On the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Isaiah points to Our Lord as the Light of the World; St Matthew recounts the first days of Christ’s ministry in the wake of St John the Baptist’s arrest; and St Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remain one in mind and heart.

In the First Reading (Is 8: 23 – 9: 3), God in His goodness promises to break “the yoke of [Israel’s] burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor”: He would let it triumph over the Assyrians, as He had done against the Midianites, using men armed with clay pots, torches and trumpets!

But even more significant is what Isaiah said about Zebulun and Naphthali[1], both located in Galilee. This region had a large, non-Jewish, immigrant population; hence called “of the Nations”, or “of the Gentiles”. Although the Galileans were thought to be of dubious ancestry, uneducated and seditious, they were in fact more faithful to God than others worshipping false gods. God rewarded Galilee by letting it play host to the Lord of lords and King of kings, who would be a Light to the Nations.

In the Gospel (Mt 4:12-23) we see the realisation of the Isaian prophecy. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and Nazareth, where He grew up, were towns in Galilee. It was here that Jesus undertook His three-year ministry. On feeling the heat of John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus settled in the fishing village of Capernaum, “in the territory of Zebulun and Napthali”. He soon attracted Peter and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, all humble fishermen, whom he would make “fishers of men”. And “He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity”. He urged them to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 4: 17), thus establishing a link with His Forerunner’s teaching.

But what is “repentance”? And is the kingdom of Heaven still “at hand”? Repentance is a change of mind and heart; it is a flight from sin to God. On the other hand, the hardening of our hearts to God’s call is tantamount to playing into the hands of the devil. “The kingdom of God [or ‘of Heaven’, to the Jews] means, then, the ruling of God in our hearts; it means those principles which separate us off from the kingdom of the world and the devil; it means the benign sway of grace; it means the Church as that Divine institution whereby we may make sure of attaining the spirit of Christ and so win that ultimate kingdom of God where He reigns without end in ‘the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ (Rev. 21: 2).”[2]

Thus, Repentance and the Kingdom of God are not passé but vital to our everyday life. They must be uppermost in our minds, especially considering that enemies of the Church are lurking in the shadows. It may come as a shock – but it is a fact – that Rome herself is under siege, and so are you and me. Creditable Vatican observers state that the highest authorities, enchanted by the world, are playing into the hands of the evil one. Such reports are dubbed ‘conspiracy theories’ by those who wish to anaesthetize us but, really speaking, who can deny that idolatry, indoctrination, deception, division, demoralisation, and so on, are the handiwork of the devil? That theological errors abound, moral teaching is being undermined, and tragically, inter-religious ecumenism given the advantage over evangelisation, are signs of the times. If this is not the self-demolition of the Church that Pope Paul VI spoke of half a century ago, what is?

The situation has never been so bad, and it seems like the worst is yet to come. Therefore, what St Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17) is now relevant to a much higher degree: we have to be “united in the same mind and the same judgement”. Whereas in the early days philosophical schools caused discord; in our day and age, Humanism borders on the very denial of God.

On the other hand, in these trying times, where are those “Fishers of Men”? To neutralise nefarious influences, it is of the essence that the powers that be uphold the Apostolic Tradition, that is, “the transmission of the message of Christ, brought about from the very beginnings of Christianity by means of preaching, bearing witness, institutions, worship, and inspired writings. The apostles transmitted all they received from Christ and learned from the Holy Spirit to their successors, the bishops, and through them to all generations until the end of the world.”[3] That is what true Fishers of Men ought to do, Ad Gentes: to the Nations.

[1] Names of two of the twelve sons of Jacob who eventually formed the twelve tribes of Israel; they were brothers of Joseph, whom some of the siblings sold into slavery into Egypt, because they hated him. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin survived.

[2] Pope, H. (1910). Kingdom of God. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 20, 2023 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08646a.htm

[3] https://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, Chapter two, question 12)

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