Editor’s note: The following address was given by Nicolas Diat at the May 14, 2019 Presentation at the Centre Saint-Louis (Institut Français) of the French edition of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Day is Now Far Spent. Cardinal Sarah’s remarks at the event can be read here.
We are gathered around you this evening, Your Eminence, my dear Cardinal Robert Sarah, with joy and gratitude. We have come here to the Centre Saint-Louis to present the last volume in your trilogy, a volume you have desired to write for several years.
In February 2015, Fayard press published your first volume, Dieu ou rien, with the subtitle A Entretien sur la foi (God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith, Ignatius, 2015). This book was both a personal biography and an excellent introduction to the Christian life.
If I had to evoke just one of many memories about the work for God or Nothing, I would choose the days when we reverently recalled the days of your childhood in the small village of Ourous, in a remote part of Guinea, not far from the border with Senegal. You told me:
“When I look back at the past and the early days of the mission, or at Guinea in general, when I consider one by one the exceptional gifts from Providence, I know that God truly guided and adopted us. I remember how enthralled I was when I saw the Holy Ghost Fathers walking every afternoon while reading their breviaries. I never tired of watching them, with a sense of awe. (…) How many times I was profoundly gripped by the silence that reigned in the church during the Fathers’ prayers! At first, settled in the back of the building, I watched these men and wondered what they were doing, kneeling or sitting in the half-light, not saying anything. . . . But they seemed to be listening and conversing with someone in the semi-darkness of the church, lit by candles. (…) The Holy Ghost Fathers had a profound impact on Guinean Catholicism. How could we forget the way these priests took care of everyone, even the most wretched lepers? They touched them and treated them, even though the patients gave off an unbearable smell. They taught them the catechism, considering that the sick, too, had the right to be instructed in the mysteries of the faith and to receive Christ’s sacraments. Despite the political sufferings that accompanied Sékou Touré’s Marxist dictatorship, the Church in Guinea stood fast, for she was founded on the rock, on the sacrifices of missionaries, and on the joy of the Gospel. Communist doctrine never got the better of the priests who traveled on foot to the smallest villages, accompanied by a few catechists, carrying their suitcase-chapel on their heads! The humility of the Spiritans’ faith was the strongest defense against the egalitarian aberrations of the revolutionary Marxist ideology of the State Party in Guinea. A handful of zealous and courageous Guinean priests kept the flame of the Gospel burning.”
Then there is the unforgettable letter sent to you by Fr. Bracquemont. In God or Nothing, you wanted to preserve the memory of this priest who encouraged you to enter the minor seminary at the age of 11, which involved leaving your village and astonished your parents, who did not know that an African could become a priest. He wrote:
“I received, via my religious superiors, your charming invitation to the celebration of the centennial of Saint Rose parish in Ouros, of which I have fond memories of having seen your courage as a server fetching the cruets, while menaced by a snake on top of the credence table. This courage is perhaps what brought you to the attention of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The expulsion in May 1967 separated us . . . I had other assignments. But I have never ceased to think about you. Cardinal Sarah, the small only child of Alexander and Claire, I assure you of my prayers. May you continue for a long time to be as courageous as when I knew you.”
Then in October 2016, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise appeared. This second volume was born in the cell of a gravely sick man, Br. Vincent of the Abbey of Lagrasse. You had become close to a young, 36-year-old canon with severe multiple sclerosis, who had lost the power of speech. Despite the obstacle of the silence imposed by the disease, you were able to establish a spiritual relationship with this exceptional religious, whom, unfortunately, you eventually buried. In The Power of Silence, you wrote:
“The sentiments that emerge from a silent heart are expressed in harmony and silence. The great things in human life are experienced in silence, under God’s watchful eye. Silence is man’s greatest freedom. No dictatorship, no war, no barbarism can take this divine treasure away from him.”
In this book it was your wish to lead your readers into the school of the Psalmist, who writes: “The gossip errs without a guide”, and of Ecclesiastes, who writes: “There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”
The Power of Silence is built around 365 thoughts. Your last words were:
“When the soul is detached from the body of the departing person, it rises in an incomparable silence. The great silence of death is the silence of the soul that travels toward another homeland: the land of eternal life. It is necessary to be in unison with the soul-silence of the deceased. The great works of God always occur in silence. The moment when the body was united to the soul and the moment when that soul came apart from its carnal envelope are moments of silence, eminently divine moments. All that is from God makes no noise. Nothing is sudden, everything is delicate, pure, and silent.”
