Cardinal Sarah’s remarks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. this week are certainly making the rounds. Of note, Sarah’s prescription for the ills of the modern age:
Before such a distinguished gathering, I offer three humble suggestions.
First: Be prophetic. The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Where there is no vision, discernment, the people perish” (29, 18). Discern carefully – in your lives, your homes, your workplaces – how, in your nation, God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated. Blessed Paul VI saw that in 1968 when, for the Church, he so courageously wrote Humanae Vitae. What are the threats to Christian identity and the family today? ISIS, the growing influence of China, the colonization of ideologies such as gender? How do we react?
Be faithful. This is my second suggestion. Specifically for you, as men and women called to influence even the political sphere you have a mission of bringing Divine Revelation to bear in the lives of your fellow citizens. Uphold the wise principles of your founding fathers. Do not be afraid to proclaim the truth with love, especially about marriage according to God’s plan, just as courageously as Saint John the Baptist, who risked his life to proclaim the truth. The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest challenge that our world has faced since its origins. In the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
Third: Pray. Sometimes, in front of happenings in the world, our nation or even the Church, the results of our prayer might tempt us to become discouraged. Like Sisyphus in the Greek myth: condemned to roll a large boulder uphill, only to see it roll down again as soon as he had reached the top. Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est encourages us : “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone.”
Cardinal Sarah also took a moment to defend Pope Francis’ papacy against the critics — not a direct defense, but an oblique one:
In his post-synodal Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Lætitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis states clearly: “In no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur … proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being.” This is why the Holy Father openly and vigorously defends Church teaching on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, the education of children and much more.
Such comments should settle the fears of many a student of Pope Saint John Paul the Great, as well as perhaps many a traditionalist — as Cardinal Sarah is not only numbered among the more conservative members of the Catholic hierarchy, but also among the papabile.
It is on this similar note that the SSPX — deemed by many and even among the most strident of Catholics to be in borderline schism — is even feeling the love from Pope Francis’s pontificate. From the National Catholic Register (the good NCR):
That message was reinforced this week when Pope Francis himself hinted reconciliation could be close, telling the French Catholic daily La Croix May 16 that the SSPX are “Catholics on the way to full communion” and that “good dialogue and good work are taking place.”
According to Bishop Fellay, the Vatican is telling the society, through nuanced words, that it is now possible to question the Council’s teachings on religious liberty, ecumenism and liturgical reform “and remain Catholic.”
Note the way the baby is split here. For decades, the SSPX has declared the Second Vatican Council has never taught anything new regarding ecumenism, religious liberty, and liturgical reform. The admission from Bishop Fellay that yes indeed, the Second Vatican Council taught something definitive on all three is admission enough — and a critical step forward.
Needless to say, what is interesting here — if one chooses to attempt to read these tea leaves — is that one of two options may perhaps be developing: (1) that the SSPX will claim that the Second Vatican Council indeed taught novelties, but they are precisely that… and are in no way binding on the Catholic faithful — a dubious effort, or (2) that the Second Vatican Council did indeed perhaps point the way on these three areas, that such considerations are worthy of belief… but are in no way binding on the Catholic faithful — a curious effort.
The latter — which might sound like music to a traditionalist ear — has pitfalls when applied elsewhere… say for our more heterodox or “progressive” cousins within the Church. The only crutch the SSPX will have to lean on is the concept that has been hammered home so many times by the traditionalist set: what was Catholic before is Catholic today. Perhaps it’s better to take Pope Francis in his own words:
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Pope Francis: That would be a possible solution but beforehand it will be necessary to establish a fundamental agreement with them. The Second Vatican Council has its value. We will advance slowly and patiently. (emphasis original)
Pope Francis also makes a delineation between Bishop Fellay and Bishop Williamson and the “radicals” so to speak (Francis’ words — not mine).
Of course, my longstanding position has been that of Pope Saint John Paul the Great — the Second Vatican Council did indeed teach instructively on ecumenism, religious liberty, and the liturgy and that this is binding on all faithful Catholics. Dissimulation on these three teachings of the Second Vatican Council is the reason why Pope Benedict XVI slammed the breaks on reconciliation talks in 2012. It is perhaps also the reason why Pope Francis re-opened those doors so soon after becoming pope.
What is interesting — and perhaps, what links healing the schism with the SSPX and Cardinal Sarah’s remarks this week — is the great task laid before us. From Sarah’s remarks:
When he prophetically announced the Second Vatican Council in the Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, Saint John XXIII remarked that the human community was in “turmoil” as it sought to establish a new world order where humanity relies entirely on technical and scientific solutions instead of God.
Today we are witnessing the next stage – and the consummation – of the efforts to build a utopian paradise on earth without God. It is the stage of denying sin and the fall altogether. But the death of God results in the burial of good, beauty, love and truth. Good becomes evil, beauty is ugly, love becomes the satisfaction of sexual primal instincts, and truths are all relative.
The SSPX could be viewed as a human response to a spiritual war, a retrenchment in the past to fight the war of the future. No question, the loss of rubric and liturgy in the modern Church (and the open resistance of many bishops regarding granting permission for the Tridentine Mass to be said at the parish level — an understandable resistance, mind you, as we don’t need to develop “high” and “low” Masses within each diocese) is a painful reminder that prayer is the life of the Church. Yet all the rubric and liturgy and devotion to the form of prayer is no substitute for the substance of the Catholic Faith…
As it has been said before, extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Without the Church there is no salvation. Both Cardinal Sarah’s challenge and the example of the SSPX’s wanderings in the modern desert are signs of the times.