Free English translation of the meditation issued by SER Cardinal Sarah for Le Figarò , entitled Robert Sarah: «L’épidémie du Covid-19 ramène l’Église à sa responsabilité première: la foi» (Robert Sarah: “The Covid-19 epidemic brings the Church back to its primary responsibility: faith”)
Too often, the Church wanted to prove that it was “of this world” by devoting itself to consensual causes rather than to the apostolate, deplores the Guinean cardinal *.
Does the Church still have a place in an epidemic in the 21st century? Unlike centuries ago, most medical care is now provided by the state and healthcare professionals. Modernity has its secularized heroes in white coats and they are admirable. He no longer needs Christian charity battalions to take care of the sick and bury the dead. Has the Church become useless for society?
The Covid-19 virus takes Christians back to basics. Indeed, the Church has long entered a distorted relationship with the world . In the face of a society that claimed not to need it, Christians, through pedagogy, tried to demonstrate that they could be useful to you. The Church has proved herself an educator, mother of the poor, “expert on humanity” in the words of Paul VI. He was right to do it. But gradually the Christians ended up forgetting the reason for this competence . They ended up forgetting that if the Church can help man to be more human, in the end it is because he received the words of eternal life from God.
The Church is committed to the struggle for a better world. He rightly supported ecology, peace, dialogue, solidarity and the fair distribution of wealth. All these fights are fair. But they could make Jesus’ word forget: “My kingdom is not of this world”. The Church has messages for this world, but only because she has the keys to the other world. Christians have sometimes thought of the Church as God’s help to humanity to improve their life here on earth. And there was no lack of arguments because faith in eternal life sheds light on the right way of life in this century.
The Covid-19 virus exposed an insidious disease that was devouring the Church: it thought it was “of this world”. He wanted to feel legitimate in his eyes and according to his criteria. But a radically new fact has emerged. Triumphant modernity collapsed before death. This virus revealed that despite its assurances and security, the underlying world remains paralyzed by fear of death. The world can solve health crises. It will certainly come to the end of the economic crisis. But it will never solve the riddle of death. Faith alone has the answer.
We illustrate this point in a very concrete way. In France, as in Italy, the issue of retirement homes, the famous Ehpad, was a crucial point. Because? Because the question of death arose directly. Should elderly residents be confined to their rooms at risk of dying from despair and loneliness? Should they stay in touch with their families at risk of dying from viruses? We didn’t know how to respond.
The state, immersed in a secularism that chooses in principle to ignore hope and return cults to private domain, has been condemned to silence. For him, the only solution was to escape physical death at any cost, even if it meant condemning moral death. The answer could only be a response of faith: to accompany the elderly towards a probable death, with dignity and above all with the hope of eternal life.
The epidemic hit western societies at the most vulnerable point. They were organized to deny death, hide it, ignore it. She entered through the great door! Who hasn’t seen these giant morgues in Bergamo or Madrid? These are images of a company that recently promised an augmented and immortal man.
The promises of technology allow you to forget fear for a moment, but end up being illusory when death strikes. Even philosophy gives only a little dignity to a human reason submerged in the absurdity of death. But he is unable to console hearts and give meaning to what seems to be definitively deprived of them.
In the face of death, there is no human answer that holds . Only the hope of eternal life can overcome the scandal.But which man will dare to preach hope? It takes the revealed word of God to dare to believe in an endless life. You need a word of faith to dare to hope for yourself and your family. The Catholic Church is therefore renewed with its primary responsibility. The world expects a word of faith from her that will allow her to overcome the trauma of this face to face with the death she has just experienced. Without a clear word of faith and hope, the world can sink into morbid guilt or defenseless anger over the absurdity of its condition. Only this can allow him to make sense of these deaths of loved ones, who died in solitude and were quickly buried.
But then the Church must change. He must stop being afraid of shocking . He must give up thinking of himself as an institution of the world. It must return to its only raison d’etre: faith. The Church is there to announce that Jesus overcame death with his resurrection. This is the heart of his message: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain, our faith is deceitful and we are the most miserable of all men”. (1 Corinthians 15, 14-19). All the rest is only a consequence.
Our societies will emerge weakened by this crisis. They will need psychologists to overcome the trauma of not being able to accompany the elderly and the dying to their grave, but they will need even more priests who will teach them to pray and hope. The crisis reveals that our societies, without knowing it, deeply suffer from a spiritual evil: they cannot give meaning to suffering, finitude and death.
- Cardinal Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments within the Roman Curia.