Cardinal Sarah We must rebuild the cathedral … We do not need to invent a new Church
“As a bishop,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah at a May 25th conference in Paris, “it is my duty to warn the West: behold the flames of barbarism threaten you!”
Robert Cardinal Sarah speaking at Église Saint François-Xavier in Paris, May 25, 2019. (Image: François Xavier/Cardinal Sarah)
Editor’s note: The following Conference was given by H.E Robert Cardinal Sarah at Église Saint François-Xavier in Paris, May 25, 2019, just hours after he visited the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris.
Allow me first of all to thank Monseigneur Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris, and the curé of Saint François-Xavier parish, Fr. Lefèvre-Pontalis, for their fraternal welcome.
I have come to present my latest book: The Day is Far Spent. In this book, I analyze the profound crisis of the West, a crisis of faith, a crisis of the Church, of the priesthood, of identity, a crisis of the meaning of man and human life. I discuss this spiritual collapse and all its consequences.
This evening I would like to repeat these convictions I hold so deeply, by putting them into the perspective of a moving visit I made yesterday. Just hours ago I was at the cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris. As I entered the gutted church, and contemplated its ruined vaults, I could not help but see in it a symbol of the situation of Western civilization and of the Church in Europe.
It is a sad fact: today the Church seems to be engulfed in flames on all sides. We see her ravaged by a conflagration much more destructive than the one that razed the cathedral of Notre-Dame. What is this fire? We must have the courage to name it, because “to name things wrongly is to add to the misfortune of the world.”
This blaze, this conflagration raging in particular through the Church in Europe, is a case of intellectual, doctrinal, and moral confusion. It is our cowardly refusal to proclaim the truth about God and man and to defend and transmit the moral and ethical values of the Christian tradition. It is our loss of faith and the spirit of faith, a losing sight of the objectivity of faith and thus a loss of the knowledge of God. As John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae:
In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death” …we have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test…producing a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence.1
Dear friends, the cathedral of Notre-Dame had a spire that was like a finger stretching out toward heaven, pointing us toward God. In the heart of Paris, it spoke to every man about the ultimate meaning of human life.
Indeed this spire symbolized the one and only reason for the Church’s existence: to lead us to God, to point us toward Him. A Church that is not pointed toward God is a Church collapsing, already in the throes of death. The spire of the cathedral of Paris has fallen: and this is no coincidence! Notre-Dame of Paris symbolizes the whole West, buckling and crumbling after turning away from God. It symbolizes the great temptation of Western Christians: no longer turned toward God, turning inward upon themselves, they are perishing.
I am convinced that this civilization is living through its mortal hour. As once during the decline and fall of Rome, so today the elites care for nothing but increasing the luxury of their daily lives, and the people have been anaesthetized by every more vulgar entertainments.
As a bishop, it is my duty to warn the West: behold the flames of barbarism threaten you! And who are these barbarians? The barbarians are those who hate human nature. The barbarians are those who trample the sacred under foot. The barbarians are those who despise and manipulate life and strive for “human enhancement”!
When a country is prepared to let a weak and helpless man die of hunger and thirst, it marches down the paths of barbarism! The whole world watched as France hesitated to feed Vincent Lambert, one of her weakest children. My dear friends, after this, how can your country give the world lessons in/of civilization? When a country arrogates to itself the right of life and death over the smallest and weakest, when a country kills babies in their mother’s womb, it is slouching toward barbarism!
The West is blinded by its lust for wealth! The lure of money that liberalism instills in hearts lulls the peoples to sleep! Meanwhile the silent tragedy of abortion and euthanasia continues. Meanwhile, pornography and gender ideology mutilate and destroy children and adolescents. We have become so used to barbarity, it no longer even surprises us!
Underneath the surface of its fantastic scientific and technological accomplishments and the appearance of prosperity, Western civilization is in a profound state of decadence and ruin! Like Notre-Dame cathedral, it is crumbling. It has lost its reason for being: to show forth and lead others to God. When the spire that crowns the building collapses, is it any wonder that the vaults collapse underneath it?
