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.


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.


2 thoughts on “A prophet for our time–Cardinal Robert Sarah

  1. WHILE I DEEPLY respect the Cardinals position and his obvious writing ability, which is ,it appears, admired by many. I find his writings to be very general and at times hurtful to fellow Catholics who struggle to do their very best to follow Jesus Christ and live by the gospel GOOD NEWS. Who is he to say we have abandoned prayer!!!!!! As I attend Holy Mass each day, I see many loyal prayerful Catholics. Yes the negativity is really hurtful. BILL H.


  2. Pingback: FRIDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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