Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Next Pope — The Leading Cardinal Candidates” to be published August 2020 by Sophia Institute Press, and “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published in 2015 by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
Today one sees an “eclipse” of God in politics, economics and culture — a crisis which is not essentially economic or political, but rather a “crisis of God”.
These were the words of Cardinal Robert Sarah, speaking at the launch last month of the German edition of his book interview, “God or Nothing”, by Nicolas Diat.
His comments have only now been translated and published exclusively in full below.
The Guinean cardinal told the Rome audience that Western culture has “progressively organized itself as if God did not exist”, and that “many today have decided to do without God.”
But by doing so, he said “man does not know anymore either who he is or where he is going: there is a sort of return to paganism and idolatry; science, technology, money, power, freedom unbounded, pleasure without limit are our gods.”
With his book “God or Nothing”, he said he wanted to “place God again at the center of our thoughts, at the center of our actions, at the center of our life, in the only place that He ought to occupy, so that our journey as Christians may gravitate around this Rock which is God, this solid certainty of our faith.”
He added that without praise, prayer, adoration “and therefore without God, there are only wars, division and loss.” Without God in the heart of man, he added, “there is only hate, fighting and injury, as we see today.”
The cardinal, who is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, stressed that despite “enormous problems [we] must recognize that it is God who gives meaning to everything.”
“Our worries, our problems, our suffering exist and preoccupy us, but we know that all is resolved in Him,” he said. “We know that it is God or nothing, and we perceive him as an intelligibility which is not present to us from the outside, but from within the soul, because Love is not imposed with violence, but by enticing the heart with an interior light.”
He asserted that human effort alone cannot attain unity and peace “because a virus of division exists, of disunion which nests in the heart of man after original sin.”
“The unity of the children of God is a work which only Jesus can realize by means of the Holy Spirit, but without prayer, the Spirit meets in our soul a closed door,” he said.
Cardinal Sarah said he decided to write the book in the hope that he could “touch upon some current ecclesiastical and social questions about our ever more globalized and confused world.”
He observed that “even in the Catholic Church we do not anymore have a sure doctrinal and moral path” and that “everyone with absolute liberty proclaims his opinions and values.”
He ended by calling on all to make “more space for prayer and adoration in our lives,” thereby allowing each person to say: “I improved my relationship with God and He improved and made peaceful the relationships among men and between peoples”.
Here below is the full text of Cardinal Sarah’s speech. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household, also spoke at the launch (see article here).
H. Em. Card. Robert Sarah
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Rome, 20th of November, 2015
Eminences, Excellency’s, Dear Friends,
Let me first of all give my heartfelt thanks to Cardinal George Pell, to His Excellency Mons. Georg Gänswein and His Excellency Mons. Rino Fisichella, for having accepted the invitation to present my book. I thank them especially for their kind words about me and above all for that which they have said about my book “God or Nothing”. Moreover I want to thank those who promoted and were responsible for this lovely presentation: Mr. Paul Badde and Mr. Davide Cantagalli. Finally, I want to thank each of you for your presence.
His Excellency Mons. Georg Gänswein has reminded us that today we celebrate the memory of St. Gelasio, Pope. It is a pure coincidence, because today is also my fifth anniversary of being elected to the cardinalate.
How was the book “God or Nothing” born?
To tell the truth, I never thought of writing a book, now. One day, Dr. Nicolas Diat came to me for an exchange of ideas on different questions and, at the end of a second meeting, he proposed that I should write a book about my life. I responded that it was not at all interesting, that there were many other lives more beautiful and rich than mine, but – I added – through an interview, we will eventually be able to touch upon some current ecclesiastical and social questions about our ever more globalized and confused world.
Even in the Catholic Church we do not anymore have a sure doctrinal and moral path. Everyone with absolute liberty proclaims his opinions and values. I would also like to proclaim my faith in and my fidelity to Jesus, in the centuries old magisterium of the Church.
We began therefore with the first two chapters which narrate my personal experience, lived in a particularly difficult socio-political context, that of the revolution in Guinea with Sékou Touré, with the extremely tense relations between the Church and the State of Guinea, difficulties and tensions which provoked the expulsion of the first Archbishop of Conakry, Mons. Gérard de Milleville, the arrest and the incarceration of the second Archbishop of Conakry, Mons. Raymond Marie Tchidimbo, the expulsion of all the missionaries in May of 1967 and 26 years of dictatorship and persecution.
I myself, in April of 1984, was placed on a list of people to be eliminated, but I was saved from the hands of death thanks to Divine Providence. When I think over my life, my “nomad” vocational journey — Guinea, Ivory Coast, Guinea again, France, Senegal — I can see with clarity the concrete proof of the divine predilection for me.