I want to sound a cry of alarm that is also a cry of love and compassion for Europe and the West: A West that renounces its faith, history, and Christian roots is destined for scorn and death. It no longer resembles a beautiful cathedral founded on faith, but a senseless ruin!
Any human civilization that loses sight of God saps its own foundations. A cathedral proclaims, by its vertical architecture, that we are made for God. On the contrary, man separated from God is reduced to the horizontal dimension.
If God loses his central and primary place, man loses his own proper place, no longer finds his place in creation, in his relations with others. The modern refusal of God imprisons us in a new form of totalitarianism: a relativism that admits no law but the law of profit. We must break the chains that these new totalitarian ideology wants to impose on us! If man refuses and cuts himself off from God, then he is like an immense and majestic river that, cut off from its source, sooner or later dries up and disappears. If man denies God and rejects him, he is like a giant tree that is deprived of its roots: he will die immediately. Nicholas Berdyaev said:
Where there is no God, there is no man: that is what we have learned from experience. Or look at the true nature of Socialism, now that we can see what it really looks like. But a truth that stands out and can be seen no less clearly is that there cannot be religious neutrality or absence of religion: to the religion of the living God is opposed the religion of Satan, facing the faith of Christ there is the faith of Antichrist. The neutral humanist kingdom that wanted to establish itself in an order intermediate between Heaven and Hell is in a state of corruption, and the two gulfs, of heigh above and of depth beneath, are disclosed. There rears up against the God-Man, not the man of the neutral intermediate kingdom, but the man-god, the man who has put himself in the place of God. The opposed poles of Being and of not-being are manifest and clear.2
To refuse God the possibility of entering into all the aspects of human life results in man condemning himself to solitude. He becomes nothing but an isolated individual, without origin or destiny. He is doomed to wander the world like a nomadic barbarian, without knowing that he is the son and heir of a Father who created him in love and calls him to share eternal happiness with him.
Behold modern man: alone, wandering about in a field of ruins. This is what I found yesterday when I visited Notre-Dame in ruins.
The spiritual crisis I describe involves the entire world. But its source is in Europe. Rejection of God was conceived in Western minds. The current spiritual disaster thus has distinctively Western features. In particular, I would like to emphasize the rejection of fatherhood. Our contemporaries are convinced that, in order to be free, one must not depend on anybody. There is a tragic error in this. Western people are convinced that receiving is contrary to the dignity of human persons. But civilized man is fundamentally an heir, he receives a history, a culture, a language, a name, a family. This is what distinguishes him from the barbarian. To refuse to be inscribed within a network of dependence, heritage, and filiation condemns us to go back naked into the jungle of a competitive economy left to its own devices.
This understanding of dependence and transmission was deeply etched into the hearts of those who built Notre-Dame. They worked for decades and centuries, for their descendants, in many cases without seeing the end of their work for themselves. They knew they were heirs and wanted to transmit their heritage.
Because he refuses to acknowledge himself as an heir, man is condemned to the hell of liberal globalization in which individual interests confront one another without any law to govern them besides profit at any price.
In this book, however, I want to suggest to Western people that the real cause of this refusal to claim their inheritance and this refusal of fatherhood is the rejection of God. I see, in the depths of Western hearts, a profound refusal of the creative paternity of God. But we receive our nature as man and woman from God. “God created man in his image, in the image of God he created them, man and woman he created them” (Gen 1:27). This is intolerable to modern minds. Gender ideology is the refusal to receive a sexual nature from God. Thus some in the West revolt, rebel and fight against God. Opposing their Father and Creator head on, they pointlessly mutilate themselves in order to change their sex. But in reality they do not fundamentally change anything of their structure as man or woman. They materialize in a radical way their rebellious opposition and revolt against God. Modern philosophy and the modern spirit violently reject and attack the natural law, recall what St. John said: “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4). The negation of natural law is the ultimate extreme of the rejection of God, the proclamation of liberty without limits as the absolute value and justification for sin. Gender ideology is a perfect example of this.
