A prophet for our time–Cardinal Robert Sarah

20190514_200242 - CopySome of us have been following the recent firestorm regarding a new book by Cardinal Robert Sarah with contributions (or, as originally argued by the Cardinal, co-authored) by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI defending priestly celibacy.   But I would like to post about another book of  Cardinal Sarah’s that deserves to be widely read.

It is his The Day is Now Far Spent, published by Ignatius Press.

Catholic World Report has a review of this important and prophetic book that gives a glimpse of the prophetic words inside the cover.

Timothy D. Lusch writes:

Sarah echoes other voices of the age who warn both faithful and faithless: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Romano Guardini, Benedict XVI. He speaks simply and clearly. One does not mistake his message; one has to ignore it. “We have abandoned prayer,” he says, and have given ourselves over to the “evil of efficient activism.” In this, his third book with Nicolas Diat, Cardinal Sarah speaks to us still as a loving pastor, one who emerged from the darkness of persecution in Africa, carrying fire that by his light we may see.

He continues, quoting Cardinal Sarah:

“The Church is experiencing the dark night of the soul. The mystery of iniquity is enveloping and blinding her.” Plans and programs are the ephemeral hacks of an unserious age. Sarah, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, calls for “holiness, not management.” Or, as George Bernanos has it, “The Church has need not of reformers but of saints.” We are called to love her too, and serve her, for she is “black but beautiful” and awaits the Bridegroom still.

This call for “holiness, not management” is my prime motivation for urging us in the ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition to revive  and pass on the patterns of daily prayer —the praying of the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer that Brother John-Bede Pauley has identified as part of the monastic influence on our  English Catholic roots.

Contemplative prayer is also part of that tradition—one that I and Lisa Nicholas hope the ordinariates can help renew in the western Church.

Back to Cardinal Sarah, who also wrote a profound book on the need to come before God in silence, entitled  The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. I read it last year as a Lenten exercise.  Cardinal Sarah’s writings called me into prayer, they made me ache for God, for heaven.

Lusch continues over at Catholic World Report on the latest book.

The frenetic pace of our life, the trivialities with which we are consumed, the grave injustices at which we merely shrug, originate in spiritual torpor. The demon of acedia stalk us, in our busyness and in our laziness, leaving behind the “exhilarating fumes of a deep sleep” that, Sarah says, has “made us lethargic.” If we are not awake, if we will not wait one hour with Jesus, we will wake to a nightmare. “The globalized elites want to create a new world, a new culture, new men, a new ethics.” Their effort is not in the nature of a continuum. “Rupture is the driving force of their political project.”

Cardinal Sarah is right to call our attention to acedia. For he knows even among the faithful there are many who know they need God, who know they need to need Him. And yet they cannot be bothered to seek Him. He simply isn’t worth the effort or the trouble. We must be roused, Sarah insists, into constant prayer, Eucharistic adoration, works of mercy and charity, and the utter awareness of our dependence on God. We ought also, he urges, find our way to a monastery. Contemplation is the lifeblood of monasticism and the heart of the Church. What better way to rejuvenate ourselves than to retreat into silence and prayer? Throughout the book, Sarah’s deep love for the men and woman hidden in Christ encourages us to seek them out, so as to experience Him in their midst. “The renewal,” he declares, “will come from the monasteries.”

This book, like God or Nothing and The Power of Silence, is structured in interview format of question and answer. At times Sarah develops an argument, other times he speaks aphoristically, and in others he adopts a homiletic approach. He ranges far and wide, in things spiritual and secular, in the concerns of time and eternity. But he is never confusing, incoherent, or inconsistent. It is like walking with a man who has seen much, knows more, and believes all that is revealed in Christ. He alarms us, but he also arms us. He is a good shepherd.

“The path of truth will lead us to enormous sufferings.” Yet it is truth that frees us. So we go forth in darkness, with Cardinal Robert Sarah up ahead, torch in hand. The world can kill us but it cannot harm us. The day is indeed far spent but we need not worry, for “the dark night of this world is still beautiful,” Sarah says, “because God exists.”