After these first two chapters, there are some reflections on the Popes, the Church, Rome, the modern world, Africa, the profound anthropological and faith crisis in the western world, morality, truth, evil, prayer, etc. But God is truly the heart of “God or Nothing”.
Why this title?
Because today one notices an eclipse, an absence of God in the political, economic, and cultural world. The true crisis which now passes through our world is not essentially economic or political, but it is a “crisis of God”. Of course, today only the economic one is spoken about: in the development of the economic power of Europe – after its more ethical and religious original disposition – economic interest has become decisive, in an ever more exclusive way.
The man of yesterday, like that of today, without distinction of race, color of skin, culture, country and continent, is directed almost exclusively toward the possession and use of material goods. And in the more specific cultural context of western society, it is not exaggerating to affirm that man works, organizes and manages human, political, economic and commercial relationships, unleashes wars, produces arms of mass destruction, invades and conquers countries only or almost exclusively to extract and accumulate material riches from them, in support of his authority and dominance.
With the excuse of bringing democracy, peace and liberty the West has created chaos in many countries, above all in the Middle East. My judgment may be imprecise or exaggerated, however we cannot deny the present reality. Above all, Western culture has progressively organized itself as if God did not exist: many today have decided to do without God. As Nietzsche affirms, for many in the West, God is dead. And we are the ones who killed him, we are his assassins and our Churches are the crypts and tombs of God. A good number of the faithful do not go to them anymore to avoid smelling the putrefaction of God; but doing so, man does not know anymore either who he is or where he is going: there is a sort of return to paganism and idolatry; science, technology, money, power, freedom unbounded, pleasure without limit are our gods.
I retain that what we are living through today, above all in the West, but not only in the West, derives from the fact that we have abandoned God in order to give importance to “nothing”. Of course, the economy, politics, science, technology and the great advances in medicine and social communications are not “nothing”, but with respect to God, they are truly “nothings”.
In God “we live, move and exist” (Acts 17,28). In Him, everything subsists, He is the Principle, seat of all Fullness, St. Paul tells us; outside of Him, nothing stands: everything rediscovers in God its proper being and truth, or indeed it is “God or Nothing”. Of course, enormous problems exist, often painful situations, a difficult and anguishing human experience; however we must recognize that it is God who gives meaning to everything. Our preoccupations, our problems, our suffering exist and preoccupy us, but we know that all is resolved in Him, we know that it is God or nothing, and we perceive him as an intelligibility which is not present to us from the outside, but from within the soul, because Love is not imposed with violence, but by enticing the heart with an interior light.
With “God or Nothing”, I would like to be able to place God again at the center of our thoughts, at the center of our actions, at the center of our life, in the only place that he ought to occupy, so that our journey as Christians may gravitate around this Rock which is God, this solid certainty of our faith.
Without praise, without prayer, without adoration and therefore without God, there are only wars, divisions and loss. Without God in the heart of man, there is only hate, fighting and injury, as we see today.
I would like to illustrate this affirmation of mine with a short story taken from the hagiographic legend of the holy Muslims. We know from experience having a not so nice or even bad neighbor can render our lives unpleasant. However this difficulty may last 20, or at the most 50 years, and then death separates us. But to live with a bad neighbor for eternity is much more unpleasant, therefore it is better to get to know him first.
Abdalwânid Ibn Zeid wanted to know who would be his neighbor in heaven. He was told: “O Abdalwânid Ibn Zeid, you will have as a neighbor Maïmouna the Black”. “And where is this Maïmouna?” he asked. “He is at the Banou un-Tel, in Koûfa”. Abdalwânid Ibn Zeid arrived in Koûfa and asked about Maïmouna. They told him that she was a crazy lady who pastured her sheep near the cemetery. Abdalwânid Ibn Zeid went to the cemetery and found Maïmouna in prayer. The sheep of Maïmouna fed themselves, but what was even more stupefying and wonderful was that the sheep were mixed with the wolves, and the wolves were not devouring the sheep and the sheep were not afraid of the wolves. When Maïmouna had finished praying, Abdalwânid Ibn Zeid asked Maïmouna: “How is it possible that the wolves get along so well with the sheep?” And Maïmouna responded: “I improved my relationship with God and He improved the relationship between my sheep and the wolves”.
Human means, political or diplomatic negotiations alone, are not able to attain unity and to reestablish peace among men, because a virus of division exists, of disunion, which nests in the heart of man after original sin. The unity of the children of God is a work which only Jesus can realize by means of the Holy Spirit, but without prayer, the Spirit meets in our soul a closed door. Let us make therefore more space for prayer and adoration in our lives, and then each of us will be able to say: “I improved my relationship with God and He improved and made peaceful the relationships among men and between peoples”.
Translated from the Italian by Evan Simpkins