Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

From the Depths of Our Hearts

April 12th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

?This post is a look at the new collaboration between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah.

A little bit of spiritual reading has an important place in Lenten activity. Sometimes it is difficult to choose, beyond Scripture and the Catholic Classics, something a little more current in Church Life. This year it is much easier. Moved already by the individual writings of Pope Benedict XVI and Robert Cardinal Sarah, I chose “From the Depths of Our Hearts” by the two as co-authors, on a vital subject, and with more than a little controversy.

The other decision to be made about such reading is whether to indulge hunger and consume the material voraciously, reviewing and summarizing, or to savor the offering like a gourmet truffle, a little taste at a time. Truffles win! The first excerpt is from the (Joint) Introduction by the two authors, reflecting on the fear of the Apostles when they thought the boat was sinking:

“We know that Jesus is here, with us, in the ship. We want to declare to Him again our confidence and our absolute, full, and undivided fidelity. We want to say to Him again the great “YES” that we said to Him on the day of our ordination. Our priestly celibacy causes us to live out this total “Yes” each day. For our celibacy is a proclamation of faith. It is a testimony, because it causes us to enter into a life that makes sense only in terms of God. Our celibacy is a witness, in other words, a martyrdom. The Greek word has both meanings. In the storm, we priests must reaffirm that we are ready to lose our lives for Christ. Day after day, we give this witness thanks to the celibacy through which we give away our lives.” (p 21-22)

Chapter I, “The Catholic Priesthood”

Written by Pope Benedict XVI. (His words are blue).

“[W]e do not know when, but in any case very rapidly — the regular and even daily celebration of the Eucharist became essential for the Church. The “supersubstantial” bread is at the same time the “daily” bread of the Church. This had an important consequence, which is precisely what haunts the Church today.

“In the common awareness of Israel, priests were strictly obliged to observe sexual abstinence during the times when they led worship and were therefore in contact with the divine mystery. The relation between sexual abstinence and divine worship was absolutely clear in the common awareness of Israel. By way of example, I wish to recall the episode about David, who, while fleeing Saul, asked the priest Ahimelech to give him some bread: “The priest answered David, ‘I have no common bread at hand, but there is holy bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.’ And David answered the priest, ‘Of a truth women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition.'” (1 Sam. 21: 4-5)  “Since the priests of the Old Testament had to dedicate themselves to worship only during set times, marriage and the priesthood were compatible.”

“But because of the regular and often even daily celebration of the Eucharist, the situation of the priests of the Church of Jesus Christ has changed radically. From now on, their entire life is in contact with the divine mystery. This requires on their part exclusivity with regard to God. Consequently, this excludes other ties that, like marriage, involve one’s whole life. From the daily celebration of the Eucharist, which implies a permanent state of service to God, was born spontaneously the impossibility of a matrimonial bond. We can say that the sexual abstinence that was functional was transformed automatically into an ontological abstinence. Thus, its motivation and its significance were changed from within and profoundly.”  (p. 40-41)

Benedict XVI closes his paper with the understanding from his own ordination of John 17:17, how “the living God radically claims a man in order to make him enter into his service….Thus, on that eve of my ordination, a deep impression was left on my soul of what it means to be ordained a priest, beyond all the ceremonial aspects: it means that we must continually be purified and overcome by Christ so that he is the one who speaks and acts in us, and less and less we ourselves. It appeared to me clearly that this process, which consists of becoming one with him and renouncing what belongs only to us, lasts a whole lifetime and continually includes liberations and painful renewals. In this sense, the words of John 17:17 pointed out to me the way that I have walked throughout my life.”  (p. 58-60) He refers to the verse: “Sanctify [i.e. consecrate] them in the truth.”

Chapter II: “Loving to the End”

Written by Robert Cardinal Sarah


Cardinal Sarah’s view of the importance of celibacy is distinctly pastoral. One especially senses how it fits the book’s title, coming from deep within his heart in care for souls. A few excerpts are in order.

Cardinal Sarah writes: “The priesthood, to repeat the words of he Cure of Ars, is the love of the heart of Jesus.” He writes: “My bishop’s heart is worried. I have met with many priests who are disoriented, disturbed, and wounded in the very  depths of their spiritual life by the violent challenges to the Church’s doctrine…. I speak up so that everywhere in the Church, in a spirit of true synodality, a calm, prayerful reflection on the spiritual reality of the sacrament of Holy Orders can commence and be renewed.”  (p.63-65.)