20190514_183954While in Rome last May, I had the privilege of attending Cardinal Sarah’s launch of the French edition of the book.  I bought three copies of the book, two which I gave away.  But I got bogged down in reading it because I had to struggle with the French. Today, I will order myself the English-language edition.

He is shown here with Nicholas Diat, who interviewed Cardinal Sarah for the book.

Interestingly, instead of talking about his book at the event, Cardinal Sarah instead spoke about Pope Benedict XVI’s letter regarding the sexual abuse scandal timed for the big summit in Rome last February on the matter.  It is interesting what a lightning rod the Pope-emeritus remains for controversy and the hatred of the world.

I wrote this story for Catholic papers about what the Cardinal said at the event.

ROME — Cardinal Robert Sarah has blasted what he called “lazy” and “superficial” reactions bordering on “intellectual hysteria” to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s recent notes on the clerical abuse scandal.

Speaking at the French Institute of Rome May 14 to launch his latest book Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse, Cardinal Sarah said he would not speak about his book, but instead addressed the former pope’s reflection written for the February sexual abuse summit and published in April with the permission of Pope Francis.

snip

Other critics have accused Benedict XVI of “historical ignorance on the pretext that his demonstration begins with the evocation of the crisis of 1968,” Cardinal Sarah said, but the former pope knows this and 1968 was itself a symptom of the absence of God, not a cause.

The cardinal said Pope Benedict pointed out how the destruction of an objective natural law as the foundation for moral theology underlies the crisis of the absence of God.

 The first stage had a “laudable” intention of basing moral theology on the Bible instead of natural law, but this had the effect of leading to consequentalism and the notion that nothing is bad or good in itself, but is relative to the time and circumstances, the cardinal said.

“Finally, the third step is the affirmation that the magisterium of the Church would not be competent in moral matters, “Cardinal Sarah said. “The Church could infallibly teach only on matters of faith.”

“I would like to emphasize how from the beginning of this process it is the absence of God that is at work,” Cardinal Sarah said. “From the first step, the rejection of the natural law manifests the forgetfulness of God.

“Indeed, nature is the first gift of God. It is in a way the first revelation of the Creator,” he said. At stake is the objectivity of the faith and of God’s existence.

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT PARISH IN THE WORLD?

holy-mass-old

Is there such a place? Could we single out one lone parish that could deserve the title? To the consternation of many and my bemusement, I believe I have found and will here expound that I have discovered my candidate for, the most important parish in the world. Furthermore, my nominee is Catholic and English.  I know this title may appear a hyperbolic exclamation and stir forth indignation from others who would, most correctly and with more excellent erudition, advance their particular selection as most deserved of this venerable designation.  Notwithstanding the slings and arrows that one would receive for making such a bold statement, I shall herein press my case for and by manner of this encomium encourage others to imitate or correct me with their nominees. Continue reading

More on the Cloud of Unknowing—Lisa Nicholas

20181014_114159Lisa Nicholas, a member of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society based in Texas, is going through the Cloud of Unknowing on her blog Learning God. Recently, she wrote this post on Chapter 2 of this classical work on contemplative prayer in the pre-Reformation English Catholic mystical tradition.  This is part of the patrimony we in the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition can unpack and rediscover as treasure to be shared.  I also believe that this kind of prayer, coupled with lay participation in the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are key to evangelization on the part of ordinariate communities.  Continue reading

Small is beautiful—more on St. Alban’s

St. Alban’s Catholic Church is doing many things right, including an active Facebook page chock full of videos and photographs.  It is regularly updated.  Go on and take a look and see whether some of these ideas might work for your community.  But there’s more to the story as you’ll see below the fold, in a lovely essay from Andrew N. Jordan, a member of the parish.

Members of St. Alban’s are passionate about their ordinariate community.  In a recent post, Peter Smith outlined some of the steps that the took congregation to grow and eventually be assigned a priest.

That post prompted Pam Smith, who is no relation to Peter, to respond with her perspective on St. Alban’s beginnings.  I have added her full comments to the bottom of the post St. Alban’s Offers a Case Study.   But here’s an excerpt to encourage you to go over over and read the whole thing.

