The Late Hour: On Cardinal Sarah’s call to light and truth in a time of darkness

Reading The Day Is Now Far Spent is like walking with a man who has seen much, knows more, and believes all that is revealed in Christ. He alarms us, but he also arms us. He is a good shepherd.

Some years ago, while on retreat with the Passionists, I listened to a Korean priest describe how he came to America. As a young man in Seoul he had money, girlfriends, a cool car, and all the fun he wanted. As in the case of so many called to the religious life, he was missing something. The Something. After discernment he entered the Passionist Order—masters of the strategic retreat—in South Korea. Again, he felt something missing. He decided to study in America, away from the distractions of home.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Alone, in the bustle of big city Chicago, and with little more than travel guide English, he wandered the busy streets wondering what he was doing there. Desperately homesick, he prayed. And in the holy lowness of his life, a quiet stirring revealed the answer.

He needed to need God.

At home he had everything. But the abundance impoverished his spirit, even as he was entering religious life. This was the mysterious, inarticulable reason he was led to a distant country. It is also the message of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Day Is Now Far Spent. He speaks to all followers of Christ Crucified, but he carries a special message for the West: the hour is late. Invite Him to stay with you as darkness descends.

It is should come as no surprise to Christians in the West that our faith, firm and fervent it may be, is weighted down with abundance. Even in sickness and grief we are often insulated from the horrors our brothers and sisters suffer daily elsewhere in the world. Cardinal Sarah does not revile Western countries for our riches, he calls us to recognize our spiritual poverty. Life and death are set before us. He asks us—no, he admonishes us—to choose life.

Sarah echoes other voices of the age who warn both faithful and faithless: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Romano Guardini, Benedict XVI. He speaks simply and clearly. One does not mistake his message; one has to ignore it. “We have abandoned prayer,” he says, and have given ourselves over to the “evil of efficient activism.” In this, his third book with Nicolas Diat, Cardinal Sarah speaks to us still as a loving pastor, one who emerged from the darkness of persecution in Africa, carrying fire that by his light we may see.

The darkness, as we know, has even taken hold of the Church. Sarah speaks of her with love and humility, but in the prophetic character of the Old Testament. “The Church is experiencing the dark night of the soul. The mystery of iniquity is enveloping and blinding her.” Plans and programs are the ephemeral hacks of an unserious age. Sarah, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, calls for “holiness, not management.” Or, as George Bernanos has it, “The Church has need not of reformers but of saints.” We are called to love her too, and serve her, for she is “black but beautiful” and awaits the Bridegroom still.

But we must recognize, as Solzhenitsyn did, that “Men have forgotten God”; that, as Moses said, we are a “foolish and unwise people” that requite the Lord of faithfulness with infidelity. “What must change radically”, Cardinal Sarah warns, “is our relation to God.” We begin by resuming the posture of right relationship with our Creator. “Adoration is the greatest mark of man’s nobility” because it is evidence of our “astonishing intimacy with God.” A few quiet moments in contemplation of this reality overwhelms. We lower ourselves that He might raise us. Sarah describes it beautifully, saying “Man remains prostrate, literally crushed by the immense love that God has for him.”

This is the path of true freedom. If we prefer the path of Lucifer, we become the client kings of the Prince of the World, shackled and shamed. “In losing the sense of God,” Sarah tells us, “we have undermined the foundation of all human civilization and opened the door to totalitarian barbarity.” Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the rest—diabolical and deadly as they were—could not hide their hatred for life and man. The new totalitarianism, Sarah assures us, is far more subtle and therefore far more dangerous. The “chaos of desires” in which we live offers only the illusion of freedom. Not far beneath the surface are chains. Or in the mythical language of J.R.R. Tolkien:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

One of the mechanisms of our enslavement encompasses all others. It is what Sarah calls the Utopia of Transparency. The Internet slithered its way into our lives, delivering freedom from the rodents of inconvenience and distance, only to slowly, imperceptibly constrict us. It is not merely the loss of privacy or discretion—this is bad enough—but the profound change in how life is lived that disturbs. The cultural emphasis on virtual rather than virtuous living, on social rather than inner lives, yields only glimpses of the horrors to come. The transparent society in which we now live, Sarah writes, “is equipped with dangerous instruments of control over its population. The political and financial powers seek to seize them in order to influence opinions.” Of his many warnings and observations, this is one of the most damning.

