September 22 – Jonah the Prophet; Ignatius of Santhia

Jonah the Prophet (VIII cent. BC(E)) was notable among Hebrew prophets as the only one to get eaten by a sea creature. (Whale? Fish? Polaris submarine? The experts are still arguing.) He is mentioned in 2 Kings, but also has his own book, although that’s not nearly as unusual as the fish/whale thing.

Propheting in those days was a tough enough job without being ordered (by God, of course) to go to Nineveh, home of the Assyrians, the arch rivals of the Israelites, both on and off the field of soccer. Um, battle. Jonah knew he would command them to repent, and they’d repent, and God would forgive them. Seriously, is that what you want for your arch rivals? So you can see why he hopped a freighter to Tarshish. Some think Tarshish was in Spain, which is of course about as far as you can get from Nineveh and still be on the Mediterranean. Jonah wasn’t one to do things halfway.

A storm came up, and the sailors determined (by the scientific process of drawing straws) that it was Jonah’s fault. Jonah, to his credit, did not deny it. “Yeah, I’m running from God,” he said. “Toss me overboard and the storm will die down.” The sailors at first demurred, then looked at each other, shrugged, and tossed him over. Immediately he was eaten by the whalefish—swallowed whole, like Pinocchio (hmm, I wonder if that’s where. . .). While thus interred he prayed a lovely little psalm to God, and three days later he was vomited onto the shore within easy walking distance of Nineveh (distance to closest point on Mediterranean: ca. 500 miles), clothes and hair no doubt mottled by the digestive juices of the fishwhale.

Once in Nineveh, he said, “Repent.” As he had predicted, they repented. God forgave them, and Jonah flew into a snit. “I told you they’d repent!” he prayed. God tried to speak to him about his anger management problem, but he stumped away, built a shelter, and sulked. God gave him a nice plant to shade him, which made him happy, then made a worm kill it, which didn’t. “AUGH! Just kill me now!” Jonah prayed. “Should you really be this angry about a stupid plant?” God asked. “You’re darned tootin’!” said Jonah. “Angry enough to die!” “It was just a plant,” God said, “I, on the other hand, care about people, and Nineveh is people, lots of ’em, and cows too.” In the book, Jonah gives no reply.

Years later, Jesus used Jonah an example of a sign of his upcoming three-day burial. Three days in the whale, three days in the tomb—get it? He praised Nineveh for repenting, in contradistinction to those of his listeners who weren’t.

Some historical tidbits: Muhammad spoke glowingly of Jonah, and the story (with alterations) is in the Qur’an. In the Ninevite archaeological digs in Mosul, Iraq, there is a Muslim shrine dedicated to Jonah.

Ignatius of Santhià (1686–1770), after a good education, became a diocesan priest, then a Capuchin friar*. He showed his spiritual gift of obedience by not complaining a bit as he was shuffled from friary to friary like a pinball, landing for a time as confessor at a convent in Torino-Monte. In 1731 he was made vicar at the monastery of Mondovi, where he held himself to two rules: treat the novices with love, and lead by example. He made himself available 24 hours a day for their needs, and knew each one like a son.

After a bout with a mysterious eye disease, he was tapped by the King of Sardinia-Piedmont as head chaplain for the kingdom’s hospitals during the War of Austrian Succession. His gift as a confessor became known, and “even the most hardened sinners” sought him out. When peace broke out he returned to Torino-Monte, serving the remaining 24 years of his life as their spiritual director and confessor. His motto was, roughly paraphrased, “Parodise isn’t for slackers! Let’s get to work!”

He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.