Pam writes:

We eight or ten souls who first gathered in a home as ‘St. Alban’s’ from earliest 2012, through our reception in Oct. 2012 at the old church we used, all thought then that we had a real chance!  We were on a life-raft from the Episcopal and other Protestant denominations which seemed to have left us each stranded, and were heading for the mother ship of the Catholic Church all eager to accept then-Pope Benedict XVI’s gracious offer.  More than four and a half years of fellowship, catechesis then study, and faithful attendance at worship, none of which should be overlooked as a phase of community formation, preceded the calling of our current beloved priest in mid-2017.  When this priest arrived he had this little band to work with, and we had already grown a bit in the four years, though there had been slight attrition and some visitors who did not stay. New babies also had arrived. We have one diocesan layman in particular who mentored us from the 2012 beginnings and has been supportive by frequently video-ing our Masses and giving much other encouragement. The core membership kept on keeping on, coffee hours and all, and in addition to our first two priests who carefully taught and trained us in their time with us, we had a bevy of excellent church musicians, each giving us a grounding in liturgical music and keeping this very important part of the Anglican patrimony vivid among us.  Perhaps that gave us latent parish potential that was discernible to Peter and others who began to arrive by 2015.”

Well, Pam’s comments inspired yet another parishioner at St. Alban’s, Andrew N. Jordan to send along this essay entitled “Small is beautiful” to complement what Pam and Peter had previously written.

“I was inspired by them to write an article praising smallness, as an encouragement to other Ordinariate groups and groups in formation,” he wrote me in an email.   Enjoy!

Continue reading

The power of a pure intent

20191015_102428When he was the Bishop of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada before retiring around 2005, Msgr. Robert Mercer gave a wonderful homily   about how God  is the “great Fisherman” with the ability to catch all kinds of fish.  He knows how to catch the wily trout in a rushing river, he said.  He uses different means to net in schools of capelin.  Bishop Mercer used this metaphor to show how God makes provision to reach all kinds of  people—extroverts, introverts, those who would be attracted to a Billy Graham Crusade and those who would be repelled by one.  I think the ordinariates may appeal more to those who would be uncomfortable in a  praise and worship meeting in a huge stadium.  Do we have a higher proportion of introverts among us?

As I ponder these things, and how we in the ordinariates can best evangelize and grow, I have been looking for what might be a common denominator in deeper conversion and a genuine experience of God in Jesus Christ. Continue reading

The beauty of holiness–a key to evangelization

20190602_101535When I first came to Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary  in Ottawa around the year 2000 there did not seem to be much on the surface to attract someone like me, or anyone my age or younger.

The building was small and humble, with gray linoleum and red indoor/outdoor carpeting on the floors.  The pews creaked, the coat room smelled a little funny, and the small congregation seemed to be filled with octogenarians.  You got handed a pile of books upon entering, and the elderly woman who at the time usually did so might snap at you to ensure you did not to take one of the pew booklets home with you.

But then the bells rang, Bishop Robert Mercer, Fr. Carl Reid, Fr. Kipling Cooper and others in the altar party would enter the sanctuary and the holiness of the worship transported me into the worship of heaven.  The reverence they displayed towards the Blessed Sacrament conveyed intuitively theological truth about Christ’s Real Presence that had been missing from my adult formation as a Baptist.

20191013_081835_HDR

Msgr. Robert Mercer and Msgr. Carl Reid just prior to the canonization of St. John Henry Card. Newman

All of these men are holy priests and are all now Catholic, but there was a way that Bishop Mercer, now Msgr. Mercer,  prayed the Mass that was exceptional.  He was so recollected and present that this recollection seemed contagious.  I have massive attention problems and somehow Bishop Mercer created a state of stillness and holy silence about him that I was lifted into a still state myself and effortlessly heard every word.   He can’t sing so I don’t recall if he ever even tried chanting the Scripture, but what I do remember is that he proclaimed it in such a way that it was as if St. Paul was standing there.  I had to keep coming back for more.  This place, this little tiny parish, now Catholic but then of the Traditional Anglican Communion, was holy ground.   And when I encouraged some of my friends to come, they too were affected the same way and joined the parish. Continue reading

