The Amazon fires are a good metaphor for today’s Church

Catholic Herald

Sept. 5, 2019

By Fr. Dominic Allain

The media is full of apocalyptic news of fires in the “lungs” of the world and discussion of the bleak future we face if this unprecedented crisis is not tackled. The Pope, governments and celebrities have all added their voices to the anxiety over what this means for the planet.

Despite the pictures posted by the seers and sages of Hollywood, the fires in the Amazon are not visible from the air as swathes of blazing trees. They are more insidious: they are fires at the level of the forest floor which can damage trees with thin bark and therefore kill them, without the canopy of the forest ever visibly burning.

They are started not by global warming so much as the activity of farmers who clear the forest to make land they can cultivate, stacking the timber they have felled till it becomes tinder dry and combusts in the dry season. It is said that Brazil’s leaders have failed to address the scale of the problem. It is those from outside who are stepping up the pressure for something to be done to deal with it because, in the end, the health of the whole world depends on the health of this region.

To me, this is an good analogy for what is happening in the Church. Devastating fires continue to blaze unabated. The canopy – what you see from above – may appear intact, but there are fires at ground level which threaten its survival in certain places.

What are these fires? A recently published survey found that about two thirds of US Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.

If Christ isn’t truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament then in what sense does Christ minister the other sacraments? They became rituals whose efficacy depends on a subjective response. This is presumably why Sunday Mass congregations are shrinking and churches closing at a rate which makes deforestation look like inertia.

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