|His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah|
On March 5th, His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah delivered an address to more than 200 faithful gathered at St. Eugene's in Paris on the topic of Liturgy and the New Evangelization. In attendance was Jean-Marie Vaas of Riposte Catholique, a leading on-line resource for Catholics in France, who recorded his impressions of the conference in an article published this past Friday. While I recommend the original article to my Francophone readers, I would like to provide my own brief summary of the conference, in particular those parts which touched upon issues near to the hearts of faithful Catholics everywhere.
The Cardinal spoke at length about his journey of faith: his childhood experience of Catholic religious missionaries in Guinea with their impressive witness to the faith and their dedication to a life of service and prayer; his time at seminary in Ivory Coast; his travels to France and Senegal; his ordination in 1969; his appointment as Bishop of Conakry in the midst of the long standoff between the Holy See and the then communist government of Guinea; his time as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People. Cardinal Sarah's personal experience allows him to speak with authority on the role of persecution in the life of the Church: "It is when the Church is persecuted that the Church blossoms; it is when the Church is suffering that she is most beautiful."
The Cardinal also spoke about Vatican II, and offered his own thoughts on how to approach the documents of that Council. The context of the Council documents, he said, is one in which society had begun to distance itself more and more from God. The documents themselves, when read from a "God-centered perspective," are an attempt to facilitate a repair of the relationship between God and mankind. In this way, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which treats of sacred liturgy, is essentially about rediscovering the sense of genuine adoration, which, at heart, is about rediscovering God. Lumen Gentium, which treats of the Church, is seen as a call to return to the source of the vitality of the Church, which is her intimate bond to God. The value of the conciliar documents, then, resides not so much in their attempt to bring the Church closer to the world, but rather in their attempt to bring the world closer to God. However, talk of God, said Cardinal Sarah, cannot remain on the level of a theoretical discussion: "God is the one with whom I am to dialogue: He speaks to me, and I speak to Him."
Cardinal Sarah also had sharp words of criticism for the current crisis of faith in the West, a culture "clinging to its technological and scientific accomplishments," and lamented that modern man has set himself up as the arbiter of morality, thinking, "It is we who decide what is evil and what is good." The Cardinal stressed the danger of such thought and proposed that the only solution is to be found in returning to God, for "without God, man knows neither who he is nor where he is going."
One of the most important themes of Cardinal Sarah's address was what he described as the need for "reconciliation between Catholics" - a reference to the split among the laity in France and beyond between those who welcome the novelties which followed in the wake of Vatican II and those who reject them and seek to return to the Church's perennial traditions - particularly the Traditional Latin Mass. Cardinal Sarah said the key to this reconciliation is genuine prayer, which is rendered impossible when man is consumed with hatred for his brother. To pray without this love, said the Cardinal, is to blaspheme God.
Cardinal Sarah went on to underscore the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI towards reconciliation in his issuing the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, and announced that he would be working in his capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship to continue the vision set forth by the Pope Emeritus. The sacred liturgy, he said, is a work of love; let us, therefore, love one another, and allow the liturgy to strengthen us in the love of God.
The Cardinal also spoke on the need to give witness to Christ in our lives, recalling the words of Our Lord: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:35). Specifically in regards to the debates of the 2014 Synod regarding the issue of permitting public adulterers, i.e. the so-called "divorced and remarried," to Holy Communion, he lamented that there is a clear tendency "to reduce the Gospel to a bare minimum." He contrasted this with the dramatic testimony of those Christians in Africa and the Middle East who are facing the most horrible of persecutions, and yet who remain loyal to the words and commandments of Christ. In particular, he related the plight of Nigerians, suffering under the savage barbarism of Boko Haram, who go to church in the morning not knowing whether they will return alive in the evening.
In the round of questions which followed the address, one of the faithful inquired as to the status of the Tridentine Mass. The words of the Cardinal were clear: we cannot abandon the rite of St. Pius V, the rite which formed so many of the Church's Holy Saints.
Another of the faithful asked regarding a term made famous by Pope Francis: the "peripheries." The Cardinal's answer, though subtle, was equally clear: we must always remain mindful of the "center," which is none other than Jesus Christ, Our Lord. "The center of humanity is the cross, which is the very heart of the love of God."