St. Alban’s offers a case study for growth

20191117_140316 (1)Peter Jesserer Smith of St. Alban’s Catholic Church, an ordinariate community in Rochester, New York  attended the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church conference last November in Toronto. He’s shown in the picture with Matthew Perry from the Connecticut Ordinariate Fellowship.  Peter wrote the following (slightly edited) on Facebook on what his community has done to evangelize and grow.

It’s a pretty amazing prescription!  Any thoughts on how these ideas might work in your community?  Want to share what’s working for you?

When St. Alban’s Catholic Church, the Ordinariate church in Rochester, NY, got its first real chance, we were without a priest for a year, in a terrible location, and boiled down to about 12 people (including kids) after a host of other challenges. We kept the community together with prayer and fellowship, and finally got our priest at part time. We made our case to the bishop and he decided to take the chance. Based on what we could afford, our priest would work 75% for the local diocese and 25% for our Ordinariate community. That was Summer 2017. At the beginning, some Masses we had more people on the altar than the congregation. But we’ve built good relationships with the broader Catholic community, we’re now in a better location, and we’ve all worked hard. On our first Epiphany Sunday in 2018, we might have had 18 people at Mass. Last Sunday we had 72 people at Mass.

I should probably write a case study, but here are salient points:

1, Our mission is to bring every man and woman alive in Jesus Christ through the Catholic faith as experienced in our Ordinariate life (worship, prayer, Biblically-rich traditions, fellowship, etc). That is the most important point.

2, We welcome everyone at church and invite them to fellowship at coffee hour, which is where the disciples of Jesus gather in fellowship after Christ brings us together in Eucharistic fellowship.

3, We think and act like a big parish. If you want to be a fully established parish, then think and act like you’re a fully established parish. That’s the only way you’re going to get there.

4, Growth depends on collaboration between the priest and lay faithful as co-responsible missionary disciples. Everybody has something to offer to build up the Body of Christ made manifest in our Ordinariate parish community. Our priest facilitates action — he does not micromanage — but he makes sure that we do things well and provide a consistent-experience. We have a good open dialogue going, based on mutual respect, so nobody gets burned out but people feel co-responsible for the future of our church.

5, People tithe. Want an Ordinariate parish community? Then give generously to the general fund. [If you’re a pre-Ordinariate fellowship or community applying to become an official community, you’ll need to demonstrate to the bishop that you’ve got financial support so he can make the case to a local diocese, college, etc. that you can do 25% if they do 75%.] And then also volunteer your time and talent. We only have two paid personnel: our part-time priest and our part-time music director/organist.

6, We established strong financial and accounting procedures with transparency. First thing our priest did was establish a finance council. We also made clear that people needed to give to the general fund and couldn’t just give to this or that. You can’t grow a parish if the music is funded, but there’s nothing to give to the priest’s salary. Our finance director laid that down once Fr. Evan came and it was a brilliant decision. People know what it costs to have a church now. As a result, we’ve run a couple very robust parish pledge campaigns and have bought back our priest’s time to 40%. And we’re always trying to professionalize our procedures with best-practices.

7, We established strong digital-communications to complement our personal engagement: we’ve got an active FB page that shows our community in photos and video, our eCatholic website is clean, beautiful, and content is easy to find. ALSO: We use Flocknote: it’s a text-email service for churches that has been absolutely brilliant and aided our growth enormously. I can’t recommend it enough. People love the text-message reminders (usually day before) for an event, or text messages letting them know an event is cancelled (such as due to bad weather), and it is easily customizable to reach different subgroups too.

