Cardinal Sarah Marshals the Church Militant

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One of the most encouraging developments in the Church in recent years has been the emergence of good, solid prelates from Africa. One thinks of Cardinal Arinze, whom many had thought might become the first African pope, and now there is the indomitable Robert Cardinal Sarah, whose forthright and courageous stance against much of the nonsense besetting the Church and the world has come as a breath of fresh and orthodox air amidst the choking fumes of modernity and modernism.

Cardinal Sarah’s latest book, The Day Is Now Far Spent, the fruit of conversations with the author Nicolas Diat, is something of a rallying cry in troublous times, covering a panoramic panoply of topics, from globalism to the liturgy and all points in between. Nor does he pull his punches or mince his words. Take, for instance, these words from the very first page of the book:

As Saint Paul VI used to say, we are being invaded by the smoke of Satan. The Church, which ought to be a place of light, has become a dwelling place of darkness. It ought to be a secure, peaceful family home, but look: it has become a den of thieves! How can we tolerate the fact that predators have entered among us, into our ranks?

This is fighting talk, the words of a soldier of the Church Militant lamenting that “some men of God have become agents of the Evil One [who] have sought to defile the pure souls of the littlest ones”. Such predators have “humiliated the image of Christ that is present in every child”.

 

As a man of faith and tradition, the Cardinal is comfortable speaking of the devil and of those who serve him, and this includes those in the Church’s hierarchy who serve the very devil in whom, apparently, they don’t believe. He is singularly unimpressed with such modernist equivocation, the cankered fruit of infidelity, stating with aphoristic bluntness that “relativism is the mask of Judas disguised as an intellectual”. Nor would he want to be caught wearing such a mask when meeting his Maker. “In a little while I will appear before the eternal Judge… We bishops ought to tremble at the thought of our guilty silences, our complicit silences, our over-indulgent silences in dealing with the world.”

Having been forthright in his condemnation of the scandals within the Church, he is equally forthright in his understanding of what is needed to heal the divisions and avert the danger of schism: “The hermeneutic of reform in continuity that Benedict XVI taught so clearly is an indispensable condition of unity.” By contrast, it is the hermeneutic of rupture, advocated and advanced by those seeking a break with tradition and the deconstruction of doctrine, which presents the greatest danger to unity within the Church.

As a loyal child of the Church, he distinguishes between the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, and those members of the Church who rebel against the Body. “The devil drives us to division and schism. He wants to make us believe that the Church has betrayed us. But the Church does not betray. The Church, full of sinners, is herself without sin!” This is the ecclesiology of the true believer, of those who see the Church as Triumphant in heaven and as Militant on earth; it is the very antithesis of the ecclesiology of those who would reduce the Church to being a merely political institution, answerable “democratically” to that small minority of her members who happen to be walking around on earth at any particular time. It is the authentic ecclesiology of the communion of saints, which receives its authority from heaven, and not the false ecclesiology of the sort of “democratic” mob rule that has its source in the non serviam of rebellion which leads, in turn, to the sort of anarchy that Oscar Wilde rightly describes as “freedom’s own Judas”.

Cardinal Sarah understands that the saints are always in a minority in the world and in the Church Militant but that it is they, and not the ordinary Catholic in the pew, who have saved and built the Faith. The saints, he says, are “the stump that will always revive so that the tree does not die”; it is they, the “little flock”, who serve as “a model for the Church and the world”; and it is they who are “the cornerstone of mankind”. Only a fool would follow the clamor for “majority rule” as an alternative to the rule and example of the saints. In any case, we should never lose sight of the fact that the saints are only a minority in a temporal—and therefore a temporary—sense.

In eternity, which is all that ultimately matters, they represent not only a majority in the Church but a unanimous majority. If one sees the Church in her fullness as the Church Triumphant, consisting of all the saints and angels in heaven, we see that this is where the real power of the Church resides, under God himself, and that this power doesn’t demand its rights but lays itself down in loving service. Why would one give “votes” to those calling themselves Catholics and clamoring for their rights, who might be going to hell, over those who have served the Church so faithfully in this life that they are in the Presence of Christ for all eternity?

As for the ordinary Catholics in the pew, we should be less concerned with votes on the parish council and more concerned with the lighting of votive candles. We should not demand “rights” but should embrace the responsibility of seeking the Kingdom of God, asking for the assistance of the saints that, by the grace of God, we might become saints ourselves. And yet, as Cardinal Sarah laments, “we forget that heaven exists”. We are so caught up with the things of the world that we forget the first and final things. “We no longer see heaven,” he says, “and we no longer see God, either.”

Instead of losing ourselves in the things of this world, we need to lose ourselves in Christ so that we might find ourselves in him. This is why Cardinal Sarah urges priests to regain their Christocentric focus. What he says to them is as applicable to the rest of us. The priest, he says, “must not let himself be taken in by the world, as though the time dedicated to Christ in intimate, silent prayer were wasted time. The most wonderful fruits of our ministry are born in silent prayer in front of the tabernacle.” Nothing more need be said. “The rest is silence,” as Hamlet tells us, and, as Cardinal Sarah reminds us, the best is silence also.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Joseph Pearce

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Joseph Pearce a senior contributor to Crisis. He is director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review, and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. An acclaimed biographer and literary scholar, his latest book is Literature: What Every Catholic Should Know (Augustine Institute, 2019).

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