The West refuses to receive, and will accept only what it constructs for itself. Transhumanism is the ultimate avatar of this movement. Because it is a gift from God, human nature itself becomes unbearable for Western man. This revolt is spiritual at root. It is the revolt of Satan against the gift of grace.
Fundamentally, I believe that Western man refuses to be saved by God’s mercy. He refuses to receive salvation, wanting to build it for himself. The “fundamental values” promoted by the UN are based on a rejection of God that I compare with the rich young man in the Gospel. God has looked upon the West and has loved it because it has done wonderful things. He invited it to go further, but the West turned back. It preferred the kind of riches that it owed only to itself.
The great cathedrals of the West could have been built only by men of great faith and great humility who were profoundly happy to know that they were sons of God. They are like a song a joy, a hymn to God’s glory sculpted in stone and painted in glass. They are the work of sons who love and adore their heavenly Father! All were glad to carve into stone an expression of their faith and love for God, and not for the glory of their own name. Their art works were meant to glory and praise God alone. Modern Western man is too sad to achieve such works of art.
He has chosen to be a solitary orphan: how can he chant the glory of the eternal Father from whom he has received all? Well then, what shall he do? Before the ruins of Notre-Dame, some have been tempted to say: See, this building has served its purpose. Let us build something new, more modern. Let us build something after our own image! A building that speaks, not of God’s glory, but the glory of man, of the power of science and modernity.
In the same way, some people look at the Catholic Church and say: this Church has served its purpose, let us change it, let us make a new Church after our own image. They think: the Church is no longer credible, we no longer hear her voice in the media. She is too marred by the scandals of pedophilia and homosexuality amidst the clergy. Too many of her clergy are wicked. It is necessary to change her, reinvent her.
Priestly celibacy is too difficult for our times: Make it optional! The Gospel’s moral teaching is too demanding: Make it easier! Dilute it with relativism and laxity. In the future, worry more about social questions.
Catholic doctrine doesn’t suit the media? Change it! Adapt it to the mentalities and moral perversities of our time. Let us adopt the new globalist ethic promoted by the UN and gender ideology!
Let us make the Church a human and horizontal society, let her speak a media-friendly language, make her popular! My friends, such a Church interests no one. My dear friends, the world has no use for a Church that offers nothing more than a reflection of its own image!
The Church is only of interest because she allows us to encounter Jesus. She is only legitimate because she passes on Revelation to us. When the Church becomes overburdened with human structures, it obstructs the light of God shining out in her and through her.The Church should be like a cathedral. Everything in Her should sing to the glory of God. She must unceasingly direct our gaze toward him, like the spire of Notre-Dame pointed toward heaven.
My dear friends, we must rebuild the cathedral. We must rebuild it exactly as it was before. We do not need to invent a new Church. We have to let ourselves be converted so that the Church can shine once more, so that the Church can be once more a cathedral that sings God’s glory and leads men to him. So, what is the first thing to do?
(1) The Vaults: Adoration
I tell you without hesitation: You want to rebuild the Church? Then we must get on our knees!
You want to rebuild this beautiful cathedral that is the Catholic Church? Get on your knees! A cathedral is first of all a place where men can kneel, a cathedral is where God is present in the Most Holy Sacrament. The most urgent task is to recover a sense of adoration! The loss of a sense of adoration of God is the source of all the fires and crises that are rocking the world and the Church.
We need adorers! The world is dying because it lacks adorers! The Church is parched for lack of adorers to quench her thirst! We lack people who fall to their knees like Jesus when he addresses his Father and our Father: “Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed…My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want” (see Lk 22:41; Mt 26:39; Mk 14:35).
