An important book on the present Church crisis was just published in France. (English translation will be published later this year by Ignatius Press.) Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has written a third interview book with journalist Nicolas Diat, entitled It Is Towards Evening and the Day Is Now Far Spent. The title is taken from the story of the two Emmaus disciples who unknowingly encountered the Risen Christ as they walked from Jerusalem in discouragement following the Crucifixion (Lk 24:29). Christ’s words explaining the scriptures gave Cleophas and his unnamed friend understanding and courage. They asked him to stay with them as evening drew on. Our Lord agreed to stay, and they soon recognized the Lord Jesus when he broke the bread.
We are called to recognize Jesus present to His Church in these troubled times that resemble encroaching darkness, as the light of day disappears amidst scandals and the loss of faith by many. Cardinal Sarah writes in the Introduction: “In my last book I invited you to silence. However, I cannot remain silent any longer. …. Christians are disoriented. Each day I receive … calls for help from those who no longer know what to believe [including] priests who are discouraged and hurt. The Church is going through the dark night. The mystery of iniquity envelops her and blinds her.”
Cardinal Sarah points out “[e]very day we receive the most upsetting news. A week does not go by without a case of sexual abuse being revealed… certain men of God have become the agents of the Evil One.”
This horrific crisis of immoral and criminal turpitude by some priests, bishops, and cardinals brings shame upon the Church and her faithful who are stunned to learn of such evil behavior, and even more stunned to learn of massive cover-ups and protection given to those who should have been expelled from the priesthood.
The crisis of criminal sexual abuse by the clergy is not the only grave threat we face. Cardinal Sarah writes: “We have abandoned prayer. The evil of efficiency activism has infiltrated everywhere. We attempt to imitate the organizational model of big businesses. We forget that prayer alone is the blood that can irrigate the heart of the Church. We claim that we have no time to waste. We want to use this time for useful social works. He who does not pray has already betrayed. Even now he is ready for all types of compromises with the world. He walks along the path of Judas.”
This cardinal from a poor third-world country that suffered longtime ravages of communist dictatorship understands the mission of the Church is more than providing material relief. She offers the path to heaven through faith and prayer. Charity must be a fruit of living belief and prayer, not be its replacement.
Cardinal Sarah sees today’s doctrinal confusion as a serious threat: “We tolerate calling everything into question. Catholic doctrine is placed into doubt. In the name of so-called intellectual positions, some theologians amuse themselves in deconstructing dogmas, emptying morality of its profound meaning. Relativism is the mask of Judas disguised as an intellectual.”
He admits, “This book is the cry of my soul. It is a cry of love for God and for my brethren. I owe my fellow Christians the only truth that saves. … the shepherds are afraid to speak in all truth and clarity. We are afraid of the media, afraid of public opinion, afraid of our own brothers! The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”
Cardinal Sarah is such a good shepherd, who truly embodies the title of his first book, God or Nothing. Indeed, that is the choice we must make.
FATHER GERALD MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY. He holds a doctorate in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.