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You Sunk My Battleship

by Fr. Brendan Hankins, O.Praem.


“And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command. And it was, shipmates, for all the things that God would have us do are hard. If we would obey God, we must disobey ourselves.

This is the beginning of a sermon given on the book of Jonah in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a sermon given from a pulpit that the preacher climbs up to with a rope ladder and is in the shape of the bow of a ship.

A long established expression among sailors uses the term “a Jonah” to mean a person (either a sailor or passenger) whose presence on board brings bad luck and endangers the ship.

In the passage from the book of Jonah, Jonah’s sin is no longer his disobedience to God’s command, but rather his anger on account of God not carrying out the evil He threatened against Nineveh. Nineveh was the traditional enemy of Israel, and it is as if the reason that Jonah did not obey God in the first place, after being told to preach repentance to the Ninevites, was because Jonah knew that God did not want to destroy them and that He would be merciful to them. Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites was so effective that the Eastern and Syrian Orthodox Churches still have a three days fast commemorating the repentance of the Ninevites. It is one of the most strictly observed fasts in the Church of the East and Syrian Orthodox Church tradition. These Churches do their penance and prayers like that of Jonah in the belly of the whale and like that of the Ninevites after Jonah preaches to them.

In contrast to God sparing the enemy of His chosen people, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Rosary which commemorates the victory and defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Holy League, or a coalition of Catholic states summoned by Pope Pius V to prevent Muslims from invading Western Europe. The victory was attributed to the help of the holy Mother of God whose aide was invoked through praying the rosary. May our prayers, especially praying the Holy Rosary, help us to extend God’s love and mercy to all peoples and nations in order to convert them to the true faith. But when they don’t, may those same prayers help to sink their ships.

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