We will not rediscover an understanding of the dignity of the human person unless we recognize the transcendence of God. Man is only great and most noble when he falls on his knees before God. The great man is humble and the humble man is on his knees!
My friends, if we sometimes despair in the face of the powers of this world, if we sometimes lay down our arms before the powers of this world, remember that no one has the power to take away your freedom to kneel! If impious priests abuse their authority and brutalize you to prevent you from kneeling to receive Holy Communion, do not lose your calm and serenity before the Eucharistic Lord. Do not resist them, but rather pray for these priests whose behavior blasphemes and profanes him whom they hold in their hands. Try to imitate the humility of God and let your heart, your will, your intelligence, your self-love and your whole interior being kneel. It is God’s exclusive domain. A man on his knees is more powerful than the world! He is an unshakable rampart against the atheism and folly of men. A man on his knees makes Satan tremble in all his pride!
All of you who, to the eyes of men, are without power and influence, but who know how to kneel before God, have no fear of those who want to intimidate you! Your mission is great. It is to “prevent the world from destroying itself”!3
I speak especially to you who are sick, weak of body or mind, you who suffer a handicap, whom society finds useless and wants to suppress: when you pray, when you adore, you are great! You have a particular dignity because you uniquely resemble Christ crucified! If you allow me the expression: the whole Church kneels before you because you bear Christ’s image, his presence! We wish to serve you, love you, console you, please you. We wish also to learn from you. You preach us the Gospel of adoration in your suffering. You are a treasure!
A cathedral no longer makes sense if no one goes there to adore, to prostrate themselves before God’s face! A cathedral no longer makes sense if the liturgy we celebrate there is not entirely meant to orient us toward God, toward the cross. Therefore, our cathedral needs priests who will celebrate the liturgy of the Mass and the liturgy of the Hours in it.
If the people of God are to adore, then priests and bishops must be the first adorers. They are called to hold themselves constantly before God’s gaze. Their existence is meant to be an unending prayer, a permanent liturgy. They are our leaders.
Very often it is bishops and priests who neglect adoration. Thus, they are centered on themselves and their activities, preoccupied with the human results of their ministry. They do not find time for God, because they have lost the sense of God. God has no more place in their life.
My dear friends, I am convinced that at the heart of the crisis of the Church is a crisis of the priesthood, a crisis of priests. If the cathedral is collapsing, it is because priestly identity has collapsed first. We have taken priests’ identity away from them. We have made them think they must be businessmen, efficient workers, active and present everywhere at every minute.
But the priest is fundamentally a continuation among us of the presence of Christ. He is essentially an adorer, a man who holds himself constantly under God’s gaze. He must not be defined by what he does but by what he is. He is ipse Christus, Christ himself.
The discovery of many cases of sexual abuse against minors reveals a profound spiritual crisis, a grave, deep, and tragic rupture between the priest and Christ. Of course, there are social factors: the crisis of the ‘60s and the sexualization of society, which rebound on the Church. But we must have the courage to go further. As Benedict XVI said recently, the roots of this crisis are spiritual. The ultimate reason for abuse or for a moral life incompatible with priestly celibacy is the concrete absence of God in the life of priests. We have witnessed for a long time now the spread of a priestly life that is no longer determined by the faith. Now if there is any life that must be entirely and absolutely determined by the faith, it is the priestly life. In the final analysis, the reason for abuse is the absence of God. Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible. As Benedict XVI has reminded us:
The center of our life must really be the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Central here are the words of consecration: “This is my Body, this is my Blood”, which means that we speak “in persona Christi”. Christ allows us to use his “I”, we speak in the “I” of Christ. Christ is “drawing us into himself” and allows us to be united. He unites us to his “I”. So, through this action, the fact that he “draws” us to himself so that our “I” becomes united to his, he realizes the permanence, the uniqueness of his Priesthood…It is this union with his “I” which is realized in the words of the consecration… Therefore, celibacy is an anticipation, a foretaste, made possible by the grace of the Lord, who draws us to himself, towards the world of the resurrection.4
I have dedicated this book to the priests of the whole world because I know that they are suffering. Many of them feel abandoned. We, the bishops, bear a large share of responsibility for the crisis of the priesthood. Have we been fathers to them? Have we listened to them, understood and guided them? Have we given them an example? Too often dioceses are transformed into administrative structures. There are so many meetings. The bishop should be the model for the priesthood. But we ourselves are far from being the ones most ready to pray in silence, or to chant the Office in our cathedrals. I fear that we lose ourselves in secondary, profane responsibilities.
