Introduction: The Need for a Sign
Years ago my father bought a new car, a 1964 Chevy. He liked the new car except for one thing: it lacked gauges. It had a temperature and fuel gauge but the other indicators were merely warning lights. By the time these lights came on, roadside assistance had to be called. My dad was looking for better and earlier indicators, he was looking for better signs to assure him that his car was performing well.
In today’s Gospel people are also looking for new and better signs. In spite of Jesus’ miracles, people ask him for a sign, a sign that he was not only a prophet but indeed the long-awaited Messiah. They claimed to be looking for a guarantee that his core message, “repent and believe in the Gospel”, was true.
Jesus was less than delighted with this request for sign. He reminded his listeners that his message of repentance didn’t come out of the blue, and Jesus did this by linking his preaching with that of Jonah, who called Nineveh to repentance. He told them that the people of Nineveh, who were Assyrians, repented at the preaching of Jonah but then said of himself, “There is something greater than Jonah here!”
Signs of God’s Truth and Love
I think Jesus deliberately understated matters when he said, “there is something greater than Jonah here.” After all, the humanity of God’s Incarnate Son is the most fundamental sign of all. By becoming one of us the Eternal Son revealed the Father’s love. Through the humanity of Jesus the truth, love, and glory of God shines forth. In Jesus, God the Father’s love became audible, visible, and tangible. As theologians like to say, “The humanity of Jesus is the primordial sacrament.” In Jesus there is indeed “something greater than Jonah.”
Yet like the audiences who heard Jesus, we too look for signs. Faced with dilemmas, surrounded by problems and confusion, struggling with sins and our need for repentance, we sometimes wish the Lord would just show us what to do. Yet the Lord says to us: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). In effect he is saying, “You have in me all the signs you need, the gift, the sign, the sacrament of my humanity and those seven powerful signs we call the seven sacraments. You are given direction in Scripture, in the Church’s moral and spiritual teaching, and in the light of my love, you can also read “the signs of times” – understanding more deeply the culture in which we live and raise our families, understanding more clearly what must be done to create a truly just society.
The problem is not a lack of signs. Rather it is our reluctances to pay close attention to these signs. Do we have the courage to trust that God has the best in store for us? Do we have the faith to believe God is with us, even when things go wrong? Do we have contrite heart, a prayerful heart capable of understanding these signs?
Our Lady of Guadalupe
During our days here in Mexico, we will see an extraordinary sign of God’s love. We will look upon the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe whose appearance on Tepayac hill unleased the evangelization of the New World. If we listen carefully to her message, look deeply into her countenance, and see ourselves and our diverse cultures reflected in her image, we will find not a newly invented message but the sign of Jonah. We will see in Mary a loving invitation to repent and believe in the Gospel, to encounter her Son and to become better disciples.
Pope Francis has come to this country as a sign of hope, traveling, as is his custom, to places where hope is in short supply. He too is a sign calling us to repentance and belief in the Son of God made man. It should also be our hope and prayer during these days of pilgrimage that we ourselves will become ever more effective signs of God’s love, signs that invite many to open their hearts to Christ, signs that convey convincingly the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel. And more than that, we ask Our Lady’s intercession that our beloved Order, the Knights of Columbus, by living its Gospel principles of charity, unity, and fraternity, may be an ever brighter and more visible sign of the Father’s love, revealed in the humanity of Christ. Vivat Jesus!