He is not alone. Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues, “The omnipresent demand for transparency, which has reached the point of fetishism and totalization, goes back to a paradigm shift which cannot be restricted to the realm of politics and economics.” It is a titanic shift that has pornified society, not entirely or strictly in sexual terms but in the way we view one another. The mystery between the subject-viewer and the object-image—consider the reverence icons were once held in as against the “consuming” and “using” of digital images today—is removed. We do not reverence the image of Man as the Imago Dei, and so we do not reverence man. A world of stunning technological advancement has, as its signal achievement, demonic violence. And so “the regime of transparency,” Sarah says, “is a falsification of genuine liberty.” The Transparency Society as Han calls it, or the Utopia of Transparency as Sarah describes it, are one in the same with devastating results.

Another result in the wake of this shift is a flattening of cultural distinctiveness that has marked countries and kingdoms for millennia. Sarah denounces international elites who “dream of a world government that would rule peoples, cultures, and traditions that were formerly so different.” Far from being merely a negative social development, it has profound spiritual consequences. The leveling of cultural landscapes, leads to a destructive dislocation of the human person. Or as artist William L. Fox describes the effect of barren, visually monotonous places (e.g. deserts), the “cognitive dissonance of isotropic environments.”

The cultural disorientation that a person or a people feels following the dissolution or destruction of their culture—however quickly or slowly—leaves them susceptible to the concentration of power. And power, as opposed to natural authority, admits of no opposition. Thus, the “dream of the Westernized global elite,” Sarah warns, “is precisely to establish a new world religion.” It is, unsurprisingly, “a religion without God, without doctrine, and without moral teaching, a religion of consensus.” It is also, paradoxically, an anti-religion. For if Christianity transfigures, the anti-Christianity disfigures. It is precisely this disfigurement that is the mark of the Antichrist.

The frenetic pace of our life, the trivialities with which we are consumed, the grave injustices at which we merely shrug, originate in spiritual torpor. The demon of acedia stalk us, in our busyness and in our laziness, leaving behind the “exhilarating fumes of a deep sleep” that, Sarah says, has “made us lethargic.” If we are not awake, if we will not wait one hour with Jesus, we will wake to a nightmare. “The globalized elites want to create a new world, a new culture, new men, a new ethics.” Their effort is not in the nature of a continuum. “Rupture is the driving force of their political project.”

Cardinal Sarah is right to call our attention to acedia. For he knows even among the faithful there are many who know they need God, who know they need to need Him. And yet they cannot be bothered to seek Him. He simply isn’t worth the effort or the trouble. We must be roused, Sarah insists, into constant prayer, Eucharistic adoration, works of mercy and charity, and the utter awareness of our dependence on God. We ought also, he urges, find our way to a monastery. Contemplation is the lifeblood of monasticism and the heart of the Church. What better way to rejuvenate ourselves than to retreat into silence and prayer? Throughout the book, Sarah’s deep love for the men and woman hidden in Christ encourages us to seek them out, so as to experience Him in their midst. “The renewal,” he declares, “will come from the monasteries.”

This book, like God or Nothing and The Power of Silence, is structured in interview format of question and answer. At times Sarah develops an argument, other times he speaks aphoristically, and in others he adopts a homiletic approach. He ranges far and wide, in things spiritual and secular, in the concerns of time and eternity. But he is never confusing, incoherent, or inconsistent. It is like walking with a man who has seen much, knows more, and believes all that is revealed in Christ. He alarms us, but he also arms us. He is a good shepherd.

