LifeSite News, April 14, 2020
‘No one has the right to deprive a sick or dying person of the spiritual assistance of a priest. It is an absolute and inalienable right.’
A top Vatican cardinal stated that the coronavirus, “a microscopic virus, has brought this world to its knees,” a world that was “drunk with self-satisfaction because it believed itself to be invulnerable.”
According to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the present COVID-19 pandemic is a “parable” that should lead mankind to ponder its dependence on God, faulty priorities and help it discover the true values of entrusting oneself to God, returning to prayer and rediscovering the importance of national and family bonds.
At a time when so many are dying alone without the comforting presence of loved ones and the assistance of Last Rites, Cardinal Sarah insisted that “no one has the right to deprive a sick or dying person of the spiritual assistance of a priest. It is an absolute and inalienable right.”
Cardinal Sarah spoke at length with Charlotte d’Ornellas of the French conservative weekly Valeurs actuelles, drawing human, political and religious lessons from an epidemic that, he said, “has dispersed the smoke of illusion.”
In particular, the Cardinal opposed materialism of pre-epidemic times, when we were told: “You can consume without limits,” to the collapse in the present situation. “Stock markets are falling. Bankruptcies are everywhere,” he observed, also noting that man’s dreams of “transhumanism” and “augmented humanity” that “biotechnologies would make invincible and immortal” have been dashed by the coronavirus.
“The so-called almighty man appears in his stark reality. All at once, he is naked. His weakness and vulnerability are glaring. Being confined to our homes will, I hope, enable us to turn once again to the essential things, to rediscover the importance of our relationship with God, and thus the centrality of prayer in human existence. And, in the awareness of our fragility, to entrust ourselves to God and to his paternal mercy,” Cardinal Sarah said.
According to Sarah, the experience of the epidemic and confinement will show that modern man cannot be “radically independent” nor refuse to be “part of a network of dependence, inheritance and filiation.”
“When everything collapses, only the bonds of marriage, family and friendship remain. We have rediscovered that as members of a nation, we are bound by invisible but real bonds. Most of all, we have rediscovered that we are dependent on God,” he insisted.
The author of The Power of Silence remarked on the “wave of silence that has swept through Europe,” adding, “Many have found themselves alone, in silence, in apartments that have become like hermitages or monastic cells.”
“What a paradox! It took a virus to silence us. (…) The question of eternal life cannot fail to arise when we are told every day of a large number of contagions and deaths,” he added.
Cardinal Sarah suggested that we use solitude and confinement to “dare pray.” “What if we dared to transform our family and our home into a domestic church?” he asked. “A church is a sacred place that reminds us that in such a house of prayer everything must be lived in seeking to direct everything and every choice towards the Glory of God.”
“Is death really the end of everything?” the Cardinal asked. In France, a more deeply secularized nation than the United States, such a question is particularly relevant.
He also gave the answer: “Or is it not a passage, painful indeed, but which leads to life? That is why the Risen Christ is our great hope. (…) Are we not like Job in the Bible? Depleted of everything, empty-handed, with an anxious heart: What do we have left? Anger against God is absurd. We are left with adoration, trust and contemplation of the mystery.”
Cardinal Sarah added that the world now “expects a strong word from the Church.” “If we refuse to believe that we are the fruit of a loving will of Almighty God, then all this is too hard, and it makes no sense. How can we live in a world where a virus strikes at random and mows down innocent people? There is only one answer: the certainty that God is love and that he is not indifferent to our suffering. Our vulnerability opens our heart to God and it inclines God to have mercy on us. I believe that it is time to dare these words of faith.”
Asked what priests should do in this situation, the cardinal replied:
“The Pope was very clear. Priests must do everything they can to remain close to the faithful. They must do everything in their power to assist the dying, without complicating the task of the caretakers and the civil authorities. But no one has the right to deprive a sick or dying person of the spiritual assistance of a priest. It is an absolute and inalienable right. In Italy, the clergy has already paid a heavy price. Seventy-five priests have died assisting the sick.
“But I also believe that many priests are rediscovering their vocation to prayer and intercession on behalf of the whole people. The priest is made to stand constantly before God to adore, glorify and serve him. Thus, in confined countries, priests find themselves in the situation inaugurated by Benedict XVI. They learn to spend their days in prayer, solitude and silence offered for the salvation of mankind. If they cannot physically hold the hand of each dying person as they would like, they discover that, in adoration, they can intercede for each one.”
The cardinal underscored that priests praying alone and celebrating Mass in solitude discover that “they are not primarily leaders of meetings or communities, but men of God, men of prayer, worshippers of the majesty of God and contemplatives. They then measure the immense greatness of the Eucharistic Sacrifice which does not need a large audience to produce its fruits. Through the Mass, the priest touches the whole world,” he recalled.
Cardinal Sarah also had advice for the faithful and especially for families who can experience “the communion of saints” in these times. First of all, they should “pray” and center themselves on God: “It is important to rediscover how precious can be the habit of reading the Word of God, reciting the Rosary in the family and dedicating time to God, in an attitude of self-giving, listening and silent adoration.”
He added: “It is time to rediscover family prayer. It is time for fathers to learn how to bless their children. Christians, deprived of the Eucharist, realize how much communion was a grace for them. I encourage them to practice adoration from their homes, for there is no Christian life without sacramental life. In the midst of our towns and villages, the Lord remains present. Sometimes heroism is also asked of Christians: when hospitals ask for volunteers, when isolated or homeless people have to be cared for.”
Cardinal Sarah said that many people have been saying he hopes that “nothing will be the same” once this is over. He added, “But I am rather afraid that everything will start again as it was before, because as long as man does not return to God with all his heart, his march towards the abyss is inescapable. In any case, we can see how globalized consumerism has isolated individuals and reduced them to the status of consumers left to the jungle of the market and finance. Globalization, which they told us would be joyful, has turned out to be an illusion. In times of hardship, nations and families stick together.”
The cardinal also said that the current crisis shows that “a society cannot be founded on economic ties.” “We are reawakening our awareness of being a nation, with its borders, which we can open or close for the defense, protection and security of our people. At the foundation of the life of the city are the ties that precede us: those of family and national solidarity. It is beautiful to see them resurface today. It is beautiful to see the young taking care of the elders. A few months ago, there was talk of euthanasia and some people wanted to get rid of the very sick and handicapped. Today, nations are mobilizing to protect the elderly.”
This, unfortunately, is wishful thinking, in France at least, where patients over age 70 are largely not receiving treatment for coronavirus-related problems and are at risk of receiving high doses of so-called “palliative” analgesics and relaxants that can precipitate death. In homes for the dependent elderly, no treatment is given for COVID-19-related respiratory issues and no visits are allowed, creating great distress for those who cannot understand why.
He concluded his interview with a mention of all the medical personnel who are our “everyday heroes.” “Suddenly, one dares to cheer for those who serve the weakest. Our time had a thirst for heroes and saints, but it had concealed it and was ashamed of it,” he observed.
“Will we be able to retain this scale of values?” he asked. “Will we be able to rebuild our cities on something other than growth, consumption and the race for money? I believe that we would be guilty if, at the end of this crisis, we were to fall back into the same mistakes. This crisis shows that the question of God is not only a question of private convictions, it raises the question of the foundation of our civilization.”
This article first appeared HERE.