Peter’s Denial by Michael D. O’Brien
A BLAZING FIRE has been stoked in my soul on two particular occasions this year. It is a fire of justice springing from a desire to defend Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The first time was on my journey to Israel and the Holy Land. I spent several days contemplating the incredible humility of God to have come to this remote place on earth and walk among us, clothed in our humanity. From Christ’s birth to His Passion, I followed along His trail of miracles, teachings and tears. One day in Bethlehem, we celebrated Mass. During the homily, I heard the priest say, “We don’t need to convert the Muslims, Jews, or others. Convert yourself and let God convert them.” I sat there stunned, trying to process what I’d just heard. Then the words of St. Paul flooded my mind:
But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!” (Rom 10:14-15)
Since then, a “mother bear” like instinct has arisen in my soul. Jesus Christ did not suffer and die and send the Holy Spirit upon His Church so that we could hold hands with unbelievers and feel good about ourselves. It is our duty and truly our privilege to share the Gospel with the nations who are waiting, searching and even longing to hear the Good News:
The Church respects and esteems these non Christian religions because they are the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. They are all impregnated with innumerable “seeds of the Word” and can constitute a true “preparation for the Gospel,”… [But] neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised is an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. On the contrary the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ—riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 53; vatican.va
I consider that day in Bethlehem a great grace, because the fire to defend Jesus has been burning ever since…
The second time this fire billowed in my soul was when I watched the tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Gardens and the accompanying rituals and prostrations before indigenous wooden carvings. I waited several days before commenting; I wanted to know what these people were doing and to whom they were bowing. Then answers started coming. While one woman is heard on video calling one of the figures “Our Lady of the Amazon,” which Pope Francis blessed, three Vatican spokesmen vigorously rejected the idea that the carvings represented Our Lady.
“It is not the Virgin Mary, who said it is the Virgin Mary? …It is an indigenous woman who represents life” …and is “neither pagan nor sacred.” —Fr. Giacomo Costa, communications official for the Amazonian synod; California Catholic Daily, October 16th, 2019
[It is] an effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life… —Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications. —reuters.com
[It] represented life, fertility, mother earth. —Dr. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, vaticannews.va
Then the Pope himself referred to the statue under the South American title of “pachamama,” which means “Mother Earth.” Indeed, the Italian Bishops’ publication arm produced a pamphlet for the Synod that included a “prayer to Mother Earth of the Inca peoples.” It read in part:
“Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful.” —Catholic World News, October 29th, 2019
Dr. Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican noted that, during the final Mass of the Synod, an Amazon woman presented a flower pot, which was then placed on the altar where it remained during the Consecration and thereafter. Moynihan notes that “a bowl of soil with plants in it is often connected with ceremonial rituals involving Pachamana” where “food and drinks are poured [into it] for the enjoyment of Pachamama” and then covered “with dirt and flowers.” It is recommended, the ritual states, “to do it with your hands to connect with the energy of the ritual.”
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
I have been careful not to impugn anyone’s motives or intentions, whether it is the Pope’s or the participants. The reason is that the motives at this point are irrelevant. What took place in the Vatican Gardens, by all exterior appearances, is a scandal. It resembled nothing short of a pagan ritual, whether it was or not. Some have tried to downplay the incident by insisting (against the Vatican’s official response) that the images were “Our Lady of the Amazon.” Again, that’s irrelevant. Catholics do not bow prostrate to the ground before statues of even Our Lady or the saints much less indigenous artifacts and symbols. Furthermore, the Pope did not himself venerate those images as such, and at the final Mass of the Synod, appeared to have brought in and properly venerated a typical image of Our Lady (which says a lot). Nonetheless, the damage has been done. Someone recounted to me how their Episcopalian friend has now accused us Catholics of worshipping Mary and/or statues.
Others I have spoken with insist that the prostrations before the objects were ultimately directed to God—and anyone who suggests otherwise is racist, intolerant, judgmental and antipapal. However, even if that was the intention of the worshippers, what the world witnessed did not look anything like a Catholic prayer service but a pagan ceremony. Indeed, several clergymen have stated this very point:
It is not understandable to an observer that the publicly displayed veneration of Pachamama at the Amazon Synod is not meant to be idolatry. —Bishop Marian Eleganti of Chur, Switzerland; October 26th, 2019;lifesitenews.com
After weeks of silence we are told by the Pope that this was not idolatry and there was no idolatrous intention. But then why did people, including priests, prostrate before it? Why was the statue carried in procession into churches like St. Peter’s Basilica and placed before altars at Santa Maria in Traspontina? And if it isn’t an idol of Pachamama (an earth/mother goddess from the Andes), why did the Pope call the image “Pachamama?” What am I to think? —Msgr. Charles Pope, October 28th, 2019; National Catholic Register
The syncretism evident in the ritual celebrated around an immense floor covering, directed by an Amazonian woman and in front of several ambiguous and unidentified images in the Vatican gardens this past October 4, should be avoided… the reason for the criticism is precisely because of the primitive nature and pagan appearance of the ceremony and the absence of openly Catholic symbols, gestures and prayers during the various gestures, dances and prostrations of that surprising ritual. —Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop emeritus of Caracas, Venezuela; October 21, 2019; lifesitenews.com
Herein lies the fire that has been stoked: where is our zeal to defend Jesus Christ and respect the First Commandment that forbids “strange gods” among us? Why are some Catholics trying to split hairs at this point to make a blatantly compromising activity look acceptable?