8, We’ve worked hard on developing consistent branding and simple messaging that helps us reach as many people as possible. And we make adjustments as we go on. We’re Ordinariate Catholics. When people ask “what the Ordinariate is” we say “we’re a Catholic diocese with Anglican traditions established by the pope in 2009.” We basically use whatever works and allows us to easily get to the conversation about following Jesus and having fellowship with him as his disciples. Above all, we make clear that we’re here for point 1: bringing each man, woman, and child fully alive in Jesus Christ as his disciples living in fellowship with their Lord.

9, We advertise on local digital and print forums where we can, and we have a layperson person who oversees that. Get your community out there in the places where people have eyes to see and ears to hear, and then share the wonderful things you have going on. We try to keep our website’s news and events up to date. And we’ve got great people in our congregation that invite people to church and share those news and events.

10, We believe the Gospel has power and we’re called to evangelize like all Catholics. We work cooperatively with the broader local Catholic Church, but we think and act like co-equal laborers in the Lord’s vineyard, and we look for unique opportunities that aren’t being filled elsewhere. We just added Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which has a huge demand and not enough supply. But we make the case that a rising tide lifts all boats: if St. Alban’s is doing well, then that effort and energy will have a positive encouraging effect on diocesan Catholics and parishes that work together with us. And we’ve seen proof of what we said would happen. Our priest and the pastor of the larger host parish have a solid working relationship, and it’s been a fruitful collaboration for both parish communities. There’s a local parish that overhauled their website and is considering adding electronic giving because they’ve seen our website and talked with us about it.

Those are the thoughts off the top of my head, but the point is we’re just doing it. It is done with a great deal of love for the Lord Jesus and takes a lot of sweat, toil and (from time to time) even tears. And honestly, above all prayer. Prayer keeps you going, esp. when your evangelizing efforts feel like all you’ve got is dry dust in your mouth. There are points at which you think, “Dear God, I’ve done all I can, you’ve got to make this work” … and then He does. And you realize that the Lord is making the point that this is His Work, and not yours and that “thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” It’s not a mere human effort, but divine grace is truly at work here. The Ordinariate, with all its sweat and hard work, makes it the most wonderful time to be a Catholic. And you look ahead and see the day when your mission is a fully-fledged independent parish, and is starting new missions in your area, opening churches where many were closed, by bringing more men and women fully alive in Jesus Christ with his Gospel. And it’s all worth it. It is all the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

I will write more on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a subsequent post.  It’s a great program for young children that has an amazing effect on the adults who run it as well.

UPDATE!   Pam Smith (no relation to Peter) of St. Alban’s sent along a comment that makes a great addition to this post.   She writes:

We eight or ten souls who first gathered in a home as ‘St. Alban’s’ from earliest 2012, through our reception in Oct. 2012 at the old church we used, all thought then that we had a real chance!  We were on a life-raft from the Episcopal and other Protestant denominations which seemed to have left us each stranded, and were heading for the mother ship of the Catholic Church all eager to accept then-Pope Benedict XVI’s gracious offer.  More than four and a half years of fellowship, catechesis then study, and faithful attendance at worship, none of which should be overlooked as a phase of community formation, preceded the calling of our current beloved priest in mid-2017.  When this priest arrived he had this little band to work with, and we had already grown a bit in the four years, though there had been slight attrition and some visitors who did not stay. New babies also had arrived. We have one diocesan layman in particular who mentored us from the 2012 beginnings and has been supportive by frequently video-ing our Masses and giving much other encouragement. The core membership kept on keeping on, coffee hours and all, and in addition to our first two priests who carefully taught and trained us in their time with us, we had a bevy of excellent church musicians, each giving us a grounding in liturgical music and keeping this very important part of the Anglican patrimony vivid among us.  Perhaps that gave us latent parish potential that was discernible to Peter and others who began to arrive by 2015.”

That’s the whole piece.  And Peter confirms that was the ‘latent parish potential’ he was attracted to when he visited in 2013 and returned to live in the area in 2015, so it seems a coherent evaluation.

Reading his summary of what has happened since mid-2017, I just felt it appropriate to look at how we had reached a ‘critical mass’ which Fr. Evan could work with, given that we were already going four and a half years before the past two and a half years which Peter wrote about got underway.  From the point of view of a case study, the earlier history should matter.