Sunday, 7 April 2019

Synod 2020 Liverpool. Number 13. A word from Cardinal Sarah.

In 2017 I had the privilege of meeting Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for the Liturgy. Later this year he will publish an interview style book "It is Toward Evening, and the Day is Now Far Spent."

In an interview about the book published in "Catholic World Report" (click to read this in full) he says one or two things that are interesting to reflect on in the light of Synod 2020 here in Liverpool Archdiocese.

He says of his book:
This book is first of all a call to clarity and clear-sightedness. The Church is going through a major crisis. The winds are extraordinarily violent. Days without scandals, real or fake, are rare. The faithful can therefore legitimately wonder about it. I intended this book for them. I hope that they can come out of reading it with the joy that Christ gives: “Stay with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Lk 24:29). The resurrection of the Son of God is what gives Hope in the darkness.

Is there a crisis in the Church? Humanly speaking, Yes. Is there a crisis in our Archdiocese? Yes. That the fact has been recognised and a Synod called is a sign of hope; that we are not burying our heads in the sand and pretending that  what we have implemented of over the last fifty years has been a stunning success. It hasn't. We can't let the Synod give us more of the same, another set of Christs, another set of Churches - all in our own image.

Here's what the Cardinal says:
… we should stay calm: the Church is not in crisis; we are the ones who are in crisis. Her teaching remains the same; her clarity remains the same.
I firmly believe that the situation that we are experiencing within the Church resembles in every respect the situation of Good Friday, when the apostles abandoned Christ and Judas betrayed him, because the traitor wanted his own style of Christ, a Christ preoccupied with political issues. Today many priests and bishops are literally spellbound by political or social questions. In reality, these questions will never find answers apart from Christ’s teaching.

"The Church is not made for listening, 
She is made for teaching."

I've often heard the Church's teaching and doctrine stereotyped as outdated or harsh and yet the truth is we must believe that at heart it is the advice of a Mother's care for Her children. A child needs to listen to it's mother. The emphasis on listening that we have heard at the Synod meetings is good in so far as it goes. But we ae not starting out from scratch. We have our Mother's loving teaching to be always and everywhere our starting point. Having listened, our Mother does not take on all a child says; She explains why some things just have to be the way they are - in this case, the way to get to Heaven.

Interviewers question: Nowadays isn’t there for some people the temptation to align the Church with the world’s values so as to stop being a sign of contradiction to it? 

The Cardinal answers with these undeniable words of wisdom:

Obviously, there is a large majority of priests who remain faithful to their mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing. But there is also a small number who give in to the morbid, wicked temptation to align the Church with the current values of the Western societies. Above all they want people to say that the Church is open, welcoming, attentive, modern. But the Church is not made for listening, she is made for teaching: she is Mater et magistra, mother and teacher. Of course a mom listens to her child, but she is there in the first place to teach, to guide and to supervise, because she knows better than her children what path to take. Some have adopted the ideologies of today’s world under the fallacious pretext of being open to the world; but instead we should bring the world to be open to God, who is the source of our existence.

The Liturgy, the way we pray, really must be a focus for the Synod and not some minor consideration. For most Catholics a huge part of their experience of Church is simply the liturgy, coming to Mass. The tone of how we have gone about this over recent times and the seriousness with which we treat the Awesome Mysteries has left a lot to be desired. What can we do about the things that may have gone wrong in our understanding and presentation of Holy Mother Church?
As we pray, so we believe. To draw attention to this point, as I have mentioned before, I have been shocked at the number of times prayer in our Synod meetings has been carried out 1. by laity when there are priests present and 2. going whole days without the use at any point of the sign of the cross. That would tell anyone watching rather strange things about what we believe. On the Synod website, a talk given by Fr Peter|Fleetwood reproduced in full, says this: 
"The starting-point is always the invocation of the Trinity. This is a reminder that the Church is not a human organisation, but the new קהל אדני [qahal Adonai] or Assembly of God. We are gathered by the Father, and through the grace of the Spirit we become the sacrament of Christ."
A definite encouragement to use the age-old sign of the cross, I'd say, yet absent in our Synod meetings. Another case of the folly of ignoring the rubrics.
The Cardinal says:

I am convinced that the primary responsibility for this collapse of the faith must be taken by the priests. In the seminaries or in the Catholic universities we have not always taught doctrine. We have taught whatever we liked! Catechizing children was abandoned. Confession was disdained. Besides, there were no longer any priests in the confessionals! We are therefore partially responsible for this collapse. In the 1970’s and 1980’s in particular, each priest did whatever he liked during Mass. No two Masses looked alike: that was what discouraged so many Catholics from going to church. Pope Benedict XVI says that the crisis of the liturgy caused the crisis of the Church.

Lex orandi, lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. If there is no longer any faith, the liturgy is reduced to a show, a folklore display, and the faithful turn away. We have probably been guilty of negligence. The desacralization of the liturgy always has serious consequences. We wanted to humanize the Mass, to make it comprehensible, but it remains a mystery that is beyond understanding. When I say Mass, when I give absolution, I grasp the words that I say, but the intellect cannot comprehend the mystery that these words bring about. If we do not do justice to this great mystery, we cannot lead the people to a true relationship with God. Even today we still have an excessively horizontal pastoral practice: how do you expect people to think of God if the Church is occupied exclusively with social issues?

Cardinal Sarah saying Mass.
Finally, I have also heard much criticism of the "Hierarchical Church" - as though this image of the Church was not of God, not of the Faith. That we are having a Synod at all reflects the dignity of the local Church - but the Synod itself is the implement of our hierarchical Church, often much misunderstood. That we can strike out on our own as a diocese to co-operate with the Holy Spirit in calling us to faithfulness, is a fruit of the very system so often criticised. But must understand how that hierarchy functions. We are not a part of some national corporate body, like so many branches of Tesco. We are the Church here, which makes up part of the Church everywhere (including all the time since Christ and including the Church suffering and triumphant), which is united through being in communion with the centre (embodied in the successors of St Peter but rooted in Our Lord).
The Cardinal says:
Christ founded one Church; its mode of government is hierarchical. The first person responsible for the Church is the Pope. The first person responsible for the local Church is the Bishop in his diocese, and not the Episcopal Conference, which is helpful for exchanging ideas, but not for setting a course of action. I think that it is necessary to rediscover this primary responsibility of the Pope and of each bishop. The great bishops of history, for instance Ambrose or Augustine, did not spend their time planning meetings on the one hand, forming committees on the other, and traveling continuously. The bishop has to be with his people, teach his people, love his people.

An Episcopal Conference has no canonical authority, and no competence of its own in the area of doctrine. Moreover, I am sad to note that there are already contradictions among the episcopal conferences, which does not promote the peace of mind of Christians. “That they may be one,” the Lord said, so that this unity might inspire faith. If we continue along these lines, undermining doctrinal and moral unity, we will contribute to the growth of unbelief.
 It is necessary for us to be in every respect part of a resistance, to take the direction opposite that of the secularized world, in other words, the path of Christ, the one Savior of the world. 

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