Put it this way. Imagine my wife and children walking into the bedroom and finding me holding another woman in our marital bed. The other woman and I then climb out as I explain, “There were no adulterous intentions here. I was just holding her because she does not know Christ and needs to know that she is loved, welcomed and that we are ready to accompany her in her faith.” Of course, my wife and children would be angry and scandalized, even if I insist that they are just being intolerant and judgmental.
The point is that our witness, the example we give to others, is essential, especially to the “little ones.”
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
The invocation of the statues before which even some religious bowed at the Vatican… is an invocation of a mythical power, of Mother Earth, from which they ask blessings or make gestures of gratitude. These are scandalous demonic sacrileges, especially for the little ones who are not able to discern. —Bishop Emeritus José Luis Azcona Hermoso of Marajó, Brazil; October 30th, 2019, lifesitenews.com
That, at least, is the take of a prelate more familiar with the pagan worship of Mother Earth in those regions. The main point, however, is that what we say, what we do, how we behave, must always lead others to Christ. St. Paul went so far as to say that “it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.”  How much more, then, ought we to be careful to never give a witness to others that money, possessions, power, our career, our image—much less secular or pagan images—are the object of our love.
Pachamama is not and never will be the Virgin Mary. To say that this statue represents the Virgin is a lie. She is not Our Lady of the Amazon because the only Lady of the Amazon is Mary of Nazareth. Let’s not create syncretistic mixtures. All of that is impossible: the Mother of God is the Queen of Heaven and earth. —Bishop Emeritus José Luis Azcona Hermoso of Marajó, Brazil; October 30th, 2019, lifesitenews.com
FAITHFULNESS TO JESUS
Before I went to Israel, I sensed the Lord say that we must “Walk in the footsteps of St. John” the beloved apostle. I have not fully understood why, until now.
As I wrote recently On Vatican Funkiness, even if a pope were to deny Jesus Christ (as Peter did after he received the Keys of the Kingdom), we ought to hold fast to Sacred Tradition and remain faithful to Jesus unto death. St. John did not “blindly follow” the first pope into his denial but turned in the opposite direction, walked to Golgotha, and remained steadfast beneath the Cross at the risk of His life. I am not suggesting in any way that Pope Francis has denied Christ. Rather, I am making the point that our shepherds are human, including Peter’s successor, and we are not required to defend their personal follies. Our faithfulness to them is obedience to their authentic magisterium, bestowed on them by Christ, regarding “faith and morals.” When they depart from that, either by non-binding statements or personal sin, there is no obligation to support their words or behaviour. But there is, however, an obligation to defend the truth—to defend Jesus Christ, who is Truth. And this must be done in charity.
Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie. —St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), quoted at her canonization by St. John Paul II, October 11th, 1998; vatican.va
We have completely lost the narrative of why the Church exists, what our mission is, and what our purpose is if we fail to love God, first, and our neighbour as ourselves.
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 25
It’s absolutely horrific how Christians have begun to tear one another apart today, especially “conservative” Christians. Here, St. John’s example is so powerful.
At the Last Supper, while the Apostles were busy trying to lay blame on who would betray Christ, and Judas was quietly dipping his hands in the same bowl as Jesus… St. John simply lay against the breast of Christ. He silently contemplated His Lord. He loved Him. He adored Him. He clung to Him. He worshipped Him. Therein lies the secret of how to pass through the Great Trial that is now upon us. It is absolute fidelity to Christ. It is abandonment to the Heavenly Father. It is An Invincible Faith in Jesus. It is not compromising our beliefs for fear of conflict or not being politically correct. It is not focusing on the storm and the waves but the Master in the boat. It is prayer. As Our Lady has been telling the Church for nearly forty years now: pray, pray, pray. Fast and pray. Only in this way will we have the grace and strength not to cave into our flesh and the principalities and powers that, in this hour, have been given sway to test the Church.
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38-39)
What are we to watch? We are to watch the signs of the times but to pray for the wisdom to interpret them. This was the key that led John alone among the Apostles to stand steadily beneath the Cross and to remain faithful to Jesus, despite the storm that raged around him. His eyes observed the signs around him, but he did not dwell on the terror and dysfunction. Rather, his heart was fixed on Jesus, even when everything seemed utterly lost.
Brothers and sisters, the trials that surround us are just the beginning. We have scarcely begun the hard labor pains. These days, I often hear in my heart the Scripture: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 
The answer is yes: in those who follow in the footsteps of St. John.
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