The prophetic voice of Cardinal Robert Sarah

Jared Staudt

Pope St. John XXIII sought to initiate a new period of optimistic engagement with the modern world by opening the Second Vatican Council in 1962. He spoke of opening the windows of the Church, seeking to move beyond the entrenched position reacting against modern secular society. Pope St. Paul VI would later describe the purpose of Vatican II as evangelization, but what followed the Council led to the dark clouds of the modern world’s confusion entering in through those open windows. False understandings of freedom, a mundane approach to liturgy, and politically motivated disputes have blown in with those clouds, while more and more Catholics have stopped practicing the faith.

Even as some Church leaders continue to advance a naively optimistic approach to our secular culture, one voice has arisen to counter this approach and to point us back to the truth and beauty of the Gospel and the Church’s life. Cardinal Robert Sarah released the third installment of his trilogy of interview books, The Day Is Now Far Spent (in conversation with Nicholas Diat, Ignatius Press, 2019). The first volume, God or Nothing, related the Cardinal’s amazing life, beginning with his baptism from paganism as a young boy, his study in a French colonial seminary, becoming Archbishop of the capital of his native Guinea in his early 30s under an oppressive dictatorship, and his later work at the Vatican. The Power of Silence reflected on a crucial topic for our culture, the need to withdraw from the omnipresence of technology to be able to listen to God’s voice in silence.

The Day Is Now Far Spent begins by explaining the crisis of faith that has led to a larger crisis within the Church. Cardinal Sarah explains that “the crisis that the Church is experiencing is much deeper [than problems with a business]; it is like a cancer eating away at the body from within … In large sectors of the Church, we have lost the sense of God’s objectivity. Each individual starts from his subjective experience and creates for himself a religion that suits him” (88). Over and against a “veritable cacophony [that] reigns in the teachings of pastors, bishops, and priests” which has led to “confusion, ambiguity, and apostasy,” the Cardinal calls Catholics “to receive the Church’s teaching with a spirit of discipleship, with docility and humility” (91; 92).

Following from putting God first through faith, Cardinal Sarah invites the Church to recover a sense of the sacred. He quotes Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) that “the renewal of the liturgy is the fundamental prerequisite for the renewal of the Church” (111). He comments on this passage: “I humbly beg bishops, priests, and the people of God to care more for the sacred liturgy, to put God at the center of it, to ask Jesus Christ once again to teach us to pray. We have desacralized the Eucharistic celebration” (ibid.). The liturgy should be the place to encounter God and to enter into a contemplative union with him. He unites the crisis of the liturgy to the broader crisis of culture: The West “no longer weeps with gratitude before the Cross; it no longer trembles in amazement before the Blessed Sacrament. I think that men need to be astonished in order to adore, to praise, to thank this God who is so good and so great. Wisdom begins with wonder, Socrates said. The inability to wonder is the sign of a civilization that is dying” (127).

Sarah documents at great length the death of Western culture. “I am convinced,” he relates, “that Western civilization is going through a lethal crisis. It has reached the limits of self-destructive hatred” (158). This requires that the Church awaken to preserve “what is most human in man. She is the guardian of civilization” (ibid.). He exhorts the Church to defend the goodness of creation and human nature, as well as the family. He also returns to the theme of his previous book, the need to fight against the distraction of technology and to enter into the interior life where God can be found. “Modern man neglects his interior life so much that he longer knows what it means. He is submerged in the mud of passions, preoccupied with musing himself and enjoying all the pleasures of the world” (251).

Despite his challenging words on the crisis of the Church and the world, ultimately Sarah offers inspiration for renewal: “We must burn with a love for our faith. We must not tarnish it or dilute it in worldly compromises … The day when we no longer burn with love for our faith, the world will die of cold, deprived of its most precious good. It is up to us to defend and to proclaim this faith!” (324).

COMING UP: Ms. Taylor: St. Louis’ fourth grade founder

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The following interview was conducted by the eighth grade class of 2020 at St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville to honor Ms. Lydia Taylor, the school’s beloved fourth grade teacher who is retiring after 20 years of teaching at St. Louis.

Our beloved fourth grade teacher, Ms. Taylor, has been working at St. Louis for over 20 years. As such, she has plenty of experience teaching in a Catholic environment. Since she is retiring this year, the 8th grade class at St. Louis decided to interview her and find out about Ms. Taylor. These are just a few of the many answers we received from her.

What are some things you wish more people understood about teaching in a Catholic School?

“I feel like we address the whole person… and [teach] life skills that can be carried on into their grown-up lives.”

Ms. Taylor feels that in Catholic schools, children receive an education that is applicable in all aspects of life, not just the academic portion. Catholic school teachers help children with social skills and independence among other skills. At public schools, teachers don’t get to know their students on a personal level, unlike Catholic schools. A personal connection with their students allows teachers to educate them on important life matters. Our Catholic faith and morals also allow our teachers to help students without having to worry about offending or insulting them.

What will you miss most about teaching at St. Louis?

“I’m going to miss the students for sure, and I’m actually going to miss the parents. I have had a lot of friendships over the years… A lot of my teaching friends have left before me, but I still keep in touch with them.”

Since Ms. Taylor was hired at St. Louis three days before the school year started, her room was a mess, and she wasn’t going to be able to clean it up in time. The parents at St. Louis saw how worried she was and stepped in to help by cleaning her room and organizing her lesson plan. She says she has met some truly incredible people here at St. Louis.

How would you like to spend your summers when you leave St. Louis?

“I think I’m going to move back East and vacation here in the summers… When I became a teacher, I thought I would have the summers to write, but I don’t, so I will probably catch up on my writing when I retire.”

Ms. Taylor has a passion for writing and even used to be a newspaper reporter. Her passion to write is still strong, and she hopes to do plenty of it when she retires.

Ms. Taylor with the eight grade class of 2020 at St. Louis. (Photos provided)

What accomplishments fill you with pride over the last 20 years at St. Louis?

“Having student teachers come back. I enjoy having my students come back wanting to pursue a job as a teacher.”

Ms. Taylor feels that she did her job properly when she inspires her students so much that they come back asking for assistance so that they can be just like her. She also enjoys hearing from students who have graduated and she can see what they are up to and how she impacted their lives.

Is there a quote/ saying that you live your life by?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Ms. Taylor believes that if you want to improve the world, you will have to set a good example of how we should treat each other and how we should live our lives. Ms. Taylor sets a good example for her children in hopes that they will go out and set a good example for the rest of the world.

If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Ms. Taylor believes.

She thinks that people shouldn’t worry as much about the minor issues in life but focus on the things that are more important.

What would students be surprised to find out about you?

“This is kind of embarrassing, but I was actually in the Mrs. Massachusetts pageant… It was great for all my friends because they got to watch me up on the stage, but for me, it was like, “What do we do now?” and “Why am I doing this?”

Ms. Taylor also brought in a picture of a quilt she made with her class one year, which hung in the capitol building for one month. The whole class received official certificates of their work from the quilt, and the quilt sold for $2,000 at our school’s Gala.

Ms. Taylor is an incredible teacher and has been here for her students for over 20 years. We wish her luck in her further adventures and will always remember her here at St. Louis as an amazing teacher and friend.