jonah had only walked through a third of the city, one day’s travel out of the three required to cross it entirely, and behold the inhabitants of Nineveh "believed God [and] proclaimed a fast." When the Word of God reached him, the king himself ordered the entire city to take part in an act of repentance. The king, along with the entire population, hoped that "God [might] relent and change his mind; he [might] turn from his fierce anger, so that [they would] not perish." In effect, fasting and prayer changed God’s heart. God put aside his wrath and saved the city and its inhabitants from destruction. Prayer bends God’s heart, leading him to mercy and forgiveness. God always forgives if men and women turn to him. Jonah shows that we must always hope in the power of the Word of God: every time it is communicated it performs a miracle of change. No one, not even the worst enemy, is condemned to remain the same. The word of God truly can perform the miracle of conversion, the victory of good over evil, at any time and in any place.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets