Stolen idols

Stories about Vatican synods and conferences rarely make the headlines, and when they do, it's usually something about a colorful opening ceremony or working group discussions. This week, however, a rather strange report came out of the Amazon synod in Rome. Controversial statues that had been used at a prayer service in the Vatican Gardens and again at the synod's Stations of the Cross were stolen from a church near St. Peter's Basilica and thrown into the Tiber.

The details of what happened are even stranger. Apparently, two unidentified men walked into the Church of Santa Maria Traspontina before dawn. They took the wooden "Pachamama" images of naked pregnant women from a display in front of a side altar, and carried them out of the church. They walked to Castel Sant'Angelo, then onto a nearby bridge, where they pushed pieces of the statues into the river. And it's all on video.

While no one claimed responsibility, a statement was made later the same day characterizing what occurred as "an act of obedience to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in reparation to His Sacred Heart wounded by sin." In contrast, Vatican officials were quick to denounce the act as one contrary to the spirit of dialogue and deeply disrespectful of indigenous people.

Faithful Catholics, both clergy and lay, can be found across the full range of perspectives on this one. That makes it more difficult to decide whether to cheer or gasp. On the pro-Tiber side, Catholicism is not a theological catch-all; there is no room for syncretism or idol worship. The images we venerate are not symbolic of fertility or life or motherhood or anything else; they depict real people who allowed God's grace to mold them according to the pattern of Jesus Christ.

On the pro-Pachamama side, the Church strives to meet people where they are and welcomes all to encounter Christ. Gospel inculturation is a positive thing; it enriches the Body of Christ and allows for a fuller and more varied expression of Christian life.

Perhaps the events of this week reveal that the parameters of culture and faith are not as clear as we wish they were -- maybe not as clear as we need them to be. But before we label this week's perpetrators heroes of orthodoxy or synod organizers champions of Catholicism, we ought to ask ourselves a few soul-searching questions about the idols we allow in the sacred spaces of our lives.

It's easy to run off with someone else's idols and toss them into the drink. But when it comes to the things we accommodate, we're very quick to defend them. Idols? Of course not. Material wealth, promiscuity, pornography, social position, occult practices, addictions -- they're just part of who we are and God loves us, doesn't he? It's just so very easy to justify or excuse the ungodly things we keep. And so difficult to chuck them over the bridge and into the river.

And in truth, we all have them. None of us needs to steal anyone else's idols because we have plenty of our own. And while it may not seem fair, none of us becomes more faithful by revealing a brother's infidelity. And yet, all in time must be revealed.

It's time to clean our own house. While we come to Christ as we are, the Christian life is one of God's transforming love. Every creature we have placed above the Creator must be moved. Whatever does not belong to God as revealed by Christ Jesus, must be removed. We must learn to let go of the affection we have for all that is contrary to our faith, all that we've allowed to take what rightfully belongs to God alone.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.