Cardinal Robert Sarah’s pointed intervention on behalf of Church teaching at the Vatican Synod made headlines around the world. Among many ringing observations, he said:
A theological discernment enables us to see in our time two unexpected threats (almost like two “apocalyptic beasts”) located on opposite poles: on the one hand, the idolatry of Western freedom; on the other, Islamic fundamentalism: atheistic secularism versus religious fanaticism.
It was his sobering take on the second “threat” that garnered the most media attention, as any critique whatsoever of gender theory madness is strictly verboten by the West’s censors. But this resilient African cardinal doesn’t care a wit about impressing or placating Western sensibilities.
I’ve come to greatly admire Cardinal Sarah, currently (and thanks to Pope Francis) the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He speaks and writes like a desert father. He doesn’t hold back or couch his language to curry favor with the world. His new book, God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat, is available in English and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Incidentally, among many heaping praise on the book is none other than Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI. (Talk about an endorsement!) It is clear from reading God or Nothing that this deeply contemplative cardinal from Guinea is a huge admirer of the Bavarian pope. His point of reference on many contemporary issues, covered in-depth in the book, is heavily influenced by Ratzinger’s rich theological corpus. His liturgical vision is also profoundly Ratzingerian, all the more significant given his current position in the Church. In fact, an Italian newspaper recently featured Cardinal Sarah on its front page, with the title reading, “The African Benedict.” Quite the compliment. Cardinal Sarah’s sharp intellect is on full display in God or Nothing. He cites Aristotle, Cicero, Irenaeus, Augustine, Aquinas and other Saints with great frequency in relation to many issues of the day.
It is also just as clear from reading this delightful book that Cardinal Sarah is a man of profound prayer and humility. The beautiful picture of him above, as though lost in prayer in the Palm Sunday procession, is so striking to me. He writes how, as a bishop and given the immense weight of the office, he soon realized that it was absolutely essential for his spiritual life that he make a solitary retreat and absolute fast every two months. His retreats last three days, and the Eucharist serves as his only food.
I think that a bishop, in order to fulfill his role, must do penance, fast, listen to the Lord, and pray for long periods of time in silence and solitude. Christ withdrew for forty days in the desert; the successors to the apostles must imitate Christ as faithfully as possible. (Page 70)
One theme Cardinal Sarah continually returns to in God or Nothing is the necessity of silence in one’s prayer life. It’s not just for priests and bishops. He offers outstanding advice on this subject.
To pray is to be able to be quiet for a long time; we are so often deaf, distracted by our words. . . . The more we persevere in silence, the greater chance we will have of hearing God’s whisper. . . . Yes, I will say it again, prayer consists in the first place of remaining silent for a long time. There is no spiritual fruitfulness except in a virginal silence that is not mixed with too many words and interior noise. It is necessary to strip oneself bare before God, without make-up. (Page 207)
Pick up God or Nothing. Take your time with it and enjoy every page. Cardinal Sarah and his book are wonderful gifts to the Church.