The priest’s place is on the Cross. When he celebrates Mass, he is at the source of his whole life, which is the Cross. Celibacy is one of the concrete ways that allows us to live this mystery of the Cross in our lives. Celibacy inscribes the Cross on our flesh. That is why celibacy is intolerable for the modern world. Priestly celibacy is a scandal for moderns, because the Cross is a scandal.
In this book, I wish to encourage priests. I want to tell them: love your priesthood! Be proud to be crucified with Christ! Do not fear the world’s hatred! I wish to show my affection as a father and brother for the priests of the whole world! I want to express, before you and with you, my profound affection for all faithful priests in the world! I want before you and wish you to render them homage!
Dear friends, love your priests! Do not thank them for what they do but for what they are! Dear friends, do not be troubled by the tendentious investigations that portray the disastrous situation of irresponsible clergy, whose interior lives are diseased, who are even at the very centre of government of the Church. Stay serene and confidant like the Virgin and St. John at the foot of the Cross. Immoral priests, bishops, and cardinals cannot tarnish the bright testimony of more than four-hundred thousand priests across the world who serve the Lord every day with faith, holiness, joy, and humility!
We must be realistic and concrete. Yes, there are sinners. Yes, there are unfaithful priests, bishops, and even cardinals who fail to observe chastity. But also, and this is also very grave, they fail to hold fast to true doctrine! Sin should not surprise us. On the other hand, we must have the courage to call it by name. We must not be afraid to rediscover the methods of spiritual combat: prayer, penance, and fasting. We must have the clear-sightedness to punish unfaithfulness. We must find the concrete means to prevent it. I believe that without a common prayer life, without a minimum of common fraternal life between priests, fidelity is an illusion. We must look to the model of the Acts of the Apostles.
I want to repeat to you priests and religious who are hidden and forgotten, you whom society often despises, you who are faithful to the promises of your ordination, you make the powers of this world tremble! You remind them that nothing can resist the force present in the gift of your life for the truth. You remind them of the vital and indispensable presence of God for the future of humanity. Your presence is intolerable to the prince of lies. Without you, dear brother priests and consecrated people, humanity would be less great, less radiant, and less beautiful! Without you our cathedrals would be useless buildings without life!
You are the living rampart of the truth because you have resolved to love even to the point of the Cross. Dear brother priests, dear religious brothers and sisters, the experience of the Cross is the experience of the truth of our life! The man or cleric who proclaims the truth of God inevitably climbs upon the Cross. He will experience the passion, crucifixion, and death of the Cross. All Christians, and priests in particular, are constantly on the Cross so that through their witness the truth may shien forth and lies be destroyed. In an extraordinary way, we carry around always and everywhere on our bodies the sufferings and death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies (see 2 Cor 4:10).
I often hear it said that priestly celibacy is only a question of historical discipline. I firmly believe that this is false. As we said above, celibacy reveals the very essence of Christian priesthood, namely the perfect configuration and total identification of the priest with Christ, High Priest of the New Covenant and of the good things to come (Heb 9:11). In this sense, the priest is not only an alter Christus, another Christ, he is truly ipse Christus, Christ himself. By the Eucharistic consecration, he is totally configured to Christ, he is so to speak “transubstantiated,” transformed, changed into Christ. And because Christ and the Apostles lived in perfect chastity and celibacy as a sign of their total and absolute gift to the Father, it is thus fundamental today as well to see celibacy as a vital necessity for the Church. To speak of it as a secondary reality is hurtful to all the priests of the world!
