Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Cardinals who take up the slack

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 20, 2017 | In Reviews

During a pontificate that is often confusing and even self-contradictory, we are fortunate to have two outstanding cardinals in charge of two key congregations. The Guinean Robert Sarah leads the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the German Gerhard Müller has charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We are also fortunate that Ignatius Press has published book-length interviews with both men, in which they each respond to a long series of significant questions.

Cardinal Sarah, who will be 72 years old in mid-June, has emerged as a leading voice for continued renewal in the liturgy—a renewal which he clearly hopes will emphasize being over doing, so that we can become ever more aware of and open to the Our Lord’s presence. A French journalist, Nicolas Diat, has collaborated with Cardinal Sarah in shaping the text of two books which reveal Sarah’s insights on key problems in the spiritual life. The first was God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith, published in the Fall of 2015. The second has just been released in English: The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.

In five chapters, The Power of Silence meditates on God’s silence, which communicates with each one of us in the depths of our souls, and also on the silence we must cultivate in ourselves in order to be receptive. The book is loosely structured around the contrast between silence and the world, the mystery of silence in what is sacred, and even God’s silence in the face of evil. Too often, we shut God out by immersing ourselves in the noise of the world. What is at stake is the development of a profoundly engraced inner life:

Our future is in God’s hands and not in the noisy agitation of human negotiations, even if they may appear useful. Even today, our pastoral strategies without any demands, without an appeal to conversion, without a radical return to God, are paths that lead nowhere. They are politically correct games that cannot lead us to the crucified God, our true Liberator. [#34]

Or, as Sarah put it with reference to his earlier book: “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise” (#111).

The book is full of gems, not only from Cardinal Sarah but from Dom Dysmas de Lassus, the Father General of the Cistercian Order, who joins the discussion in the final chapter, and occasionally even from Nicolas Diat, whose role is mostly to offer the observations and questions which guide the discussion. Essentially, Cardinal Sarah understands that “persons who live in noise are like dust swept along by the wind” (#110), whereas “infallibly, silence leads to God, provided man stops looking at himself” (#115).

In addition to our daily lives, the Cardinal applies this understanding of silence to the liturgy, and even to the mission of the Church as a whole, particularly against the temptation we face of reducing the mystery of Christ to the mere solution of social problems. Consider:

In a secularized, decadent world, if the Church allows herself to be lured by materialistic, media-savvy, and relativistic sirens, she runs the risk of making Christ’s death on the Cross for the salvation of souls futile. The Church’s mission is not to solve all the social problems of the world; she must repeat tirelessly the first words of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15) [#305]

The Power of Silence is not just good sense; it is spiritual reading.

The Müller Report

Reminiscent of a famous Ignatius Press offering named The Ratzinger Report, the protracted interview with the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is entitled The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive interview on the State of the Church—also new this year. In fact, Gerhard Müller, at age 69, is reminiscent of Ratzinger himself (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). He addresses complex issues in that same learned, reflective, deeply spiritual and inescapably precise way.

Unlike The Power of Silence which features long reflections in numbered paragraphs in response to fairly broad questions, the questions proposed by Fr. Carlos Granados to Cardinal Müller are far more numerous, and receive shorter but still trenchant replies. However, the specific questions are organized under broad headings. Each chapter’s theme is “what can we hope”—from Christ, from the Church, from the Family, and from Society. The conclusion offers Cardinal Müller’s thoughts on “the key to an understanding of mercy.”

Fr. Granados is the General Director of the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos in Madrid, and he himself holds a Ph.D. in Sacred Scripture. Since the German Cardinal is completely fluent in Spanish, the pairing between the two works very well. Cardinal Müller also displays a theological balance which is rare in the Church today, never over-simplifying the positions of those with whom he disagrees, and always capable of explaining the truth in ways that respond effectively to questions and doubts that have arisen in our own time.

