Msgr. Charles Pope: Don’t Be Tempted By False Gardens — We Preach Christ Crucified (Part I)

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August 2, 2019

Sebastiaen Vrancx, “Aeneas Meeting with His Father in Elysium,” 1597

No true or real renewal to creation’s former glory is going to happen until the Church does her primary job: bringing the full number of souls to Christ.

By Msgr. Charles Pope, National Catholic Register, 7/30/19

Note: This is the first article in a five-part series in which I express my serious concerns about the working document (instrumentum laboris) for the Oct. 6-27 Pan-Amazon Synod. Part two will focus on the demonization of the West (formerly known as Christendom). The third piece will focus on the radical redefinition of evangelization as listening and learning rather than preaching and teaching. Part four will ask, “Where is Jesus?” The final article will refute the notion that a married clergy is needed and challenge the right of a local synod to make such a sweeping change.

In reading the summary of the instrumentum laboris for the Pan-Amazon Synod, I was reminded of the fictional Shangri-La, described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon. It was a term more familiar to my parents’ generation and is used to refer to a remote, beautiful, imaginary place where life approaches perfection. My father loved old movies and I remember well watching the 1937 movie of the same name as well as the 1973 remake. The story follows a small group of people who crash-land in the Himalayas and seek refuge in the nearby lamasery of Shangri-La. It was a land protected from the outside world by mountains, it didn’t even get cold there despite its location, and its residents lived incredibly long lives. It was a movie about escaping from the real world to the world that ought to be.

Many of us today in this wearisome world look for our Eden, our Shangri-La, a world untouched by human sinfulness. We seek those who still live in perfect harmony with nature, with one another and with God.

As we all know, there is no Shangri-La. We live in paradise lost, a fallen world governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. All of us, including the indigenous peoples of Pan-Amazonia, are sinners and need Jesus to be saved. While the instrumentum does not deny this, it places such a heavy emphasis on the pristine quality of the Amazon basin and its people that it seems to be describing Shangri-La. Any trouble at all in the region is ascribed to colonization and the interference of other interlopers than anything internal. The document gives the impression that these wonderful people and the magnificent jungles and rain forests were much better off without anyone else, including the Church. The people all got along so well and lived in such harmony with nature before the arrival of outsiders!

Here are some excerpts from the instrumentum that speak of this idyllic place, untouched by and secluded from the devastating modern Western world:

In the Amazon, life is inserted into, linked with and integrated in territory. This vital and nourishing physical space provides the possibility, sustenance and limit of life … a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God … epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God. In the Amazon, the “caresses of God” become manifest and become incarnate in history … the brother tree, the sister flower, the sister bird, the brother fish, and even the smallest sisters like ants, larvae, fungi or insects (cf. Laudato Si 233). …..