Is the Sign of Jonah Hanging Over Today’s Church?

The Prophet Jonah Before the Walls of Nineveh, Rembrandt

In 2010, Msgr. Charles Pope penned an article entitled “What is the Sign of Jonah and Has it Come Upon Us“. He focused on the Lucan version of the story, exploring the history of Jonah’s encounter with the Ninevites to come up with a deeper meaning for the “sign”. This eventually leads him to wonder if there is a similar threat which is directed at Western society today and the Church in particular, offering his own words of warning. Much has changed since 2010 and in revisiting this article Monsignor’s words seem almost prophetic.

The passage from St. Luke:

“This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here” (Luke 11:29-32).

In Luke’s account the sign was Jonah’s prophetic threat of impending destruction unless the Ninevites repent. The sign in Matthew’s version was Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the whale as a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 12:38-42). Monsignor notes that Jonah’s reluctance to preach to the Ninevites was not unexpected:

“When Jonah was told to go to Nineveh he resisted. He must have figured it was a no-win situation. Either they would rebuff his prophecy and likely kill him or they would heed his message and grow stronger. Now Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the mortal enemy of Israel and Jonah had no interest in seeing them strengthened. For if they grew in strength through repentance they would surely gain the capacity to over-run Israel.”

Nineveh, to Jonah’s disappointment, did repent and Msgr. Pope notes that God would use the Assyrians to humiliate unrepentant Israel:

“…[I]f Israel will not repent, God will take the power and strength from them and give it to a foreign land that knows Him not. They will shame and humiliate Israel inflicting God’s punishment. This is humiliating on two levels. First of all Israel, God’s own people would not repent but a pagan country would. Secondly they are humiliated by being conquered by a foreign and pagan people. …Isaiah the Prophet had well described Israel’s crimes and that punishment would surely come upon her from Assyria. God would use Assyria to humble and punish his people, Israel” (See Isaiah 10:5-6).

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus was saying that by rejecting Him, the same thing would happen to that generation as happened to Israel. Monsignor points out that pagan Rome destroyed Jerusalem and much of Judea in 70 AD and God embraced the gentiles as his Church, centered in Rome.

But here is where his article gets interesting. Msgr. Pope felt that this same threat might be hanging over the Church with respect to contraception and negative birth rates. He writes with great authority, comparing the ancient Assyrians to today’s Muslims. He even assumes the voice of God, suggesting how that warning might be expressed:

“…[I]f you do not love life, I will take it and give it to a people who do. Even if like the Assyrians of old they are not my people as you are, I will use them to humble you and punish you. I will take the gift of life that you have cast aside and give it to the Muslim people. They will grow and increase while you age and decrease. And perhaps in your humility and when you are punished by a people who do not respect your religious liberty, perhaps then you who remain will repent and begin to love life.”

The world has changed since he wrote this in early 2010; his words turned out more prophetic than I’m sure the author expected. Consider the following:

  • In 2010 Benedict XVI was still Pope and still taking heat for the Regensburg speech in which he exposed the violent nature of Islam. The current Pope, on the other hand, encourages immigration of Muslims to Europe and refuses to acknowledge Islamic violence, arguing that Islamic-motivated terrorism is no different than Catholic terrorism.
  • The “Arab Spring”, which led to the widespread persecution of Christians, had not yet started.
  • ISIS was still in its formation stage and on the defensive as the Americans were still in Iraq; the war had not ended yet.
  • The number of Muslims in Europe has swelled since 2010 due not just to a high birth rate, but to the invitation freely given to anyone seeking asylum.
  • In France it is illegal to count population by race or religion so they have been using the same number of immigrants from Muslim countries for many years, 5 million. The Pew research Center estimated the number at 7.5 million in 2010; but it’s probably closer to 15-20 million today, and growing.
  • Since 2010, worldwide deaths from terrorism are up 400%.
  • The birth rate among non-Muslims in Europe has declined since 2010 and is now 1.5.

At this point, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that for Europe this can only result in chaos. Warnings of civil war are being heard almost daily from concerned writers, politicians, military and police officers, etc.; is there even enough time to heed them?


2 thoughts on “Is the Sign of Jonah Hanging Over Today’s Church?

  1. I was very surprised to find this reference to the Sign of Jonah this morning among the news of the terrible earthquake in Norcia. Yesterday after seeing the dreadful photos of the basilica of San Benedetto in ruins, a person came right out with the very words of our Lord: this wicked generation shall not have a sign . It shall have the sign of Jonah. I didn’t quite understand the whole meaning of this at that moment. Now reading your article here, it brought things together in a clear way. I live in north east Italy. I am often in Venice. I am always and increasingly alarmed at the number of Muslims and Africans and Asians–all these very strange people with their strange language and strange customs and dress, who now literally overrun this area, who fill the trains, the stations, the buses, the vaporetti, the streets and piazze; they run the shops and restaurants in Venice, they have shops everywhere, and stalls in the markets of the small towns all around here. It is too appalling to be able to fully convey. But we certainly cannot deny how appalling has been the offense given to God, and for so long. The brutishness and ugliness of it is all around us all the time, and even inside the Church. I cannot think what can save Christian Europe. What will be saved of the magnificent monuments of Christendom? And even if they were not all to go the way of the Basilica of san Benedetto, I fear something worse, that other cultures will take them and use them… . Sometimes it seems to me that Venice is on the verge of replacing bell towers with minarets.
    Or we do penance as did the Ninivites, or no stone of glorious Christianity shall be left one upon another, so it seems to me


    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Things certainly are moving faster than I ever expected. I think the inevitable civil unrest will lead to a persecution of the Church, much like what happened during the Arab Spring. For example, in Egypt, as soon as Mubarak stepped down Christians were attacked and killed with police refusing to intervene, there was no longer an autocratic regime to maintain order. Some European governments seem headed for the same fate, an inability or unwillingness to maintain order and the jihadists will take advantage.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s