Part 1 of an exclusive interview with the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Cardinal Robert Sarah has said the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region, being a regional assembly of bishops, is not the forum to discuss priestly celibacy — a subject that is "unbearable" for the modern world because "some Westerners can no longer tolerate this scandal of the cross."
The subject is one of many the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments discusses in this exclusive Sept. 13 interview with Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin, including the reasons why he decided to write his latest book, The Day Is Now Far Spent (Ignatius Press).
He addresses the current crisis in the Church and society and believes it is driven primarily by atheism, not placing God at the center of our lives, as well as a prevailing wish to impose "personal opinion as truth." Those who announce "revolutions and radical changes," he warns, "are false prophets" not "looking out for the good of the flock."
The Guinean cardinal also explains why Africa's grace is to remain "a child of God," discusses the positive and negative effects of liturgical reform, and says a "demon" wanting our "spiritual death" is what makes some prohibit Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. "How can we not be surprised and deeply shocked that what was the rule yesterday is prohibited today?" he asks, and he urges a "move away from dialectical oppositions."
What is the primary concern you want to convey to readers in your book?
Don't misunderstand this book. I don't develop personal theses or academic research. This book is the cry from my heart as a priest and a pastor.
The decline of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus the Eucharist is at the heart of the current crisis of the Church and its decline, especially in the West.
I suffer so much from seeing the Church torn apart and in great confusion. I suffer so much from seeing the Gospel and Catholic doctrine disregarded, the Eucharist ignored or profaned. I suffer so much from seeing the priests abandoned, discouraged, and [witnessing those] whose faith has become tepid.
The decline of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus the Eucharist is at the heart of the current crisis of the Church and its decline, especially in the West. We bishops, priests and lay faithful are all responsible for the crisis of faith, the crisis of the Church, the priestly crisis and the de-Christianization of the West. Georges Bernanos wrote before the war: "We constantly repeat, with tears of helplessness, laziness or pride, that the world is becoming de-Christianized. But the world has not received Christ — non pro mundo rogo — it is we who received him for him; it is from our hearts that God withdraws; it is we who de-Christianize ourselves, miserable!" (Nous Autres, Français, "We French" — in Scandale de la Vérité,"Scandal of the Truth," Points /Seuil, 1984).
I wanted to open my heart and share a certainty: The profound crisis that the Church is experiencing in the world and especially in the West is the fruit of the forgetting of God. If our first concern is not God, then everything else collapses. At the root of all crises, anthropological, political, social, cultural, geopolitical, there is the forgetting of the primacy of God. As Pope Benedict XVI said during his meeting with the world of culture at the Collège des Bernardins on Sept. 12, 2008, "The 'quaerere Deum' — 'searching for God,' the fact of being attentive to the essential reality of God is the central axis on which all civilization and culture is built. What founded the culture of Europe — the search for God and the willingness to let oneself be found by him, to listen to him — still remains today the foundation of every true culture and the indispensable condition for the survival of our humanity. For the refusal of God or a total indifference towards him is fatal for man."
I have tried to show in this book that the common root of all current crises is found in this fluid atheism, which, without denying God, lives in practice as if he did not exist.
In the conclusion of my book, I speak of this poison of which we are all victims: liquid atheism. It infiltrates everything, even our speeches as clergymen. It consists in admitting, alongside faith, radically pagan and worldly ways of thinking or living. And we satisfy ourselves with this unnatural cohabitation! This shows that our faith has become liquid and inconsistent! The first reform to be made is in our hearts. It consists in no longer making a pact with lies. Faith is both the treasure we want to defend and the strength that allows us to defend it.
This movement which consists of "putting God aside," making God a secondary reality, has touched the hearts of priests and bishops.
God does not occupy the center of their lives, thoughts and actions. The life of prayer is no longer central. I am convinced that priests must proclaim the centrality of God through their own lives. A Church where the priest no longer carries this message is a Church that is sick. The life of a priest must proclaim to the world that "God alone is enough," that prayer, that is, this intimate and personal relationship, is the heart of his life. This is the profound reason for priestly celibacy.
The forgetting of God finds its first and most serious manifestation in the secularized way of life of priests. They are the first to have to carry the Good News. If their personal lives do not reflect this, then practical atheism will spread throughout the Church and society.
I believe that we are at a turning point in the history of the Church. Yes, the Church needs a profound and radical reform that must begin with a reform of the way of being and the way of life of priests. The Church is holy in herself. But we prevent this holiness from shining through our sins and worldly concerns.
It is time to drop all these burdens and finally let the Church appear as God has shaped her. It is sometimes believed that the history of the Church is marked by structural reforms. I am sure that it is the saints who change history. The structures then follow and only perpetuate the actions of the saints.
The notion of hope is a fundamental element of the work you do, despite the grim title of the book and the alarming observations you make about the state of our Western civilization. Do you still see reasons for hope in our world?
