"A Field of Ruins" : More Sarah on Sunday


Returning again to our walk through Robert Cardinal Sarah's book, The Day Is Now Far Spent, tonight on this 4th of July we will read from his essay, "Where is the World Headed?" It's in the form of an interview with Nicholas Diat.

Sarah suggests:

"Modern man has amnesia. We aspire to break with the past, while what is new becomes an idol. There is, to my way of thinking, an aggressive form of hostility toward tradition and, more generally, toward all heritage. Now, by living in a perpetual change, modern man deprives himself of a compass. . . . [But] even the darkest pages of history must not be forgotten. It is of capital importance to mantain the memory of the Holocaust [for example.]

"The crisis of memory cannot help but give rise to a cultural crisis. . . . A society that rejects the past cuts itself off from its future. It is a dead society, a society with no memory, a society carried off by Alzheimer's disease. . . . Modern man fears that his roots might become a yoke. He prefers to deny them. He thinks he is free, although in fact he is more vulnerable. He is like a dead leaf detached from the tree, at the mercy of every gust of wind. . . . Being anchored [in the past] is not a kind of determinism, but rather the precondition of our freedom."

Sarah is right, of course. It is the atomized, unanchored individual who is the ultimate slave. Anchoring souls in an authentic heritage--the most authentic of which is our identity as children of God--and anchoring souls in a loving family from which they were brought into the world is the foundation of their strength in the face of the forces that would enslave them. It is the foundation of their ability to refuse the cultural mainstream. It is, indeed, the foundation of freedom. Those forces seen as most atavistic by the new global creed are the forces which keep us both safe and free--God and the family.

More from Sarah:

"Fundamentalist liberalism now seems to be the only rule in the world. It recommends the abolition of all rules, of boundaries, and of morality. It recommends the abolition of religion. . . . What will be left of us, such as we aare, [when] prospects opened up by cloning and the artificial womb have done away with birth, when sickness will be kept at bay by the advances of nanomedicine and biotechnology, and when the Grim Reaper will no longer frighten us because we will be able to download our consciousness? Will we at last be delivered from our fleshly wrapping? Fascinated by the incredible possibilities of the machines, man wishes he could scrap his body of flesh and blood so as to put on a skin of silicon and steel. What a false liberation!"

Sarah suggest that a study of our past, such as a study of Nazi atrocities, can rouse us from our moral stupor. But what is missing is the transmission of the past to future generations:

"This unwillingness to hand on tradition resultd from a death wish. How can we decide not to hand on what the past has given to us? This self-sufficient pride is terrible, oppressive, suffocating. Ever since they made rupture the driving force of modernity, Western societies have been incapable of ensuring and undertaking the transmission of their cultural heritage and of their past experience. [This] leads to the worst human, political, and even economic catastrophes. I have the feeling that the history of the Western countries has become a field of ruins.

"The younger generations are deprived of a centuries-long heritage that would have helped them to build their lives. . . . Without history, without roots, without landmarks, [the young person] becomes lost in the marshes of virtual reality. In these circumstances, the past is a terra incognita and the present--a tyranny."

What is the solution, then? A return to Christianity, and a return to time (that is, time as versus immediacy, that virtual eternal present). His thoughts:

"We pass through time in order to find God more intimately. Time is a long march toward God. . . . In the modern world, the present has become an idol. Now, in fact, man is born for the hereafter. Eternal life is inscribed within him. The culture of the present instant, therefore, creates a permanent nervous tension. It is necessary somehow or other to get contemporary man out of this dangerous idolatry of immediacy. Man can rediscover peace and true quiet only by placing himself back in God.

"In a conference held in Rio de Janeiro on December 22, 1944, Georges Bernanos rightly declared: 'We reach hope only through the truth, at the cost of great efforts. In order to encounter hope, it is necessary to have gone beyond despair. When we go to the very end of night, we meet another dawn.'

"Our world will not be able to do without the truth and hope in God. This path of truth will lead us to enormous sufferings. Let us learn to detach ourselves from material goods and from power. Let us be scrupulously attached to God and to his word of life. We will then arrive all together at unity in the faith and at the knowledge of the truth that has a name: Jesus Christ."

I fear the God loves us so much that "enormous sufferings" are coming. How else to get his children off their cell phones and into real, intimate relations with other people and with God? In the meantime, we can steep our children in history, both family history and also the history of their civilization and roots. We can steep them also in nature, which breathes upon us God's Spirit. These are good things to do as we await God's guiding hand. On this 4th of July, speak to your children about the story of their country, and the good it has done and also the things that we regret about its history.

Have a happy sabbath . . .