I am deeply persuaded that the relativiation of the law of priestly celibacy will reduce the priesthood to a simple function. But priesthood is not a function but a state. To be a priest is not first and foremost to do something, but to be something. It is to be Christ; it is to be the extension of the presence of Christ among men. Christ is truly the Church’s spouse. He loved the Church and gave himself up for her “in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish” (Ep 5:25-27). The priest for his part gives himself as Christ was given for the whole Church. Celibacy manifests this gift, and is its concrete and vital sign. Celibacy is the seal of the Cross on our priestly life! It is the cry of the priestly soul proclaiming its love for the Father and its total gift of self to the Church!
The desire to relativize celibacy leads to scornign this radical gift that so many faithful priests have lived since the day of their ordination. I want to shout with so many of my fellow priests my profound suffering in the face of this scorn for priestly celibacy! Of course, there can be weakness in this domain. But he who falls rises immediately and pursues his way following Christ with more fidelity and determination.
(2) The Pillars: Catholic Doctrine
And then, dear friends, what else does our cathedral need? It needs solid pillars to support the vaults. What are these pillars? What foundation is needed to support the graceful slenderness of the Gothic rib-vaults? The Catholic doctrine we have received from the apostles is the only solid foundation we can find.
If everyone defends his own opinion, theological hypotheses, novelties, or a pastoral approach that contradicts the demands of the Gospel and the perennial Magisterium of the Church, then division will spread everywhere.
I am wounded when I see so many pastors selling off Catholic doctrine and sowing division among the faithful. We owe the Christian people a clear teaching, firm and stable. How can we allow bishops and episcopal conferences to contradict one another? Where confusion reigns, God cannot dwell! For God is Light and Truth.
Unity of faith assumes the unity of the magisterium across space and time. When we are confronted with a new teaching, it must always be interpreted in continuity with the teaching that preceded. If we introduce ruptures and revolutions, we destroy the unity that governs the holy Church across the ages. This does not mean that we are condemned to a theological fixism. But all evolution must lead to a better understanding and deepening of the past. The hermeneutic of reform in continuity that Benedict XVI so clearly taught is a condition sine qua non of unity. Those who loudly proclaim change and rupture are false prophets! They are not seeking the good of the flock. They are mercenaries let in by deceit into the sheepfold!
Our unity is forged around the truth of Catholic doctrine and the moral teaching of the Church. There are no other means. To try to win media approval at the price of the truth is to do Judas’ work! Do not fear! What greater gift is there for humanity than the truth of the Gospel? What more precious treasure than the light of the Gospel and the Wisdom of God, who is Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:24)?
Some Christians seem to want to deprive themselves of this light and wisdom. They limit themselves to looking at the world with secular eyes. Why? Is it the wish to be accepted by the world? The wish to be like the world?
I wonder whether, deep down, this attitude masks a fearful refusal to listen to what Jesus himself told us: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” What an honor, but also what a responsibility! What a duty! To renounce being the salt of the earth is to condemn the world to remain bland and tasteless. To renounce being the light of the world is to condemn it to darkness and abandon it to the shadows of its rebellion against God! We must not let this happen!
Indeed let us turn toward the world: in order to bring it the only light that does not deceive. When the Church turns toward the world, this cannot entail that she hides the scandal of the Cross, but only that she makes it accessible once again in its naked reality. Dear friends, I was deeply moved spiritually by a photograph published the day after the fire at Notre-Dame of Paris. In the photo, the interior of the church is visible, heaped with debris and still smoking. But above these heaps of shattered stones, the luminous cross installed by Cardinal Lustiger is still standing! “Stat Crux, dum volvitur orbis – the Cross stands while the world turns.” The world is turning and falling, only the Cross remains stable and shows us the way to salvation. Only the truth of the Cross remains, the truth of Catholic doctrine.
