Review of “Robert Cardinal Sarah; God or nothing: A conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat” Ignatius Press; San Francisco: 2015).

By Augustinus


In God or nothing French journalist Nicolas Diat has a wide ranging conversation with Cardinal Sarah about the church in the 21st century. Cardinal Sarah was almost elected Pope after Benedict stepped down. Sarah has had a remarkable life history. Born in 1945 in a remote village in Guinea in Africa his family was exposed to the missionary work of the Holy Ghost fathers who then sent him to seminary when he was 12. He was ordained a priest at age 24 in 1969 during the persecution of the church under the communist regime then in power in Guinea. He was made archbishop of Conarky Guinea in 1979 and has steadily risen in the Church since then. He is considered a conservative in the current culture wars because he has opposed any slackening of traditional church teaching on homosexuality, marriage, and divorce.

Both in the current book and in the past he has frequently chided the church in western countries for their insistent focus on issues of women’s rights, divorce, and the like while their fellow Catholics in the middle east, Africa and Asia are being jailed, tortured, burned alive, and massacred for their faith.

Despite his putative conservative and traditionalist stances on church issues Pope Francis appointed Sarah to the position of Head of the Congregation of the Divine Worship and Discipline of the sacraments. Judging from his responses to questions by Diat concerning the Latin mass Sarah appears to take the same position Pope Benedict took: The Latin mass and the Novus Ordo are two version of one divinely inspired rite. The Latin mass should be encouraged as it is in many ways superior to mass in the vernacular but the two versions are equally valid. Sarah believes that a new version of the rite will emerge organically over the next century. This new version will combine the best of the Tridentine and the Novus Ordo versions.

Diat asked Sarah repeatedly about the crisis in the modern church and his consistent answer was the sources of the crisis are multiple and the solution is one: prayer. Prayer is the solution because it is saints and doctors of the church who will save the church and prayer is what makes people saints.

I was enormously impressed by Sarah as he comes across in these interviews as eloquent, wise, well-spoken, intelligent, administratively competent, deeply rooted in Church documents and in holy scripture (it seems he can quote hundreds of docs and all of scripture from memory) and most of all it was clear that he was first and foremost a man of prayer.

Sarah quotes Pope Francis approvingly when Francis says that prayer must be a kind of struggle with the Lord. We are advised by the Lord himself to keep knocking on the door until we rouse the owner within. But Sarah also says that prayer must be a kind of resting in the Lord and listening. We must rest and wait until the Holy Spirit prays within us. Then we really “pray without ceasing”. “We must often nestle close to the Virgin of silence to ask her to obtain for us the grace of loving silence and of interior virginity, in other words, a purity of heart and a willingness to listen that banishes any presence except God’s” (p. 207).

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