“It is true that Jesus always goes before us and waits for us with open arms,” Cardinal Robert Sarah said in an interview published today in Polish. “But it is up to us to also move towards Him!” Rorate Caeli has posted a translation of the interview, in which the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments discusses mercy and forgiveness, the Church in Africa, and love for God as the starting point for holiness, among other subjects. A Polish edition of Cardinal Sarah’s book God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith was recently published.
In response to a question about “the heresy of good-man-ism”—according to which it doesn’t matter much what someone does, as long as he is trying to “be a good person”—Cardinal Sarah says:
Unfortunately, what you say is part of a contemporary ideology that is among the most dangerous – that is, “just being good”. This presupposes that any truthful content is trampled and refuted. This leads us to consider everything as “good”, falsifying in this way even all that is truly part of the life of man. An important contemporary philosopher, Fabrice Hadjadj, has coined a brilliant formula, speaking on the “heresies of charity” of modern man, who confuses charity with the simple desire for good (at best) or almsgiving (in the worst case). But charity is the love of God: therefore, “we are” charity, and we give witness of charity towards others because God loved us first. In the same way, it is also with mercy, superficially understood by many as a clean slate over their sins. But, there is no forgiveness if there is no repentance. Jesus did not say to the adulteress, “Well, go and continue to do what you are doing since I forgive you. No! Because she threw herself at his feet and begs forgiveness, he says: “Go and sin on more”. Only if we understand this can we fully enjoy the fruits that the Jubilee of Mercy, offers us. The Holy Father has said many times: it is true that Jesus always goes before us and waits for us with open arms. But it is up to us to also move towards Him! Jesus died on the cross, with arms outstretched towards all: He died begging the Father’s forgiveness for us. Who can do this but only God Himself? How can we not recognize him?
Asked about his contribution to the book Christ’s New Homeland—Africa and about the positive contributions of African Catholics to the universal Church, Cardinal Sarah answered:
Speaking of the African Church, I believe that it can give so much. Africa, from the beginning, is part of God’s plan. Just look at Revelation. When God chose to establish a covenant with man, he began in Egypt. It was Africa that saved Jesus: Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt to escape Herod’s edict against all male born, and therefore, against Jesus Himself. And, again, it was an African, Simon of Cyrene, who help Jesus carry his cross to Calvary. So, from the beginning, God wanted to involve Africa in the plan of salvation for the world. Then, the attention that the Popes have had for this continent has a long standing. In 1969, Pope Paul VI said that “Africa is the new homeland of Christ”. The numbers bear witness to how Africa is open to God: in a century, Christians have gone up from 2 million to 200 million. John Paul II said that “the name of each African is written on the crucified palms of Christ” (EIA n. 143). In other words, it means that Africa, with her weakness and poverty, is the instrument through which God manifests his power. Benedict XVI called Africa the spiritual lung of humanity. This is the humble contribution of Africa to the universal Church: the martyrs of the first centuries and those of today, their fidelity to Christ, to His Gospel and to the steadfast attachment to the Church’s teaching. And in the wake of this mutual love, Pope Francis has been in Central Africa, opening there, even before Rome, the Holy Door for the Jubilee Year. It was an extraordinary gesture.
Cardinal Sarah’s book God or Nothing (which showed up on a number of CWR contributors’ lists of “best books” for 2015, including mine) was recently reviewed by Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating, who called it “immensely rich.” Keating writes:
When he was thirty-four, Sarah became the youngest bishop in the world. John Paul named him the archbishop of Conakry in the West African nation of Guinea, a country of only 12 million people, 85 percent of whom are Muslim. The remaining population is split about evenly between Christians of various persuasions and followers of indigenous religions. There are only 250,000 Catholics.
At the time Guinea suffered under a brutal Marxist dictatorship headed by Sékou Touré. The Church was given little room to maneuver. Priests and laymen were persecuted. Year by year Touré sought to tighten his control of the country.
He was on a state visit to Saudi Arabia when he had a heart attack. He was flown to the Cleveland Clinic, in the city of the same name, for specialized care. There he died the next day. When his desk in the presidential palace was examined, on it was found a list of those to die in the next round of executions. At the top of the list was the name of Robert Sarah. …
When he was a boy, Sarah was inspired by the work of diligent French missionaries. Though an only child, with his parents’ blessing (they were converts) he pursued a religious vocation. He took particular interest in the liturgy, and it is a happy thought that today his official duties are precisely in that area. He has great devotion to traditional forms of worship—perhaps surprising in someone coming from a place like Guinea. …
The country is abysmally poor. By American standards (as low as they have fallen), the educational system borders on the primitive; and yet we have Robert Sarah, a highly educated man not only deeply versed in theology but possessing a keen appreciation of the human condition, a product of his own and his people’s suffering. …
It has become almost a commonplace to say that the future of the Church is to be found in Africa, where converts are many and faith is lively. If so, that future may be manifested in this singular man.
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.