“The path of truth will lead us to enormous sufferings.” Yet it is truth that frees us. So we go forth in darkness, with Cardinal Robert Sarah up ahead, torch in hand. The world can kill us but it cannot harm us. The day is indeed far spent but we need not worry, for “the dark night of this world is still beautiful,” Sarah says, “because God exists.”

The Day Is Now Far Spent
By Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat; translated by Michael J. Miller
Ignatius Press, 2019
Paperback, 349 pages


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About Timothy D. Lusch 10 Articles
Timothy D. Lusch has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Saint Austin Review, New Oxford Review, Crisis, Toronto Star, Michigan History Magazine, and numerous other publications online and in print.

10 Comments

  1. We read that: “the ‘dream of the Westernized global elite,’ Sarah warns, ‘is precisely to establish a new world religion.’ It is, unsurprisingly, ‘a religion without God, without doctrine, and without moral teaching, a religion of consensus.’ It is also, paradoxically, an anti-religion.”

    The elite? A fish rots at the head first. And an “anti-religion”…

    In the West, non-amnesiacs (where they still exist) recall that this post-Enlightenment delusion already preceded the collapse of an earlier and ephemeral world order, into the trenches of World War I. And “rigid, bigoted and fixistic” Catholic “conservatives” recall, further, that on the day that the First Vatican Council (1870) was convened in Rome, an Anti-Council of Free-Thinkers was also convened, up the road in Naples. Their trendy program—-today gone viral as Cardinal Sarah warns—-was/is summarized:

    “Our programme has for its basis the denial of God, the suppression of all authority and over every religious idea. Religion is the chief and most ancient source of all our sufferings, and the instrument by which, in every age, sovereigns have enslaved the people. God is only a chimera, the pedestal of every despotism; and this chimera must be destroyed before we can obtain liberty.” (statement in Marseilles cited in Maguire, The Pontificate of Pius the Ninth, 1870).

    Today, what has Rome to do with Naples or Marseilles or world political, economic, or media centers? The Church, or course, can never exactly sell out, but can it silence itself? Can it fraternize? Can it become even more the periphery? Can it be occupied?

  2. Even if he is not 100% right on all issues, this book is worth reading and pondering.

    [Contemplation is the lifeblood of monasticism and the heart of the Church. What better way to rejuvenate ourselves than to retreat into silence and prayer? Throughout the book, Sarah’s deep love for the men and woman hidden in Christ encourages us to seek them out, so as to experience Him in their midst. “The renewal,” he declares, “will come from the monasteries.”]

    Monasteries are important but maybe it is time for the local Church to be reformed so that they provide for the needs of the laity as Sarah lists them, and more.

  3. Cardinal Sarah obviously felt compelled to write The Day is Far Spent perhaps moreso the now controversial From the Depths. Timothy Lusch’s account of the Cardinal’s ‘winter of discontent’ explains the latter book as reaction against widespread acedia. Accusations recriminations are flying wild since. Benedict’s secretary is now on the docket. Whatever and whoever the Archbishop is Gestapo [Benedict is alleged to have exclaimed as much] or benevolent protector it’s virtually certain that Benedict’s presence at the Vatican is under the good grace jurisdiction of the Landlord. “A Vatican-based journalist [Antonio Socci] has alleged that Pope Francis was ‘furious’ over Pope Benedict’s contribution to a book co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah defending priestly celibacy, demanding that Benedict retract his name from the work” (LifeSite 1.15.20). Many, myself included have questioned the Archbishop’s control over the aged Benedict. Archbishop Viganò just accused Gänswein of “abusive control”. If journalist Socci is correct Gänswein was compelled to request Fayard omit Benedict as co author. Viganò was also upset that Benedict’s secretary had previously refused his request for a tete a tete at the Vatican with the aging former pontiff. Certainly I admire and support Archbishop Viganò yet wonder if the intense pressure is affecting his judgment. The good news is that Cardinal Sarah felt “compelled” in reaction to acedia within the Church to write the controversial book and Benedict by all indication fully agreed to co author it – and that Fr Fessio’s Ignatius Press appears morally compelled to list Benedict as co author. If we were dealing with Henry VIII bloody heads would be rolling. Otherwise eviction and censures barrages of vitriol are in store for the brave few. And needed witness for the sheep without a good shepherd [although the heavenly One remains forever].

