VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - History's most famous tightrope walker Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a rope in 1859. This week, Pope Francis became the Church's most famous theological tightrope walker as he crossed the cavernous chasm between Gaia and the God of the gospels.
Like the crowds cheering Blondin, Catholics flung bouquets at the Holy Father on Friday for his Urbi et Orbi blessing, summoning city and world to repent and turn to Christ in the face of the pandemic.
Francis, in a virtuoso performance that would put the fiddler on the roof in the shade, delivered a spirited sermon on Jesus stilling the storm from the gospel according to St. Mark (nope, not St. Marx).
"Convertitevi!" Francis said, reminiscent of Pope St. John Paul II's warning shout to the mafia on his visit to Sicily to "Be converted!" Francis underlined the gospel call to conversion with a high-octane quote from the prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart" (2:12).
Dwelling on the desperation of the disciples, who cry out to Jesus to save them amidst the storm, and the world's devastation in the whirlwind of the Wuhan pandemic, the Holy Father declared, "Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation."
"Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck," Francis exhorted in the manner of a Bible-thumping Billy Graham.
As he lifted the Blessed Sacrament in a setting of sublime choreography to bless city and world, so Francis exalted the cross of Christ: "We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed."
So how does the pontiff of the theological tightrope balance the acrobatics between a soporific Jesus stilling the storm and a grumpy Gaia having a hissy fit because because we haven't been changing her diaper?
On Sunday, five days before his Urbi et Orbi performance, Francis was feeding a Spanish journalist his patent Pachamama poppycock. Asked whether the pandemic caused by the Chinese pathogen is nature's way of taking "revenge" on humanity, the pope pushed a line barely skirting pantheism: "There's a saying, which you have heard: 'God always forgives. We sometimes forgive. Nature never forgives.'"
"Fires, earthquakes … nature is throwing a tantrum so that we will take care of her," Francis pontificated. Could this have been the rhetorical flourish from a pope with a penchant for poetry, albeit the mushy Pablo Neruda genre that punctuates the plodding prose of Querida Amazonia? Or is Francis parroting the paganish eco-theology of his buddy — ex-priest and liberation theologian Leonardo Boff? In any case, how does he know?
In a recent article, Boff proposes that the coronavirus pandemic and other recent virus outbreaks are goddess Gaia's "reprisal" for our atrocities against Mother Nature — especially the sin of capitalism. In his pseudo-scientific rant, quoting quantum physicists and talking about the inter-connectedness of everything, Boff fails to mention the real cause of COVID-19 — the sins of the Chinese "wet markets" where animals are eaten half-alive. But don't hold your breath waiting for Boff to name and shame his commie comrades for the origin and spread of the coronavirus.
In his Urbi et Orbi sermon, Francis poaches Boff's "greedy for profit" capitalism-bashing and "everything is interconnected" leitmotifs, but again does not even hint at the monstrous brutality of the Chinese against animals. In a 2017 article titled, "Is China Ground Zero for a Future Pandemic?" Smithsonian Magazine predicted that China "could be brewing an even more deadly version of H7N9 [bird flu], one that could pass quickly through crowds of people in London and New York" — thanks to its treatment of animals.
Boff attributes this thinking to James Lovelock's pantheistic hypothesis that the Earth is a self-regulating living superorganism. Both Boff and Bergoglio, in effect, are preaching Lovelock's holy writ from his pagan Bible: The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back — and How We Can Still Save Humanity.
Ergo, the Gospel according to Greta Thunberg holds that Mother Nature/Pachamama/Gaia suffers paroxysms of rage when human beings exploit her, especially through the mechanism of Wall Street capitalism.
So, in an era when most religions engaged in worship of nature — back when Mama Nature wasn't being molested by capitalism — who caused the storm in Mark's gospel? Pachamama? Gaia? Or, Yahweh, the God of Israel?
Without naming the source of the storm, St. Mark simply notes that "a great storm of wind arose." Most biblical scholars see the passage intertextually embedded in Psalm 107 and the book of Jonah.
In Psalm 107, it is Yahweh who "made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed." Only Yahweh can still the storm and calm the turbulent sea! So if Jesus performs precisely the same miracle, surely ... he must be ... dare we say it, "God?!" This is the whole point of St. Mark's miracle of Jesus' calming the storm. That's why it climaxes with the question: "And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?'" It's a theophany — a revelation of Jesus as God.
But Psalm 107 also tells us who originates the storm. "For he [Yahweh] commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea." Surprise, surprise, it's Yahweh, not Gaia! And why does Yahweh send a storm as he does in the episode of his recalcitrant prophet Jonah?
The context of the psalm points to the reason for God sending a storm (as he does in Jonah): "For they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High" (Psalm 107: 11). The psalmist attributes ecological devastation to God's wrath against sinful behavior: "He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants" (Psalm 107: 33-34).
Unlike the psalmist, Pope Francis can't stomach the idea of God as judge. "It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement," he told God, in a dramatic but casuistical soliloquy. Are we better at judging ourselves than God is at judging us? And if the Wuhan virus is "our judgement" why plead for divine intervention anyway?
Further, according to Francis, the God of Israel who is "slow to anger and rich in mercy" doesn't judge, but the goddess Gaia judges by wreaking her vengeance? Such logic would lead us to conclude that Jesus didn't die to atone for our sins but to appease the wrath of Pachamama!
Significantly, the boat would come to symbolize the Church as an ark of salvation (Ambrose, De Noe et Arca). In Mark's gospel, this boat is setting sail on a mission of evangelism for those on "the other side" — a commission which Francis has too often dysphemistically downgraded as "proselytism."
Blondin always walked the tightrope alone. But on occasion, as he became bolder, he even carried his son and a volunteer on his back and made an omelet for the crowd while walking the tightrope.
Bergoglio as a lone tightrope walker is one thing. Pope Francis walking a theological tightrope is altogether different. Because now, like a bolder Blondin, the Holy Father is carrying the whole Church on his back as he walks a very perilous pathway on the tightrope.
Jesus didn't choose Peter to walk a theological tightrope. He chose Peter as the Rock on which to build his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.