The image was a striking one: Pope Francis in his papal whites delivering his Urbi et Orbi message in an empty Saint Peter’s Square on March 27. Urbi et Orbi blessings are solemn, and generally are communicated in conjunction with feasts like Christmas. Pope Francis had packed the square for his December address and prayer for world peace.
Earlier on this day, Francis had been photographed walking along Rome’s vacant streets. Vatican City, like most of Italy, should be bustling in preparation for Easter. Instead, the residents of Italy have been cloistered inside, trying to keep the Coronavirus from entering their homes, as the angel of death has passed over Italy these past few weeks.
Like many of Pope Francis’s exhortations, his blessing was lengthy. The transcript is over 1,600 words, and the video is about 15 minutes. He reminded the faithful of a fairly well-known Biblical image of Jesus seemingly asleep, while a boat carrying Jesus and the apostles was threatened by a raging storm.
Francis admonished the faithful to put their trust in Jesus, and strive to work together. “On this boat . . . are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘we are perishing . . . ,’ so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together we can do this.” Pope Francis was careful to strike familiar thematic notes: that this crisis unites us in suffering, and we are called in that unity to the cross.
It was odd that he never characterized the present situation as more than a storm, and he never spoke the scourge’s name in any unambiguous form. He did, however, imply that the virus-that-shall-not-be-named was God’s punishment.
But punishment for what, exactly?
Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars of injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: Wake up, Lord!
At a time when the world needs Pope Francis to rise above secular politics and agendas and captain the boat that Jesus left in the hands of Peter’s successors, Francis clings to his secular-socialist mast, repeating outdated tropes found in ’70s-style liberation theology as if they were prayers. True, we need prayers—real prayers—as much as we need every man, woman and child—whether leader or layman—to do their part.
Mistaking Communism for Christianity
As Easter approaches, many Christians are watching Passion plays streamed or uploaded from video vaults, since there will be no public reenactments of Jesus’s journey to Calvary. In the liturgical reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, Pope Francis, like all clergy, is expected to recite the words of Jesus. This pandemic, however, has unexpectedly changed the traditional casting: The role Francis has unwittingly chosen for himself is that of the ancient Pharisee.
Pharisees were the leaders of a bygone (515 B.C.- 70 A.D.) Jewish theological school that placed an unwavering primacy on oral tradition. In the New Testament, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their emphasis on the form of the law over the substance behind the law. In the present, Pope Francis clings to outdated rhetoric that portrays Communism as fully actualized Christianity. Why is the pope clinging to obsolete ideology, even as its spiritual and moral emptiness is increasingly revealed during the present pandemic?
It was only last year that Francis—against the advice of Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen, along with many victims of Communist China’s notoriously repressive current regime—formally recognized that same government’s iteration of the Catholic Church as legitimate. Despite his appeasement of the regime, Christians, like other persecuted religious minorities including the Falun Gong and Muslim Uyghurs, continued to be forced into hiding. Bibles were hidden, crosses were toppled from the few remaining spires, and places of worship bulldozed.
Pope Francis is a well-schooled Jesuit who, along with other clergymen of his generation, continues to uphold Communism as a model for Christian society, along the lines of an earlier Jesuit thinker, theologian, poet and social activist Rev. Daniel Berrigan.
Berrigan, who died in 2016 at the age of 94, was the iconic radical priest of the late 1960s and ’70s. It was Father Berrigan who wrote the forward and contributed poems to, “Quotations from Chairman Jesus” (1969), a compilation by another radical clergyman of the time, Eastern Orthodox priest Rev. David Kirk. That book has been out of print for decades. The reason? It was discredited in the years that followed its publication when Chairman Mao and the fascination with his notorious Little Red Book could no longer be used as a selling point.
After knowledge of the atrocities Mao inflicted on his own people became public, it was painfully clear that the implicit endorsement of Chairman Mao Zedong in the book’s title was devoid of any semblance to long-established Christian values. The careful justice-themed headings over Old and New Testament quotations exposed Kirk’s and Berrigan’s faulty exegesis of scripture and of lesser-known Christian texts like the Didache.
Perhaps it could not be expected of Francis to acknowledge publicly such an error on his part, at the very time that he and other world leaders struggle to uphold their responsibilities to protect their citizens from the ravages of the Wuhan virus. Nor can we expect that he would publicly lambast the regime of China’s Xi Jinping, even as that nation struggles to bury and cremate its dead. Yet it would have been well in keeping with Christian tradition to ask China to completely cooperate with the rest of the world, as citizens of many nations continue to sicken and die. Such transparency would surely save lives.
As pope, Francis could legitimately make that minimal request. Indeed, his gaining the leverage that might enable him to do so would be the best justification of his having so grotesquely appeased that regime.
Yet he once again conspicuously refrained from using his voice, so generously and reliably amplified by the world media, to stand with the truly weak and helpless against the truly strong and powerful. It is not just the Pontiff’s credibility that was at stake. The souls of many Chinese people, Catholic and non-Catholic, might have been nourished by such a message.
A Different, Humble Call to Prayer
Meanwhile, in striking contrast to Pope Francis’s despondent, solemn, solitary procession in a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, doggedly maintaining his self-censorship, was the brief—and for reasons mysterious to all serious Christians—apparently incendiary March 30 appearance of Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow Company, at the White House coronavirus briefing.
Lindell’s humble four minutes at the Rose Garden podium set social media blazing with shock and indignation. Detractors emerged from every corner of the secular-leaning internet, simply because Lindell had the audacity to mention God and Trump in the same sentence during his brief “off the cuff” remarks.
God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on. God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned his back on God, and I encourage you to use this time at home to get back to the Word, read our bibles, and spend time with our families. Our president gave us so much hope, where just a few months ago, we had the best economy, the lowest unemployment, and wages going up. It was amazing. With our great president, vice president, and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever.
Trump was quick to insist that Lindell’s impromptu praise and national call to prayer were not a planned segment of the briefing. This did not stop professional or lay pundits from mocking and condemning Lindell’s comments on every platform.
Yet Lindell’s actual words did not describe the president as a saint, any more than the admitted recovering addict sees himself as a saint. Lindell was chastised for two reasons: First, he unabashedly called his country to prayer. American culture has been celebrating secular ideals for several decades now, and many assume that the Constitution’s freedom of religion means freedom from religion. To those who maintain that mistaken belief, Lindell’s clarion call was offensive.
A second, more egregious, reason is this: So many in the media have taken on the role of “prophet” in their own eyes, that any public or private supporter of the president is to be condemned as being the equivalent of an idolator, worshiping the likes of a biblical Golden Calf.
Was this actually the case? No. Lidell’s impassioned declaration simply meant that Lindell views President Trump’s ascent to the White House as a potential blessing—disguised or otherwise. This compounded Lindell’s original sin of mentioning God in a public secular setting with the mortal sin of publicly praising the president.
If the Pontiff cannot even address the name of the virus or call on China’s regime to cooperate with the rest of the world by passing along its critical information about COVID-19, he surely cannot acknowledge his own role in empowering Beijing. His pontificate will have no chance to regain some modicum of credibility. It is conceivable that Saint Peter’s Basilica and Saint Peter’s square will remain empty—a harsh reminder of the empty platitudes and stunning hypocrisy of his papacy.
What of Mike Lindell and his impassioned plea to his country? His call to Bible study, family prayer, and mutual comfort may not be the blood of the lamb that tells the Angel of Death to pass over our homes in the coming days. But if his call to America to return to its authentic religious roots resonates in American hearts, we may wake from our present nightmare to a historic renewal of purpose that the messages of Passover and Easter bring.