“Be on your guard against idols.” (1 John 5:21)
A “Pachamama” drama has unfolded these past weeks. Beginning with an ecological ceremony in the Vatican gardens at the opening of the Amazon Synod –the meaning and symbolism was unclear– before a wood-carved statue of a “Mother Earth/fertility figure.” The ceremony included participants bowing and prostrating before the figure, which was later tossed into the Tiber River by two Catholic men, who clearly had a strong suspicion that the figure was an idol, and should not be displayed in a catholic church alongside the Blessed Sacrament.
Sources at the Vatican and the synod gave conflicting information as to the identity of the wood carved figure, which has now been retrieved from the Tiber, and has been subsequently been identified by Pope Francis himself as “Pachamama,” when he extended an apology to the Amazonian people for its dunking. The figure may or may not be brought to the closing ceremonies of the Synod at St. Peter’s Basilica “without idolatrous intentions” says Pope Francis. Still, many Catholics are deeply disturbed that the carving of a naked female figure, which represents neither the Blessed Virgin or any saint, has been a focus of the Synod and has been given such a prominent place of honor in the church.
So, is it an idol or not? Is it a strange ecological god, or a harmless carving – a display of native culture? If the latter is the case, then why bow before it? Adoration is given only to God.
The first at the top of the list of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai is: “I am the Lord, Thy God: thou shall not have strange gods before me.” The people of Israel do not want to endure waiting to see the Face of God, and so fashion an idol, a Golden Calf, the “work of their hands.” which they can see. But “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Idol worship is the opposite of faith. However, we are not iconoclasts. Since Jesus Christ, who is God, became man and allowed Himself to be seen, He may be depicted in art, as seen here in this beautiful crucifix in Florence.
We no longer live in a time where people worship an idol like a Golden Calf, but the world certainly worships an array of “strange gods.” The dictionary gives many definitions of an idol: 1. An image used as an object of worship. 2. A false god. 3. One that is adored, often blindly or excessively. But, the definition that fits better than these is one that was used in the Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, “Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face”.
Seek the Face of Jesus Christ – The Way, the Truth and the Life
How do we recognize these false faces for what they are? First, in order to recognize what is false, we need to know what is true. Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “While we too seek other signs, other wonders, we do not realize that He is the real sign, God made flesh; He is the greatest miracle of the universe: all the love of God hidden in a human heart, in a human face.” In other words, we need to seek the face of God by looking at the face of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. “God… has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6) At the Incarnation, God became man to redeem us and now God’s Face can be seen: the Son of God, made man and He is given a name; the all-powerful name of Jesus, at whose Name every knee shall bend.
Our true identity is that we are made in the image and likeness of God and we must resemble Him in the end. Truth leads us to life. The false name and “the face which is not a face” erase the identity of the human person and leave something which is horrible in it’s place: an idol, which leads to death. Truth and faithfulness go together, therefore we must seek always and everywhere what is true, live in truth and lead others to truth in charity, in order to see the Face of God.
“We also know the Son of God has come and has given us discernment to know the one who is true. And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Children, be on your guard against idols.” (1 John 5:20-21)