Father Mapple (Gregory Peck) on Jonah


Any Gregory Peck fans? Some people know that Gregory Peck played Captain Ahab in a 1956 movie version of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. A few people maybe know that Gregory Peck made a cameo appearance in the 1998 tv-miniseries version. Which character did he portray then? Father Mapple. Who gave a stirring sermon on…? The prophet Jonah! Here’s a summary.

Jonah began by disobeying God’s direct order. Go to Nineveh. Go east. Jonah sailed west. Jonah hated the Ninevites. He did not want the Ninevites to repent and find salvation. He wanted them to burn.

Jonah by Michelangelo
Jonah by Michelangelo

So Jonah disobeyed, simply because he did not want to fulfill the Lord’s command.

As Father Mapple, Gregory Peck puts it eloquently, “To obey God, we must disobey ourselves; it is in this disobeying of ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.”

The Lord turned the tables on Jonah. The fugitive has to jump overboard to keep the ship on which he sails from sinking in a storm. Then a whale swallows Jonah.

From the belly of the whale, Jonah finally prays. He begins by acknowledging that God has justly punished him. Lord, this is miserable, languishing in the belly of a whale. But I deserve it.

This, Father Mapple points out, is repentance of the deepest and most faithful kind. I have sinned, Lord, and You have justly punished. Praise you! Jonah loves God enough to praise Him for making life miserable for him.

Father Mapple then goes on to emphasize how the Lord liberated the penitent Jonah and Jonah embraced his duty. Jonah went to seek the repentance of the Ninevites by telling them the unpleasant truth. As Father Mapple has it: Truth rather than pleasure. Truth rather than comfort. Truth rather than honor in this world.

Then, as we read at Holy Mass today, the Ninevites repented with stunning thoroughness. They repented instantly and completely. Jonah preached, and the people—from low to high—listened and renounced their wicked ways.

How can we explain such an amazing conversion of the entire city?

I think Father Mapple’s point about the profound sincerity of Jonah’s faith—his own humility in acknowledging the justice of God’s punishments—this is the explanation. The Ninevites saw in Jonah a precursor of St. Paul: a man who came not with charisma, not with wisdom, not with eloquence, but with the absolute conviction that God is true to His word. And that our job is to disobey ourselves so we can obey Him.


Leave it to me to fall prey to food-poisoning just as the Big East tournament comes to a thrilling conclusion.

Sickness robs one of every delight. I feel like Captain Ahab:

“How now,” he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, “this smoking no longer soothes.

“Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring— aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble.

“What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more-”

He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made. With slouched hat, Ahab lurchingly paced the planks. (Moby Dick)

If you feel sorry for me, maybe you could e-mail me some scrambled eggs, dry wheat toast, and Gatorade. Thanks!