If turning toward the world means turning from the Cross, that will not lead to a renewal but to death!
Among many Christians there is a fear and repugnance of witnessing to the faith or carrying the light of the Gospel to the world. Our faith has become lukewarm, like a slowly fading memory. It is becoming like a cold fog. We no longer dare to claim that it is the only light of the world. We have to give witness not to ourselves, but to God who has come to meet us and revealed himself in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
It is therefore urgent to insist on the teaching of catechism to adults and children. We have a wonderful tool for that purpose: the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium.
The failure of catechetics leads many Christians to hold only a vague idea of the faith or even a kind of religious syncretism. Some chose to believe one article of the Creed and reject another. We have even started taking surveys regarding Catholics’ acceptance of various truths of the faith…Faith is not a merchant’s booth where we choose the fruit and vegetables we like! When we receive it, it is God that we receive, whole and entire! I solemnly call upon Christans to love the dogmas and articles of faith, to cherish them. Love our catechism! If we accept it with our hearts and not only with our lips, then the formulas of faith let us enter into true communion with God. It is time to rescue Christians from the ambiguous and confused speech of certain prelates and from the current relativism that anaesthetizes hearts and banishes love! Remember the clear and firm testimony of Peter: “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved, than by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10-12). Let us think of all the Christians of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who are butchered for the name of Jesus!
It is time that the faith became for Christians their most intimate and most valuable treasure. We can measure the lukewarmness that has spread in our ranks by our apathy in the face of doctrinal deviations. We often see grave errors taught in Catholic universities or officially Christian publications. No one reacts! And we, the bishops, we are content with cautious and fearful corrections. Beware! One day the faithful will demand an account of us. They will accuse us before God for leaving them to the wolves, and deserting our posts as pastors when we should have defended the sheepfold.
Understand well: My cry is a cry of love! Our faith informs our love for God. To defend the faith is to defend the weakest and simplest, and permit them to love God in truth. Dear friends, we must burn with love for our faith. We must not dilute it with worldly compromises. We must not falsify it or corrupt it. It is a matter of the salvation of souls, ours and those of our brothers! The day we no longer burn with love for our faith, the world will be cold, deprived of its most precious good. It is our task to defend and announce the faith!
Who shall rise to proclaim the faith in the cities of the West? Who shall rise to announce the true faith to Muslims? They seek it unconsciously. They turn to Islamism because, in the way of religion, all the West has to offer them is the consumer society.
Which of you will be the missionaries the world needs? Where are the missionaries who will teach the whole faith to so many Catholics who are ignorant of what they believe? Do not place the light of faith under a basket any longer, do not hide this treasure given freely to us! Dare to proclaim, to witness, to catechize! We can no longer call ourselves believes and live in practice like atheists!
The faith enlightens our family, professional and cultural life, not only our spiritual life. In the West, some call for tolerance or secularity, and impose a form of schizophrenia between private and public life. Faith has its place in public debate! We must speak of God, not to impose him but to reveal and propose him. God is an indispensible light to mankind.
(3) The Stained Glass: Fellowship with the Saints
My dear friends, to finish our cathedral, we still need the stained glass. They let in the luminous presence, joyful and multi-colored, of the saints in heaven.
We need saints who dare to look at all things with the eyes of faith, who dare to be enlightened by the light of God. My friends, will we be these saints the world awaits? You, Christians of today, will you be the saints and martyrs the nations groan for, will you lead a new evangelization? Your homelands are thirsting for Christ! Do not disappoint them! The Church entrusts this mission to you!
I think we are at a turning point in the history of the Church. The Church needs a profound, radical reform that must begin by a reform of the life of her priests. But all these means are at the service of sanctity. The Church is holy in herself. Our sins and our worldly concerns prevent her holiness from diffusing itself. It is time to put aside all these burdens and allow the Church finally appear as God made Her.