I cannot speak about The Power of Silence without an affectionate recollection of the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse. The last part of the book is a dialogue between you, Eminence, and the successor of Saint Bruno, Dom Dysmas de Lassus. I recall our trip to the Chartreuse, in the dead of winter, in the swirling snow storm that met you upon your arrival. I remember the night office from 12:15 to 2:30 in the morning, that prayer said in complete darkness. The Church was plunged in pitch-black darkness, the only light the dancing red point of the lamp of the Blessed Sacrament, as the Carthusians chanted the psalms they knew entirely by heart. I remember the intense hours of our extraordinary conversation with Dom Dysmas, who told you, and our readers: “In a Charterhouse [Carthusian monastery], we seek, not silence, but, rather, intimacy with God by means of silence. It is the privileged space that will allow for communion; it is on the order of language, but a different language. Thus the Statutes of the Order begin with this foundational sentence: ‘To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love. In obedience to such a call, Master Bruno and six companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the year of our Lord 1084 and settled there’ (Statutes I.1) (…) As long as there are lovers on earth, they will seek to see each other alone, and silence will have a part in their encounter. This is perhaps the simplest way to explain our choice of life. Silence and solitude in a charterhouse have their meaning in this great desire for intimacy with God. For the sons of Saint Bruno, silence and solitude are the perfect place for a heart-to-heart conversation.”
This heart-to-heart is also the most beautiful way for us to access The Power of Silence.
Today, we have come to celebrate the publication of the third volume The Day is Far Spent. The book’s analysis of the spiritual and moral collapse of our times combines vigor and sweetness, making no concessions in its impressive accuracy. Observers have rightly pointed out that these pages are as deep as a book-length meditation on Good Friday, that day of the cross when the great veil of the Temple was split in two and darkness covered the whole world. But Jean-Marie Guénois rightly points out in Le figaro that The Day is Far Spent is actually “a hopeful book.”
In the book’s evocative introduction, entitled Alas, Judas Escariot!, you wrote:
“Today, in these pages, I offer you the heart of my life: my faith in God. In a short time, I will appear before the eternal Judge. If I do not pass on to you the truth that I have received, then what will I say to Him? We bishops ought to tremble at the thought of our blameworthy silences, our silences of complicity, our silences of complacency with the world. (…) We have no fear! Listen to Jesus: ‘You are Simon (…) You shall be called Peter!’ (John 1:42). From these very first hours, the fabric of the history of the Church’s life is woven: a golden thread, the infallible decisions of the popes, successors of Peter; a black thread of the human and imperfect acts of popes, successors of Simon. In this incomprehensible overlapping of intertwining threads, we perceive the little needle guided by the invisible hand of God, careful to weave the only name by which we can be saved, the name of Jesus Christ! (…) In truth, do we love the Church? Enough to die for Her? If we can respond humbly, simply: ‘Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you,’ then he will smile at us, then Mary and the saints in heaven will smile and say to every Christian, as they did once to Francis of Assisi: ‘Go rebuild my Church!’ Go, repair Her by your faith, by your hope and your charity. Go and repair Her by your prayer and fidelity. Thanks to you, the Church will become my house once again.”
In the conclusion of this book, I wrote that when I think of you, I often think of the abbatial mottos of the recent abbots of Fontgombault: “Unum necessarium – The one thing necessary”; “Donec dies elucescat – Until the daybreak [of the eternal day]”; “Ad superna semper intenti – Looking ever on high”; “Modo geniti infantes – As newborn babes”. You are a man favored and captivated by the manna of heaven, whose sole and constant concern is the love of God. You strive to return what you have been given a hundred-fold.
The title of our book is from St. Luke. It is a bit truncated. The full phrase is of course: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
Permit me a personal, poetic interpretation. I say simply, as a disciple at Emmaus: Stay with us, yes, stay with us. Do not forget us in your prayers, Eminence, dear Cardinal Robert Sarah, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.
(Translated by Zachary Thomas.)
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