In the Gospel for today’s Mass (Wednesday of First Week of Lent) the Lord Lord says, This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah (Lk 11:30). The Lord Jesus says much in this brief verse, but perhaps we can first focus in on the human tendency and even obsession with “seeking a sign” quite usually to the detriment of of more serious matters.
There is a seeming fascination that most people have with signs and visions, with portents and prophecies. Even non-believers seem endlessly to run to “end of the world” prophecies, to doomsayers and predictions of global catastrophes. Mayan Calendars, Nostradamus, Edgar Casey et al. are regular features on the History Channel, Science Channel etc.
Many Christians too seem overly fascinated with end the world scenarios from the Book of Revelation, and 1 Thessalonians. Identifying antichrists, beasts of the apocalypse, 666 and so on has caused rivers of ink to spill and forests of paper to contain the musings over signs and secrets.
Catholics get quite fascinated with all sorts of messages, often said to be from Mother Mary, approved or not. The latest rage is the Prophecy of St. Malachy (most likely a fake). But before this latest rage we’ve been through “three days of darkness” scares, and numerous apocalyptic visions of seers et al. Yes, an endless fascination with all the details an intricacies often takes up a lot of oxygen in the room.
Yes, we humans love signs and secrets, prophecies and portents. Now, to be sure, lest the com box light up too much, there are legitimate prophecies, even beyond the Old Testament, that the Church has recognized as at least worthy of belief and attention. Among these are approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother and locutions and visions of certain saints. But even these must be understood as secondary to the primary sources of Revelation: Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Not only are they secondary, but they are in service of Revelation.
The problem comes, when there is an emphasis of signs and wonders (even in legitimate apparitions) over the solid food and main staple of our diet, Divine Revelation. When fascination of the details of secondary things, eclipses an appreciation of the clearer and more primary things.
And this is one aspect of what Jesus condemns, that an “evil age” seeks a sign.
It is as if to say, this age, seeks more to be intrigued than to discover the truth and live it; to be entertained rather than enlightened and evangelized. It is an age that craves curiosities more than conversion, is more interested in a kind of side-show thrill than in repenting and doing daily work of believing; it is an age that seeks relief more than true healing, fascinating facts, rather than full faith. Too easily we maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum, we stress the significance of signs more than the seriousness of sin.
But signs point somewhere they are not THE point. If I see a sign that says “Washington” with an arrow, I don’t park there and say I am in Washington. I do not stop and take pictures of the sign and endlessly study its intricate details. No, I take a quick look and I go where the sign points, I go to the fuller reality it indicates. The sign is not the point, it points to the point.
And thus Jesus lifts up the sign of Jonah as the proper paradigm for signs and says,
No sign will be given [this present evil age]…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 preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
In other words the Ninevites did not just ponder the sign of Jonah and endlessly debate its intricacies and connection to other prophecies, they followed the sign, they repented. They sought God to whom the sign pointed and begged his mercy.
And so too for us. Simply being fascinated by and collecting all the latest details of some prophecy, be it a seer, a doomsayer, an apparition, whether approved, unapproved or yet to be approved is not enough. We must follow the sign.
And frankly, any true seer or prophet is only going to say what we already know: Repent and Believe the Gospel. They are not going to add to Revelation at all. If Seers and prophecies pronounce the end of the world, we already know that, “Children it is the final age” (1 John 2:8).
Mother Mary predicted wars at Fatima, we already knew that: “Wars and rumors of wars” (Mk 13:7). The critical thing Mother Mary said was not about wars, it was about repentance. And what she said at Fatima, she had already said at Cana, “Do whatever my Son tells you!” (Jn 2:5).
The danger is that in our endless fascination with the details, and our debates about the hidden meanings of signs, we miss “the point” of a sign. Signs point, and every true sign points to only one thing: Repent and believe the Gospel.
Jesus says plainly that of this “present evil age” (cf Gal 2:1) only one sign will really be given: the Sign of Jonah. So whatever Mother Mary has said, whatever Sr. Faustina, St. Margaret Mary, and many others have said, it all comes down to one thing: Repent and believe the Gospel.
Don’t get lost in the weeds, don’t debate too many details, or emphasize non-essentials. don’t miss “the point” of every true sign: Repent and believe the gospel. In all the variations, only one sign is given. Follow where it points, Repent and believe.