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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Sacred Cross or Sacred Tree?

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The ceremony in the Vatican gardens to Mother Earth should be a warning to us about the dangers of any environmentalism that is detached from good science and sound religious teachings about our stewardship over creation. We take care of the world because it is God’s gift to us and what God creates is good. There is no divinity that can be identified with nature. We do not worship the world but rather the one who made the world. We do not preserve nature for its own sake. Rather, we realize that we diminish or hurt ourselves by the destruction of our habitat and the species with which we share the earth.

The female indigenous leader who planted a “sacred tree” in the Vatican Gardens was quite clear about the syncretistic and pagan meaning associated with the idols and rituals. She explained that it was to “satisfy the hunger of Mother Earth” and reconnect with “the divinity present in the Amazonian soil.” Catholicism has always rejected any pantheism that identifies the divinity with the things of nature.

All created things possess something of the divine spark or God’s power that sustains them in existence; however, God cannot be identified with any created things other than the God-man, Jesus Christ. The idolatry here is deeper than the “pachamama” statues but also includes the soil and the “sacred tree.” Indeed, the “pachamama” as a false deity is historically regarded as a harsh goddess demanding sacrifices. Her worship signifies the inclusion of paganism into what should now be a Christian culture. It is also a feature in current New Age religion or cults.

The Brazilian Ednamar de Oliveira Viana offered an explanation about the Vatican Garden tree-planting ceremony:

“To plant . . . is believing in a growing and fruitful life to satisfy the hunger of Mother Earth’s creation. This brings us to our origin by reconnecting divine energy and teaching us the way back to the Creator Father.”

Instructing the participants to bow before the “pachamama” statues, she added:

“The Synod is to plant this tree, water and cultivate, so that the Amazonian peoples are heard and respected in their customs and traditions experiencing the mystery of the divinity present in the Amazonian soil.”

Pope Francis helped to shovel the dirt but little more. The video of him doing this reminded me of our planting of trees as school children on Arbor Day. But there is something much more sinister behind this. (A connection might be made with the so-called “sacred trees” of present-day Wiccans with their nature worship. Similarly, Celts and Druids worshipped trees until St. Patrick’s victory over paganism.) Peruvian “sacred” trees are regarded as sacred beings. Again, it is associated with “living energy” and “spirits in nature.” Given this understanding, I would not be surprised if someone were to soon give the tree the axe and we were to see it following the “pachamama” down the Tiber. The one true tree that matters to Christians is the cross of Jesus. We must be ever mindful that sin, suffering and death come from the living tree in the primordial garden; mercy, healing and eternal life come from the dead tree of the cross.