Today, some thieves broke into a church, stole some statues, and threw them into the river. Perhaps the perpetrators consider themselves a pack of modern St. Bonifaces, tackling pagan idols head on, plus a little bit of Jesus with a whip, cleansing the temple.
There are a few problems with this approach. One is that stealing and vandalism are sins, full stop. If your goal is to defend the Church, then you really need to start with defending the ten commandments.
The second problem is it is by no means clear that the statues they stole and threw away are actually idols. Maybe they were fertility symbols, maybe they were Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation, maybe they just sorta “represented life.” Maybe they were something in between, and if so, maybe that’s how inculturation is supposed to work; or maybe it’s syncretism, which is definitely not how it’s supposed to work. If the statues were idols, then they don’t belong in the church. If they weren’t, then people who threw them into the river were at very least stealing and destroying property, possibly being racist, and possibly committing some light blasphemy.
Myself, I err like responsible hunters err: If the light is dim, and that moving object might be a deer or it might be your buddy, don’t shoot. Same with a statue: If it might depict my mother, I’m not going to cheer when someone chucks it into a river of filth.
I don’t especially like what I’ve seen about the Synod. But I try to resist basing my opinions on hinky-looking snippets. As with so many other current events, I assume almost everyone who reports on the Synod (especially people who weren’t there) is either lying or being lied to (and yes, I’m “both sidesing.” Sometimes it’s appropriate.) A lot of the people who hate it are pretty frankly racist, and simply reject any expression of Christianity that doesn’t look European. A lot of the people who love it are pretty frankly heterodox, and are already fully on board with women priests, contraception for all, etc. Some of the people defending the Synod are coming across as fairly racist and paternalistic. And always, as we know, just because you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
I’m on the record as no blind fan of Pope Francis, especially in his mishandling of the ongoing abuse crisis. I think he is a sloppy man who tends to speak out of personal animosity, without fully realizing or caring what effect his words have on the whole Church (and on individual people, especially priests). But I have also noticed that, when other people present him with heterodox ideas, he tends to shut them down right away, instinctively. When the synod opened with what sure looked like a pagan ritual, for instance, he discarded his prepared remarks and instead led the crowd in the Our Father.
And this is why I have hope that, when (which seems more likely than “if”) the synodal committee (or whatever it is) presents him with some kind of garbagey conclusions, he will reject them, as other popes have done in the past. Recall that John XXIII’s Pontifical Commission presented him with the recommendation that the Church accept and bless contraception; and the pope read it and responded: “No. When a bunch of theologians get together and talk about their druthers, of course it’s going to be a bunch of stupid stuff that shouldn’t and couldn’t happen. What’s most likely to happen is that the Vatican, in its lumbering bureaucratic wisdom, will take all the findings and send them to committee, and appoint a blue ribbon commission, and nothing will change. That really is the most likely thing. Or maybe the Pope will issue another amorphous encyclical and people will go blind trying to beat either wisdom or heresy out of it.
Or maybe we’ll end up with female deacons and some married priests, and I’m really not convinced that would be the end of the world, either.
But isn’t it possible that we’re really going off the rails this time, and the pope will let Unequivocally Bad Things Happen? Sure. All kinds of things are possible. The world has to end sometime, and maybe it’s starting now.
But here we arrive at the third problem with cosplaying St. Boniface, posting it to YouTube, and calling it living our faith: No matter what is actually happening at the Synod, and no matter how the Pope will respond, the most useful thing, possibly the only useful thing we can do
Oh, I’m sorry, did you roll your eyes? Did you really just sigh impatiently at the idea that our response to trials and uncertainty should be to pray? Then that’s your problem right there. That’s a bigger problem for you, personally, than anything that can possibly happen in Rome. If you let yourself think that anything you can do online — signing petitions, sniping on Twitter, gathering screenshots and sharing them on your site — is more important than praying, then you are on a bad road and you need to stop and turn around before you get to the end.
You think Cardinal Kaspar is bad! Wait till you meet the worm who dieth not.
Everyone wants to imitate Jesus in the one time He showed some temper with the whip in the temple. Dude, you are not Jesus. It’s a much safer bet to imitate Him in the other 99% of the Gospels, like when He preached the good news, when He fed His sheep, when he gave over His body, and when He fixed His eyes firmly on the Father and then told us to do the same.
Oops, that’s what the Pope did, too. When in doubt, pray an Our Father.
It’s really easy to imitate outward actions. A saint did this, so I will, too! But let me tell you: The real work that every Christian is compelled to do is interior work. And it’s hard. And it doesn’t get a lot of views on YouTube. But it is what will save your soul.
We have an obligation to know, love, and serve God, and to teach our children to know, love, and serve God. I can do these things without following everything tagged #amazonsynod. In fact, I can do these things far better without following anything tagged #amazon synod.
Maybe you’re different from me. Maybe following the news is helping you to grow closer to Christ. I’m not telling you what your own soul is like. But if you do feel that it’s your obligation to publicly take a stand on the news and educate yourself thoroughly about all possible ins and outs, it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself:
How is my response to the news affecting my spiritual life?
Do I find it easier or harder to be good to other people since I started getting involved?
The more time I spend thinking and talking about it, do I find I am growing in faith, hope, and love?
When I follow the news more closely, and get into more conversations about it, am I increasing in personal virtue? If so, which virtues?
That really is our central responsibility: Our own souls, our own spiritual state. We neglect that responsibility at our eternal peril. If news of the synod is causing you to sin, then pluck it out.
Image is a screenshot from this video.