daily biblical sermons


The limits of authentic enculturation: it cannot include pagan idolatry
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 33rd Week of the Year, November 22, 2019
1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59, 1 Chronicles 29, Luke 19:45-48


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“And he [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you have made it a den of robbers’” (Luke 19:45: 46).

 

 

Today Jesus cleanses the temple of the moneychangers who “were exchanging Roman and Greek coins for the half-shekel temple tax required by the Torah (Exodus 30:11-14).” (Darrell L Bock, Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Baker Academic, 1996), page 1572). While their intention was good and did provide a necessary service enabling people coming from many places to exchange their currency for that required to pay the temple tax and then offering them a variety of animals that they could buy to offer in sacrifice, the end result was nevertheless chaotic and destructive of the very purpose of the temple and the sacrifices, namely worship of God. The moneychangers and the sellers of sacrificial animals originally worked outside the temple area, but by Jesus’ time this service was moved right into the courtyards of the temple, disturbing the atmosphere of quiet, peace, silence, and reverence. Jesus is angered by this misbehavior in the house of God and takes violent action in driving the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip, and, as St. Mark says, overturning their tables and chairs (Mark 11:15). As Jesus drove them out, he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of robbers’” (Luke 19:46).

 

 

This incident is very relevant for our own times, for Catholic church buildings since the second Vatican Council have in many cases been transformed from quiet, sacred places of silence and prayer into something more like a general meeting hall where friends greet one another and converse in the pews as they wait for Mass to begin; and then, when Mass ends, while still inside the church, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, people move around, shake hands, greet their friends, and exchange the latest news.

 

 

I wonder how many Catholics are aware that this is misbehavior and misuse of our church buildings and is disrespect for the Eucharist, which is present in the tabernacle and during Mass. At some point we need to be awakened, and that was the purpose of Jesus’ action today. It woke people up to realize that they were doing something wrong. Here was a respected teacher and miracle worker angrily driving out the moneychangers and sellers of animals from the temple. We also need a rude awakening to help us realize just how far we have fallen from the proper behavior that we should exercise in our church building, the house of God, and the place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

 

 

This reading is also important for us today for another reason, for in our praiseworthy attempts to be culturally sensitive and try to enculturate the liturgy of the Mass into the local culture of the peoples of the world, we have begun to go too far, and this error was on public display at the Vatican itself during the month of October 2019 at the synod in Rome on the Church in the Amazon area. We actually witnessed on TV and the Internet open idolatry in the Vatican garden in the presence of the pope and several cardinals and bishops, as a group of about ten indigenous Amazonian people formed a circle around a blanket containing two wooden sculptures of nude pregnant women, before which the entire group bowed their foreheads to the ground in worship.

 

 

The pope himself declared that these statues were Pachamamas, a pagan goddess whom many indigenous non-Christian people of the Amazon region worship under the title of Pachamama and Mother Earth. As in the case of the moneychangers, the intention of this service in the Vatican garden had some good points to it, showing sensitivity and respect for the culture of the indigenous people of the Amazon and showing a desire to somehow incorporate into our liturgy some elements from their culture that would help make the liturgy more meaningful to them. But like the cleansing of the temple incident, it ended up being an open and flagrant contradiction of Christianity itself.

 

 

Valid enculturation can never include pagan idolatry, which is the worship of false gods and idols. Probably nothing is more condemned throughout the Old Testament than idolatry, and the first commandment of the Ten Commandments is against idolatry: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).

 

 

Throughout her history Israel was continually falling back into idolatry in imitation of the pagan peoples of the land of Canaan where they lived, and God continually sent them prophets to warn them against idolatry. The public approval (seen around the world on TV and the Internet) given by the Vatican and the pope to these idolatrous practices is a very serious matter, for it indicates that the good desire to enculturate the liturgy has gone too far, and that the official Church has overstepped the proper limits of authentic enculturation.

 

 

Just yesterday (November 21, 2019) Archbishop Vigano, the former papal ambassador to the United States, issued an English translation of a statement of his strongly condemning the idol worship that took place in the Vatican garden and that then continued in the use of these statues of naked pregnant women during the procession after the Mass of the synod and the daily repose of these idols in a Carmelite church just outside the Vatican and their being placed in a prominent place in the synod hall during the Amazon synod.

 

 

Archbishop Vigano said, “During the recent synod, a grave sacrilegious act was consummated through the inaugural celebration held in the Vatican Gardens and the appearance of the Pachamama in St. Peter’s and Santa Maria in Traspotina. The worship of the living and true God, revealed and manifested in Jesus Christ, whom the Catholic Church adores and professes, has been contaminated by clearly idolatrous and syncretistic elements.”

 

 

He then goes on to say, “Idolatry, or its simulation, represents the most serious attack perpetrated against the Divine Majesty. The martyrs shed their blood and paid for their resistance of idolatry with the supreme gift of their lives. Those same martyrs who have drenched and consecrated the earth of ancient pagan Rome, have seen their glorious memory profaned by the celebrations of the Pachamama.” (See here).

 

 

But there was a good side to this whole affair when to the surprise of the whole world a dedicated Christian young man from Austria seized the idols and threw them into the Tiber River (See him throw them into the Tiber river on YouTube here), an act which was praised around the world.

 

 

An example of just how far we have exceeded the proper limits of authentic enculturation is further illustrated by Pope Francis’s remarks concerning these idolatrous acts. He said, “As Bishop of this diocese, I ask forgiveness from those who have been offended by this gesture [of throwing these idols into the Tiber River].” (See here).

 

 

One would have thought that the pope would have apologized for allowing sacrilegious, scandalous idolatrous worship to take place in the Vatican garden and in the Basilica of St. Peter’s, and one would have thought that he would have praised the young man who so courageously and piously did to these idols what Jesus did today in cleansing the temple and what Moses did in destroying the Golden Calf that the Israelites were worshiping. But no, he did not apologize for idolatry, nor did he praise the young man who cast the idols into the Tiber River, but rather he apologized that idols were thrown into the Tiber river! And when the police recovered them, the pope announced that they may be used in the final procession of the Mass of the synod (see here)!

 

 

So I think from these events we can see the false idea that the Vatican and the Amazon synod have of enculturation. For them it includes open, outright pagan idolatry as something acceptable and that can be added to the liturgy of the Mass! This is the crisis that the Catholic Church is going through today, of which there are many examples. We need more and more people to stand up and speak clearly about the evil that is going on in the Church today, as Jesus did in cleansing the temple, for the temple of the Church is in serious need of being cleansed today from false and extreme ideas of enculturation.

 

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