My parents sometimes found it amusing, sometimes annoying, that I often had my nose in a book. I would be lying on the floor propped up on my elbows with the book in front of me. They would say something to me and I would not hear them, because I was so engrossed in what I was reading.
Today you sometimes find the same thing with young people who have their ears plugged into their iPhone or MP3 player and are often unaware of what is going on around them. In a small way they too are engrossed in what they are doing. Engrossed means that you are swallowed up by something, to such an extent that you are unaware of anything else.
Today we hear St Paul tell us that we should not become engrossed in the world, which is passing away (1 Cor. 7.31). How those words ring true to us in our present time! Which of us could say that we had not, to some degree, been taken over by the world in the good years of the past decade? We have woken with a jolt. Engrossed also makes us think grossness, pandering to the appetites and endangering our spiritual health. Again, looking at our age, we may wonder whether our pursuit of comfort and wealth has left us swallowed up in material things. We forgot about spiritual things. Our spiritual life was out of balance.
We should take heart from the other readings with their message of repentance and conversion. If you repent then you acknowledge with sorrow the wrongs that you have done. If you enter upon the way of conversion, then you seek, with the help of God’s grace, to turn your life around. Repentance and conversion are the way to new life. In the first reading (Jonah 3.1-5,10) Jonah preaches to Nineveh and the people are stung into repentance. What we do not hear in our reading is that Jonah tried to run away from his mission. He did not believe it would work; the people, he said, would never listen to him. In fact, they did listen, a reminder that sometimes the most surprising hearts open up to God.
In the gospel (Mark 1.14-20) Jesus begins his public ministry. Notice that he while he calls people to repentance, he also inspires them with a vision of what might be. Our Lord gives us a perfect balance between the negative and the positive. On the negative side there are things that we must not do. Repentance means to turn away from old sinful habits, to acknowledge selfishness and to seek to live generously, peacefully and compassionately. It is a change of life.
But then there is the positive side as well. For Jesus also tells those who hear him that the Kingdom of God is at hand. As he unfolds what he means by the Kingdom it will be a vision of many hands and hearts joined to lift up the humble, to overturn poverty, to heal the wounded, to bring faith to those in despair. The Kingdom of God is, he says, close at hand.
Those who respond to Christ are in fact stepping into the Kingdom, making it a reality. Where is the Kingdom? It is in the lives of each one of us, where we work with others and where we all work with God, to make the world a more loving place. It can take many forms. Speaking words of hope rather than cynicism. Overcoming our own reticence or timidity to speak for the vulnerable. Being hospitable. Forgiving others and asking forgiveness for ourselves. Taking responsibility for our fragile world, being good stewards of its resources. In these and many ways we find to our surprise and joy that we are not alone, but that we are part of a great company across the world, inspired by Christ to live the Kingdom of God.
Fr Terry is Parish Priest at St Mary's in Finchley East, north London. Fr Terry's latest book: Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=1611