Thomas Griffin (7/20/20)
Robert Cardinal Sarah’s latest book, The Day is Now Far Spent, is one of the most authentic and important narrations by a cardinal in recent memory. While the entire corpus is worth digesting, every contemporary Catholic ought to be urged to read, at least, his introduction. The title of his prologue: Alas, Judas Iscariot.
“The Church, which ought to be a place of light, has become a dwelling place of darkness.” From clerical sex abuse to weak leadership and poor Sunday Mass attendance, the Church is in need of revival. Not because Christ’s power, glory and truth are in jeopardy of losing the war, but because individual followers of Jesus (clergy and lay, hierarchy and congregation) are in dire need of tools to counteract the road that secular society is advancing on. Cardinal Sarah holds nothing back in delivering a concise message on the gravity of the situation for the Church and the state.
The cardinal quotes Pope Francis several times in his work, but his reference in the introduction is most profound and most suitable for all to hear: “The mystery of Judas hangs over our time. The mystery of betrayal oozes from the walls of the Church.” Most profoundly, the betrayal of Judas is repeated by those priests who have taken advantage of their position as caretakers of the faith and accomplished the complete opposite. Similar to Judas as an apostle, these priests and bishops were the ones chosen to protect Christ’s body, the Church, however, they are responsible for bringing about such destruction.
The aroma of Judas’ betrayal is not merely among the clergy, but woven into mainstream Catholic lives, families, parishes, schools and universities by this “little by little” doubt arising in their hearts. A doubt that moves some to say that Jesus could not have meant what he said concerning divorce, the Eucharist, sin, and sexuality. “This Jesus is too demanding, not very effective,” the cardinal states. This must have been what went through the mind of Judas as he slowly began to turn against his rabbi.
Judas only concerned himself with practical affairs since he held the money purse for the disciples (John 12:6). When we are wrapped up in and busy ourselves with “the purse, money and commerce” we become easily distracted and enticed into doubting the relevancy of God’s message of repentance, renewal, and conversion. Our hearts become numb to Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, the sacraments, and the ordinary moments of life.
Priests, bishops, laymen and women may become more susceptible to preach indifference regarding matters of Catholic doctrine when they are not people of intimate and habitual prayer. Judas stopped praying, therefore, he ceased to recall the grandeur of God’s presence in his life. “Someone who no longer prays has already betrayed.” The cardinal continues, “already he is willing to make all sorts of compromises with the world. He is walking on the path of Judas.” We must never accept the invitation to cease in our consistent prayerfulness of communion with the Trinity.
Behind these temptations and divisions in the heart and in the Church is the work of the evil one, the Devil. The one whom the world declares as fable and has no power over us. To combat this tendency Sarah states: “The devil is afraid of being called by his name. He likes to drape himself in the fog of ambiguity. Let us be clear about one thing. ‘To call things by the wrong name is to add to the world’s misfortune’, Albert Camus said.”
Evil personified as Judas is invading the four corners of the Church, but there is true hope in following Christ. Sarah’s work is neither pessimistic nor despair-driven. He is stating the facts and calling out the issues as they are. Despite the daunting odds we face as a Church, we can move forward into the night with the knowledge that we never walk alone.
Some solutions that the cardinal provides are outlined in the remainder of his book. There must be a paradigm shift in these four areas: prayer, Catholic doctrine, Peter’s love, and fraternal charity. The Church, on all levels, is called to have a daily encounter of prayer with the Godhead by which we “listen to the heartbeats of God.” Without this constant listening we will fail to perceive the beauty and objectivity of Catholic doctrine as grounded in the words and actions of Christ, the Bible, the Church Fathers and the Magisterium.
With a faithfulness to daily prayer and a reliance on Church doctrine we can move towards a place of accepting that, along with Peter, priests are imperfect. Yet, through the vehicle of their unworthy hands Jesus Christ becomes present on the altar. Sarah notes that “the most unworthy priest of all is still the instrument of divine grace when he celebrates the sacraments.” This will push one forth to a fraternal charity that is grounded in what Benedict XVI called an interior reconciliation.
In the light of eternity, Judas’ betrayal has no power of Christ; the empty tomb proves this to be true. The rise of Judas again, in this age, is one that can and must be answered by each one of us. “We reform the Church when we start by changing ourselves!” We must begin anew by answering, each day, the question of Jesus to Peter on the Sea of Galilee: “Do you love me?”
Answer with an emphatic yes, and alas, Judas Iscariot will be no more.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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