The title is dark, but it is realistic. Truly we see the whole of Western civilization crumbling. In 1978, the philosopher John Senior published the book The Death of Christian Culture. Like the Romans of the fourth century, we see the barbarians take power. But this time, the barbarians are not coming from outside to attack the cities. The barbarians are inside. They are those individuals who refuse their own human nature, who are ashamed to be limited creatures, who want to think of themselves as demiurges without fathers and without heritage. That's the real barbarity. On the contrary, civilized man is proud and happy to be an heir.
We convinced our contemporaries that in order to be free, we must not depend on anyone. This is a tragic mistake. Westerners are convinced that receiving is contrary to the dignity of the person. However, civilized man is fundamentally an heir; he receives a history, a religion, a language, a culture, a name, a family.
Monasteries are islands of hope. It seems that the vitality of the Church has taken refuge there, as if they were oases in the middle of the desert — but also, Catholic families who concretely live the Gospel of life, while the world scorns them.
Refusing to join a network of dependency, inheritance and filiation condemns us to enter the naked jungle of competition from a self-sufficient economy. Because he refuses to accept himself as an heir, man condemns himself to the hell of liberal globalization, where individual interests clash without any other law than that of profit at all costs.
However, the title of my book also contains the light of hope because it is taken from the petition of the disciples of Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke: "Stay with us, Lord, for it is nearly evening" (24:29). We know that Jesus will eventually manifest himself.
Our first reason for hope is therefore God himself. He will never abandon us! We firmly believe in his promise. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Holy Catholic Church. She will always be the Ark of Salvation. There will always be enough light for the one who seeks the truth with a pure heart.
Even as everything seems to be in the process of being destroyed, we see the luminous seeds of rebirth emerging. I would like to mention the hidden saints who carry the Church, in particular, the faithful religious who put God at the center of their lives every day. Monasteries are islands of hope. It seems that the vitality of the Church has taken refuge there, as if they were oases in the middle of the desert — but also, Catholic families who concretely live the Gospel of life, while the world scorns them.
Christian parents are the hidden heroes of our time, the martyrs of our century. Finally, I want to pay tribute to so many faithful and anonymous priests who have made the sacrifice at the altar the center and meaning of their lives. By offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily with reverence and love, they carry the Church without knowing it.
In God or Nothing, I wanted to give thanks to God for God's intervention in my life. By God or Nothing, I would like to succeed in placing God at the center of our lives, at the center of our thoughts, at the center of our actions, at the only place he must occupy, so that our Christian journey can revolve around this Rock on which every man builds himself and structures himself until he attains "to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ" (see Ephesians 4:13).
The Power of Silence is like a spiritual confidence. We cannot join God; we can only remain in him in silence.
This last book is a synthesis. I try to clearly describe the current situation and describe its root causes. This last book indicates the serious human and spiritual consequences when man abandons God. But at the same time, The Day Is Now Far Spent strongly affirms that God does not abandon man, even when man hides behind the shrubs in his garden, like Adam. God goes in search of him and finds him, hence a glimmer of hope for the future.
In recent years, the Church has suffered many controversies related to the questioning, according to some, of the Church's moral teaching by Church leaders, for example on Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), ignorance of the magisterium of John Paul II (which the Pontifical John Paul II Institute has recently modified in a clear manner), efforts to undermine Humanae Vitae (Human Life) and the revision of the death penalty, to name just a few. Why is this happening, and should the faithful be concerned?
Everyone wants to impose their personal opinion as a truth. But there is only one truth: Christ and his teaching.
We are facing a real cacophony from bishops and priests. Everyone wants to impose their personal opinion as a truth. But there is only one truth: Christ and his teaching. How could the doctrine of the Church change? The Gospel does not change. It is still the same. Our unity cannot be built around fashionable opinions.
The Letter to the Hebrews says: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them" (13:8-9) — because [of] "my doctrine," says Jesus. "My teaching is not my own but is from the One who sent me" (John 7:16). God himself often repeats it to us: "I will not violate my covenant; the promise of my lips I will not alter. By my holiness I swore once for all" (Psalm 89:35-36).
Some people use Amoris Laetitia to oppose the great teachings of John Paul II. They are mistaken. What was true yesterday remains true today. We must hold firmly to what Benedict XVI called the hermeneutic of continuity. The unity of faith implies the unity of the magisterium in space and time. When a new teaching is given to us, it must always be interpreted in coherence with the preceding teaching.
If we introduce ruptures, we break the unity of the Church. Those who loudly announce revolutions and radical changes are false prophets. They are not looking for the good of the flock. They seek media popularity at the price of divine truth. Let's not be impressed. Only the truth will set us free. We must have confidence. The magisterium of the Church will never contradict itself.
When the storm rages, you have to anchor yourself to what is stable. Let us not chase after fashionable novelties that may fade before we have even been able to grasp them.
See part 2 of this interview here.
Edward Pentin, "Cardinal Sarah's Cri de Coeur: The Catholic Church Has Lost Its Sense of the Sacred." National Catholic Register (September 23, 2019).
This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Photo: Edward Pentin
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. Since then, he has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications including Newsweek, The Sunday Times, the National Catholic Register, the U.K.'s Catholic Herald, and Zenit, a leading Catholic news agency. Edward is the author of The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, published by Ignatius Press.Copyright © 2019 National Catholic Register
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