In this case, I think it will be most efficient to provide a sampling of the Cardinal’s responses on a variety of topics. The entire interview comes very close in quality to the excerpts I have chosen here:

Q. What is the relationship between doctrine and life? Is there such a thing as a doctrine that does not relate to a personal encounter, to a life? And, on the other hand, is there such a thing as a personal encounter or a life that does not involve or encompass doctrine?

The dichotomy [between doctrine and Christian living] is not valid, and it generates a good deal of confusion. Christian doctrine is not a theory, a system of the sort that idealism or even ideology offers…. I mean by this, among other things, that there is no element of doctrine that is outside a personal encounter [with Christ], and vice versa….
Redemption is conditioned on orthodoxy, as is the correct conception of eternal life: orthodoxy is not just a theory about God, but a matter of God’s personal relationship with me. For that reason, heresy always affects that personal relationship, because it separates God who is truth from the revelation of that same truth. [pp. 97-98]

Q. Is it not our “right” to have our desires respected and thereby be allowed to act as we want?

Human rights are founded on human nature, not on the desires of individuals. There are rights and obligations only where the authentic dignity of the human being is preserved, because that is the only way for it to realize its fullness. This is not a matter of denying desires, which are essential to our experience that we have an innate need for infinity; instead, it is a matter of valuing the rationality that those desires carry with them. For example, the desire to live without working, perhaps by using other people’s money, should never be a right…. It is not a rational desire, precisely because its object is not a good that fulfills life….
Responsible citizens...should never yield to the intolerable pressure of the ideology…that confuses desires with subjective rights, and therefore should oppose any such argument, before it is too late…. [pp. 139-140]

Q. Let us return to the family. Can it be said that the family is an “ideal”?

The categories of the ideal and the real go back very far in time…. In their current form, however, they originate in the metaphysical dualism of Descartes’ philosophy and in idealist and materialist dualism….
For us, these dualisms have no validity at all. God is always more real than his creation, and his creatures receive their measure as a gift from him, for he realized his idea in that creation. All of creation reflects the Logos of God, so marriage is not an “ideal” that men have imagined. An ideal is the reflection of my desire, like the child who wants to be an astronaut or a soccer star…. An idea, in fact, is usually unattainable….
Marriage, however, is not an ideal or a human idea, but a reality given by God…. God’s way of loving is the measure of human love, for God does not ask the impossible….
God can oblige us to love, because first he loved us and, in addition, he has promised us that his grace will sustain us. Anyone who understands marriage as nothing more than the social act of the wedding and the legal consequences that flow from it will certainly see his love wither. But not for lack of grace: for lack of the humility necessary to ask God for that grace. [pp. 151-2]

Q. [W]e identify mercy more with forgiveness, and we understand forgiveness as overcoming the punishment that justice would mete out to the sinner.

A final misunderstanding today consists in reducing mercy to the forgiveness of sins. It would be like an end-of-season sale, like a dispensation from divine law: to deal with the chronic reality of our misery and sin, mercy would consist of lowering the bar of what the Ten Commandments require.
I believe that God…always takes us seriously. In his deeply heartfelt love for his creation, and especially for us, his children, he has enabled us to live in accordance with the sacraments and the moral life founded on them. By offering us mercy, he has raised us up, and by raising us up, he has entirely transformed our existence: a person who has known Christ, who has truly embraced him, changes his habits, his relationships, his entire way of dealing with all of reality. As he goes through the experience of purification and forgiveness, he feels himself inspired to live, in a certain way, at God’s level….
In sound Catholic theology, the authentic forgiveness of sins is based on the sinner’s passage from a state of sin and opposition to God, from a dark life without God, to the shining state of sanctifying grace, to full communion with him…. Such an act is not performed automatically, however, without relying on man’s freedom.
Catholicism does not recognize the life of grace without the participation of the sinner, without his will to renew his life. [pp. 209-10]

These two books represent the faith, intelligence and devotion of two of the greatest Catholic leaders living and active today. They provide a large return on investment—indeed, a dramatic payback for the time spent reading them. Highly recommended.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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