Some believe that the history of the Church is marked by structural reforms. I am sure that it is the saints who change history. The structures follow afterwards, and do nothing other than perpetuate the what the saints brought about. When God calls, he demands something radical! He goes all the way, down to the root. Dear friends, we are not called to be mediocre Christians! No, God is calling our whole being, asking for a total gift even to the martyrdom of our body and soul! He is calling us to sanctity: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2).
In the conclusion of my book, I speak about a poison from which are all suffering: a virulent atheism. It permeates everything, even our ecclesiastical discourse. It consists in allowing radically pagan and worldly modes of thinking or living to coexist side by side with faith. And we are quite content with this unnatural cohabitation! This shows that our faith has become diluted and inconsistent! The first reform we need is in our hearts. We must no longer compromise with lies. The Faith is both the treasure we have to defend and the power that will permit us to defend it.
Today from the bottom of my heart as a pastor, I wish to invite all Christians to conversion. We do not need to create parties within the Church. We cannot proclaim ourselves the saviors of this or that institution. All of this will aid the enemy in his game. But each of us can take this resolution: I will not accept the lie of atheism. I do not want to renounce the light of faith, I do not want light to live side by side with darkness in my soul, through laziness, convenience, or conformism! It is a very simple decision, both interior and concrete. It will change our life in its smallest details. It is not about going off to war. It is not about denouncing enemies. It is not about attacking or criticizing. It is about staying firmly faithful to Jesus Christ, to his Gospel and to the mystery of the Church. Though we cannot change the world, we can be changed ourselves. If each person would take this resolution humbly, then the system of lies would crumble of its own accord, because its only strength is the place we give to it in ourselves!
My dear friends, the West has built awesome cathedrals. Today they are in danger of becoming museums without a soul. But the day when the cathedrals will have become mere carcasses of stone will be a sad day, and the world will lose all sense and purpose.
Let me conclude by citing Benedict XVI once more:
Man needs an appeal, addressed to his soul, that can carry and sustain him. He needs a place for his soul. That is what a cathedral symbolizes. But a building only becomes a cathedral thanks to men who construct this space for the soul, men who transform the stones into a cathedral and thus open for everyone a way to the infinite, an appeal without which man suffocates. Humanity needs “cathedral builders” whose pure and disinterested life makes God credible.
My dear friends, I invite you, for my part, to be these cathedral builders.
We must find places where the virtues can flourish. It is time to rediscover the courage of non-conformism. Christians must create places where the air is breathable, or simply where the Christian life is possible. I call upon Christians to bravely open oases of freedom in the midst of the desert created by rampant profiteering. Indeed you must not be alone in the desert of a society without God. A Christian who stays alone is a Christian in danger! He will end up being devoured by the sharks of the market society. Christians must regroup in communities around their cathedrals: the houses of God. Our communities must put God in the center. At the center of our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our liturgies, and our cathedrals.
Amidst the avalanche of lies, we must be able to find places where truth is not only explained but experienced. In a word, we must live the Gospel: not merely thinking about it as a utopia, but living it in a concrete way. The Faith is like a fire, but it has to be burning in order to be transmitted to others. Watch over this sacred fire! Let it be your warmth in the heart of this winter of the West.
When a fire glows in the night, men slowly gather around it. This is our hope. This is our cathedral.
(Translated by Zachary Thomas)
1Evangelium Vitae, 25 March 1995, n. 21.
2 Nicolas Berdyaev, Un nouveau Moyen Age, Paris, 1927.
3 Albert Camus, Nobel Prize speech, 10 December 1957.
4 Dialogue of the Holy Father Benedict XVI with Priests, St. Peter’s Square, 10 June 2010.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
About Cardinal Robert Sarah 4 Articles
Cardinal Robert Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is the author, with Nicolas Diat, of God or Nothing, The Power of Silence and the forthcoming The Day Is Now Far Spent.