Pope Francis: A Jonah for Our Times?

The world was transfixed in early 2013 as three meteors broke through the deceptive calm of outer space. Thanks to the media, for a few weeks, people were confronted with the remote, but unsettling, possibility that the ultimate horror might come true—a killing fire, raining down from the sky.

Actually, humanity has been confronted by such a horror, and it did come true. And it left far more in its wake than the selective damage of the 2013 event, which was terrible enough—wounding 1,100 people in the heart of Russia, the most significant meteor explosion to hit earth in 100 years.

But the earlier event, which happened several millennia ago, brought no less than complete annihilation.  Although details are sketchy by modern standards, it was a cataclysmic, epic-sized event that incinerated all human beings in its wake. Even in our history-challenged day, most people know something of this horror, which was recorded in Scripture as the day “the Lord rained brimstone and fire out of heaven.”

The epicenter took place in two ancient cities, recorded by name as Sodom and Gomorrah. Even thousands of years later, the names alone cause many 21st century inhabitants—including Catholics—to either smile indulgently or bristle in indignation. It’s not hard to see why. The account of that terrible day of fire and brimstone is understood by many as a myth or fairy tale rather than history, and it includes the kind of “judgmental” language that  is so offensive to modern sensibilities.

 

The details are obscured in the terse language of Scripture but the meaning has always been clear. When male strangers arrive in the dissolute city of Sodom, the Sodomites demanded that they be turned over to them for sexual pleasure. Lot, the just man, objects: “Do not commit this evil,” he implores.

A common sense reading of the passages, not to mention centuries of biblical exegesis—have been clear—the evil spoken of by Lot is homosexuality.

The rest of the story is familiar, even to us “moderns.” In brief, the ancient Sodomites and people from Gomorrah refused to turn away from their evil intentions. God, through angel messengers, warns Lot that, because of their persistent evil, devastation will befall the entire region. The angels tell Lot and his family to flee. Everyone else is destroyed.

According to the Bible, this catastrophe was witnessed by Abraham, our father in faith.  Genesis 19:28 tells us that, looking from afar, Abraham “saw the ashes rise up from the earth as the smoke of a furnace.”

It’s a grim scene. But it’s so central that, at least a thousand years after the event—and two millennia before our time—two epistle writers, including the first pope, refer to it.

Jude, in his epistle, reminds the first generation of Christians that the evil citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah have a role to play: “They are set before us to dissuade us as they undergo a punishment of eternal fire” (1:7). And the apostle Peter included a future warning about Sodom and Gomorrah, saying that God “condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah [to destruction], reducing them to ashes, making them an example for the godless [people] of what is coming” (2Pt.2:6).

However, and interesting to note, God dealt very differently with another biblical “sin city.” Nineveh was a dissolute city, too, but God sent the prophet Jonah to call people back from their depravity. Jonah did so, and the people of Nineveh heard him and repented, showing their sincerity by putting on sackcloth and ashes.

By contrast, Sodom and Gomorrah did not repent. The distinction is crucial.

Now we come to our own times. Once again, an aggressive homosexual movement is sweeping the world. We know that the United States is beset with legal pressures to accept homosexual marriage and the requirement that gay couples be accepted as adoptive parents. The threat is so real, that as of 2013 traditional Catholic adoption agencies across the country are preparing to shut down rather than be legally forced to place children in homes without a married mother and father.

But the aggression of the homosexual movement goes much further. In fact, so many nations have accepted, or are considering, expanding gay rights to include marriage (including France, once a cornerstone of western Christianity) that the countries have become too numerous to mention. Clearly, we are now surpassing the homosexuality of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But many may ask—why would God single out one sin for so much punishment? Why do we need a modern day Jonah?

Scripture is clear, and if we think about it, our own reason should tell us reasons why. Sins of lust strike at the heart of the inner person—called in Scripture “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” St Paul says, “You have been bought at a great price,” reminding us that the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross, his unspeakable suffering and death, is in effect mocked by those who corrupt and sully their inner being with lust (1 Cor.6:20).

What’s more, in a deeply personal way, lust is the sin that destroys families—as well as the instinct to make families. It’s as simple as that. We all know it’s true—adultery, sex outside of marriage, pornography and perversions are cancers that tear at the heart of the family unit, that beautifully designed model of man, woman and child, designed by God to reflect the divine life itself. This assault on the most blessed of human pacts, the family, incites more than God’s displeasure—it incites his wrath: As Paul says in his epistle to the Ephesians (5:5-6) the sins of “fornicators” and “unclean and lustful persons” “bring down God’s wrath upon the disobedient.”

But we must go further. Homosexual acts are singled out in particular.  In Romans (1: 18, 26-27) Paul speaks about the “wrath of God” descending upon “women (who) exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and men (who) gave up natural intercourse with women and burned with lust for one another.”

Today, the Christian concern and alarm over homosexual sins is not some arbitrary singling out of a “lifestyle”—it’s the modern day aggressive homosexual movement which is calling attention to itself, by making demands on civilization that clearly reject everything that tradition, human reason, and God‘s laws have set in place. Homosexuality’s merciless demands that society publicly admire their sin, turn over the institution of marriage, and even bestow the right to raise children—is the modern equivalent of Sodom’s men trying to break down the door of Lot’s house to satisfy their own lustful pleasure.

Christians did not ask for this fight, but the times are clear. We must accept the unavoidable reality that, once again, gay rights are in full aggressive mode, as much, if not more so, than in Sodom and Gomorrah. St. Peter warns of “what is coming” and the context clearly indicates that another “reduction to ashes” is in store for depraved humanity. Clearly, we need another Jonah.

This spring, an event occurred which should give us reason to hope.

The event was the thoroughly unexpected arrival of Pope Francis—an event which our faith tells us was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Significantly, this pope has a track record of defending holy matrimony against the modern homosexual movement.

Three years ago, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, instructed his priests to bring the faithful to an upcoming protest against homosexual “marriage” as the nation of Argentina debated the expansion of homosexual rights. At the time, his message was widely noted, and also maligned, in secular Argentina (which ultimately became the first Latin American country to allow gay civil unions). However, the future Pope Francis continued, courageously, to speak out. As quoted by LifeSiteNews in March, 2013, he said:

“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God,” wrote Cardinal Bergoglio in a letter sent to the monasteries of Buenos Aires. “We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Since then, the United States and the rest of the world has slid even further down the path of indifference to grave sin. Even many Catholics have begun to shrug off the threat of gay marriage, suggesting that “maybe the time has come” to accept this eventuality. Few elected officials—if any—are standing up in public to forcefully denounce the appalling, strong arm legal tactics being used to inflict gay adoptions and marriage on religious institutions.

Many who want to follow God’s laws are asking, in near despair, what is to become of our country? What is to become of our world?

But now, take note that the relatively obscure prelate who fiercely stood up against the government in Argentina over the matter of homosexual marriage when others were silent is now our present Pope.

Could it be that God has provided us with a Jonah for our times?

Editor’s note: The illustration above by Gustave Dore is entitled “Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites.”

Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap

By

Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M.Cap., is spiritual director and chaplain for Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity in Denver, as well as being one of the spiritual directors for the Missionaries of Charity in the western United States. He was director of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, from 1999 to 2010; a chaplain for Missionaries of Charity at their now-closed AIDS hospice, Seton House, and at Gift of Mary homeless shelter for women in Denver from 1989 to 2008. His articles have been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Faith, Soul Magazine, Pastoral Life, and The Priest. He has also made three series for Mother Angelica's EWTN: “Crucial Questions,” “Catholic Answers,” and “What Did Vatican II Really Teach?”

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