A Little More Sarah for the Sabbath


It's been quite a while since we've looked at the writings of Robert Cardinal Sarah from his book, The Day is Now Far Spent. Let's go back to his writings and pick up where we left off.

The next chapter in his book tallks about Europe and its decline. He quotes then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI), who wrote in 2005 that:

"We notice a self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and that can be considered pathological; yes, the West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely open to understanding foreign values, but it no longer loves itself; from now on it sees in its own history only what is blameworthy and destructive, whereas it is no longer capable of perceiving what is great and pure."

While I tend to agree with the sentiment, it is hard not to suggest Ratzinger's own complicity in causing that self-hatred: this article points out that Ratzinger refused to take action against pedophile priests in Munich during the 1980s:

"Two of the cases where Benedict allegedly failed to act involved clergymen who had committed several proven acts of abuse but were allowed to continue with pastoral duties, [lawyer Martin] Pusch said. An interest in the abuse victims was 'not recognisable' in Benedict, he added. In one case, a now notorious paedophile priest named Peter Hullermann was transferred to Munich from Essen in western Germany where he had been accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy. Hullermann was reassigned to pastoral duties despite his history and continued to reoffend for many years."

Sometimes I do not understand how the Catholic Church does not comprehend its grave culpability in Europe's decline and its self-hatred. Betrayal of children by priests is legitimate cause for loathing, and even a desire to throw aside the traditions that have caused such horrible evil to the innocent.

Let's recognize, though, that Robert Cardinal Sarah has never been implicated in these types of crimes. And so perhaps he is still worth listening to with regard to Europe's decline. What does Sarah have to say?

"I think [Europe] is on its last legs. A process of self-destruction is always reversible. But time is short. For several years, the decline has been accelerating. All civilizations that ignore the eminent dignity of the human person have vanished. Today, as at the time of the Roman Empire, Europe manipulates, commercializes, and toys with human life, thus creating the conditions for its own extinction.

"The rejection of life, the murder of pre-born children, the murder of the handicapped and the elderly, the demolition of the family and of moral and spiritual values: all this is the first act in the tragedy of the suicide of an entire people."

Again, sorry to be a nuisance, but priests raping altar boys is also a rejection of life. The Catholic Church is complicit in what Sarah sees as the suicide of Europe.

This analysis of Europe's decline is fairly common, but what follows next in Sarah's writings on the subject is more interesting to me. Addressing himself to faithful families and communities in Europe that are still deeply rooted in Christian faith, this is his advice to them:

"Your mission is not to save a dying world. No civilization has the promises of eternal life. Your mission is to live out with fidelity and without compromise the faith you received from Christ. In that way, even without realizing it, you will save the heritage of many centuries of faith. Do not be afraid because of your small numbers! It is not a matter of winning elections of influencing opinions. It is a matter of living the Gospel. Not thinking of it as a utopia, but experiencing it concretely. Faith is like a fire. A person himself must be on fire in order to be able to transmit it. Watch over this sacred fire! May it be your heat in the depths of the winter of the West. When a fire illumines the night, people gradually gather around it. That must be your hope."

Now that is very profound. In fact, this is the consistent theme of the Old Testament--the main body of people will corrupt themselves and reap destruction, but in every age there is a "righteous remnant" that preserves their faith and integrity intact, and it is they who are saved so that they may build a new civilization. And on and on this circle goes. In a way, the purpose of all of human history is to produce these "righteous remnants." They are the wheat that refused to turn into tares. They are the true harvest. To seek to be part of the "righteous remnant" is the only living path through the darkness of a dying civilization.

But to be part of that remnant means to reject relativism. Truth matters; nothing can be built except on the rock of truth. But a society that has rejected any notion that there is an objective truth cannot possibly be righteous. Sarah describes the situation in Europe in these terms:

"The European multiculturalist enterprise exploits an ideal of universal charity that is misunderstood. Charity is not a denial of self. It consists of offering to the other the best that one has and what one is. Now the best thing that Europe has to offer to the world is its identity, its civilization, which is profoundly imbued with Christianity. But what has it offered to the Muslim newcomers except irreligion and barbaris consumerism? How can anyone be surprised when the latter take refuge in Islamist fundamantalism? Europeans ought to be proud of their morals and customs that are inspired by the Gospel . . . The essential condition for welcoming the other person is: coming to terms with what one is. Given the danger of radical Islamism, Europe ought to be able to articulate firmly on what conditions one can share its life and its civilization. But it doubts itself and is ashamed of its Christian identity. So it ends up reaping contempt . . . [I]f migrants who arrive in Europe end up having contempt for it, this is basically because they find nothing sacred in it."

True freedom, Sarah writes, "is absolutely connected to the truth." Abandon truth, and freedom vanishes. He quotes Ratzinger again, saying, "Cultivating the essential moral judgments, and maintaining and protecting them without imposing them by force, seems to me to be a condition for the survival of freedom in the face of all the forms of nihilism and their totalitarian consequences."

I think those are wise words. For those who are called to the path, becoming part of the righteous remnant of one's age involves sticking to one's principles and moral beliefs even when those are considered unkind, anachronistic, or even bigoted. It is to be called to suffer unfair and unjust persecution, which will seem the right and proper punishment by those who have abandoned truth for ideology.

I see nothing but a crown of thorns and crucifixion ahead for those who follow Christ. But that path is better than the path of the living dead. Let each soul choose now, before the blows come.