    • “Acedia within the Church!”

      One might even imagine in fantasy-land a pending curial reform attuned more to pragmatic (and yet dogmatic!) political accompaniments–a reform featuring a demoted Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with laryngitis. And acceding (a trans-gerund form of acedia?) to lip-sync an elevated Secretariat of State parading in front of a cacophony of co-authoring synodalities.

      Thankfully, just a bad dream.

      • Peter as to inertia among prelates a man like Archbishop Viganò a dedicated Catholic staid professional to the core his reaction to the Pontiff is one of obvious urgency and conviction. That the Church is in mortal danger insofar as a policy that is literally neutralizing perhaps irreversibly [at least for an apparent majority] its dogma leading many away from Christ the Archbishop seems to have a greater awareness than most. Reckless as his behavior toward Pope Francis may at times seem he apparently is convinced that is the only option. His request to meet with Benedict at the Vatican was likely intended to convince him that he must act more assertively. Personally I had always hoped Benedict eventually would and he is doing more now. But under constraint. While my opinion that the request to meet was highly provocative that is my perspective. Not to say with absolute conviction that the Archbishop’s request was not the better option. Maybe it is time for recklessness the kind exemplified by Athanasius of Alexandria.

        • As a postscript on justifiable ‘recklessness’ I submit the following: The sheep have risen up in Munich and became Rams. Amazing and wonderful outspoken words by John Henry Westen, Michael Matt, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and others prominent Catholics in strong defense of the Church. Thanks to Maike Hickson LifeSite for a well documented significant article. Cardinal Marx is simply a willing pawn. The German church is purposely being permitted by the Pontiff to go its synodal way in betrayal of Christ. It’s intended by him to be the prototype of the entire Roman Catholic Church. Dismantling of structure, doctrine, loyalty to Christ was begun at the Vatican. The Church tax is an old German governmental statute that post WW II was left open to be rejected by the German religious communities mainly Catholic, Lutheran by the new Adenauer Govt. Unfortunately the Catholic church has declined to legally dismiss the tax. De Mattei advises Catholics not to pay it although it should simply be dismissed by the Hierarchy. This we hope will be a turning point in favor of Christ and Apostolic Tradition for Germany and the universal Church.

  4. I thank God daily for the great Apostolic Voice out of Africa and the Universal Church – Cardinal Robert Sarah …! So grateful as so many of us are for his voice of truth and there is only One…he is a true apostle of Our Lord…and he is helping to guide the Barque of Peter at this most perilous time. Keep speaking Your Eminence we are listening…at least those who still believe. May Jesus and Mary protect you from the wolves swirling around Pope Benedict Emeritus and Your Eminence….Vivat Gesu! Vivat Maria…

  5. The contemplative spirit of the monastery must be preserved. History has shown that when contemplative orders become too “active,” even if it involves the care of souls, they tend to lose that spirit and thus the praying heart of the Church becomes tepid. Better to found a new, “active” order for active ministry.

    • Dave–Very much to your point, Benedict XVI notes in one of his books that the geographic dividing line between Catholic Europe and Protestant Europe coincides with the dividing line between those regions most influenced by the earlier monastic and contemplative reform movements and those which were not.

      Small wonder at this late hour on which side of the line we find the synodal path of Germania.

  6. Thank you Cdn Sarah, for your strong example as a man of God, and as a priest of the Holy Church.
    I am weak and prone to despair by the chaos and filth within our bishops and cardinals. It will all implode soon. Then be rebuilt. So be it.

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