“During the Synod on Amazonia, I [talked] … with experienced missionaries. These exchanges reassured me in the thought that the possibility of ordaining married men would be a pastoral catastrophe, lead to ecclesiological confusion, and obscure our understanding of the priesthood…. Priestly celibacy is the expression of the intention to place oneself at the disposal of the Lord and of man….the priesthood, because it involves offering the sacrifice of the Mass, makes a matrimonial bond impossible…. The celebration of the Mass presupposes that he enters with his whole being into the great gift of Christ to the Father, into the great “yes” of Jesus ….” (p.65-66)

Recounting a story of faithfulness in villages of Guinea, after a long priestly absence, Cardinal Sarah says: “I think that if they had ordained married men in each village, the Eucharistic hunger of the Faithful would have been extinguished. The people would have been cut off from that joy of receiving another Christ in the priest…. It would lead to an impoverishment of evangelization.” (p.69-71)

“The people of Amazonia have the right to a full experience of Christ the Bridegroom. We cannot offer them “second-class” priests. (p.72)

“I am persuaded that the Christian communities of Amazonia themselves do not think along the lines of Eucharistic demands…. [T]hese topics are obsessions that stem from theological milieus at universities. We are dealing with ideologies developed by a few theologians, … who wish to utilize the distress of poor peoples as an experimental laboratory for their clever plans.” (p. 76)

“To ordain a married man a priest would amount to diminishing the dignity of marriage and reducing the priesthood to a job.” (p.79)

“The sensus fidei causes the Faithful to discern a form of incompleteness in the clergy who do not live out consecrated celibacy.” (p.81)


Completion of Chapter II: “Loving to the End”

Written by Robert Cardinal Sarah


“… the Church would no longer understand herself if she were no longer loved totally by celibate priests who sacramentally represent Christ the Bridegroom… Celibacy is for the priest the means of entering into an authentic vocation as spouse…. [T]he Sacrament of Matrimony and the sacrament of Holy Orders both… culminate in a total gift of self… [T]he two sacraments are mutually exclusive. The priest’s capacity for spousal love is entirely given to and reserved for the Church.” (p. 83-85)

“The ordination of married men would give an unfortunate signal that the laity is being clericalized. It would result in a weakening of the missionary zeal of the lay faithful by causing them to think that mission work was reserved for clerics. [It] would weaken the apostolate of the baptized. It would prevent the Church from understanding herself as the dearly beloved Bride of Christ and would result in confusion about the true place of women within the Church.” (p.98-99)

“The Church, if she is deprived of spiritual vocations over a long period, might be tempted to create for herself a substitute clergy … of purely human origin…” ( Quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 106)

“We must make room for the Holy Spirit in our government and in our pastoral plans.” (p. 107)

“By definition, a nascent Church lacks priests….[T]he ordination of married men, even if they were permanent deacons before, is not an exception but a rupture, a wound in the consistency of the priesthood… Moreover, the ordination of married men in young Christian communities would prevent them from giving rise to priestly vocations of celibate priests… [T]he correct understanding of the priesthood and of the Church would be permanently confused….” (p. 108-109)

“The priest learns the logic of his celibacy in the Eucharist….” (p.114)

“I would like to express my deep indignation when I hear it said that … the peoples of Amazonia do not understand celibacy…. I see … a contemptuous, neo-colonialist, and infantilizing mentality that shocks me…. When God enters into a culture, he does not leave it intact. He destabilizes and purifies it. He transforms and divinizes it.” (p. 116-117)

“[W]herever there is a serious, authentic, and continual evangelization activity, there is no lack of priestly vocations.” (p. 120)

“The faithful expect only one thing from priest: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God.” (Quoting Pope Benedict XVI p. 121)

“[W]e want to make present through celibacy what the world does not want to see: God alone suffices…. [W]ithin the Church, crises are always overcome by returning to the radical character of the Gospel, and not by adopting worldly criteria…. Celibacy is a scandal for the world…. We will not solve the crisis of the priesthood by weakening celibacy.” (p. 122-123)

Beginning on p. 124, through almost the end of Cardinal Sarah’s section, is a beautiful letter to brother priests and seminarians, heart to heart with paternal advice. He ends by saying: “Only the Cross will teach us to be a priest. Only the Cross will teach us to “love to the end”… On this path, Benedict XVI is an admirable model.”  This ending particularly brings home how often Cardinal Sarah quotes Pope Benedict, and other popes as well but, most substantially, Pope Benedict himself. From this it is easy to see that, yes indeed, this has been a collaborative effort of both authors, but it also pierces the veil of authorship to see Cardinal Sarah as solidifying the defense and exposition of Pope Benedict’s teaching, with perhaps his own pastoral comments, valuable as they are, being more secondary to that papal teaching. Cardinal Sarah does not miss the mark at all in expounding his opposition to the Amazonia Solution.


“In the Shadow of the Cross” by the two authors


The wrap-up is short, perhaps a bit hurried, understandably. But the point is clear: “…everyone should fear to hear God say to him someday … ‘Accursed are you who said nothing…. Stop sleeping the sleep of negligence. Do what you can promptly.’” (Quote attributed to St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 26[84]; p. 147).


One Response to “From the Depths of Our Hearts”

  1. Diane Harris says:

    Additional text added to first post on 3/14/20, 3/22/20, 3/29/20 and completed on Good Friday, April 10, 2020.

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