Roland Bartetzko, a veteran soldier with a self-acclaimed power of interpreting fearful faces, is emphatic that preachers do not believe what they preach, not even the Pope in Rome. Bartetzko said that it became clear to him in March 2005 when then head of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, made his last public appearance.
Bartetzko fought in two wars (Bosnia and Kosovo), saw his share of dead and noted the facial expressions of people facing the shadow of death. Sometimes, sitting in a trench near the front lines and just a few minutes before the order to attack would come, he would study the faces of his comrades with fears written all over them.
Bartetzko described the memory of the experience as really ugly. It was not the fear of being wounded, trapped or even maimed, but the greatest fear of all: the fear that the next day they would no longer be with their colleagues, that their lives would be taken.
Fast forward to March 2005! Bartetzko had just returned from the war and was in Rome. As he watched the old and frail Pope stand by his window for the last time, silently blessing the crowds, he said he could remark similar expression on the pope’s face. He thought, “Man, even the Pope is afraid of death!”
Bartetzko found this incomprehensible. “Shouldn’t at least the bishop of Rome, the vicar of Christ, the earthly representative of God, believe in life after death?” Apparently, Bartetzko is convinced that in that brief moment, the Pope was a human being like any other and therefore felt sorry for the pope whose fear was greater than his faith at death. Is Bartetzko’s assessment right?
Let us look at what preachers preach. Basically, a religious preacher teaches that there is a God who has given mankind a code of conduct to be observed. A preacher teaches this faith and its attendant morality. Faith attempts answers to some existential problems like death, life, childlessness, sickness, fate, etc. Morality teaches restraints in expression of our instincts.
In matters of faith and moral, every true preach believes what they preach. In Bartetzko’s claim that the Pope was afraid of death, there is nothing to verify that visible anxiety on his face was caused by his unbelief and not by pains of the sickness. Moreover, Jesus was greatly troubled as his time to depart loomed. So, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Verifiably, there are heroic stories of martyrs who died smiling. In recent history, a polish priest, Maximilian Kolbe on 14th August 1941 opted to take a lethal injection of carbolic acid on behalf of Franciszek Gajowniczek, a polish army sergeant marked for elimination by SS-Hauptsturmführer, Karl Fritzsch, for aiding an escape in a concentration camp.
What remains is: do preachers practice what they preach? Not all! Even the pope is fallible. However, it is not because preachers do not believe in what they preacher, but because sometimes their instincts are stronger than their faith. True faith combines saying and doing. As Pope Paul VI warned: Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 41). This is the perfection all preachers strive to achieve, but sometimes, human nature fights back and hard.
Finally, when it comes to economic philosophy of modern day preaching, not even a single preacher believes that his “blessed” sticker can wade off enemies and sicknesses nor stop you from refiling your gas cylinder. No single preacher believes that your tithe will liberate you. Sadly, the victims of this deception do not want to hear from anyone else except their oppressor.
© Felix Uche Akam: The Dragnet- 27.03.2022.