I’m never quite sure what to make of Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the curia’s CDWDS. Something never seems quite right when I read his musings. It also doesn’t seem right that so many people think of Third World Christians as “children” when they and their culture have been Christian as long as Saint Gregory the Great’s or Saint Athanasius’s Church and culture were
People pull out a quote from the media-present prelate, and the same citation elicits grinning praise or criticism, depending on one’s worldview. Like this one:
The Church is not made to listen, she is made to teach: she is Mater and Magistra, ‘mother’ and ‘educator.’ While the mother listens to her child, she is first present to teach, guide and direct, because she knows better than her children the direction to take.
Anthony Ruff cited this on social media, but I’m not sure from where it’s taken. In his social media post, many commentators there wring hands over the “not made to listen,” and the assumption for many persons that teachers and mothers must listen.
Seemingly, there’s a premise on the cardinal’s part that the Church need not listen. That doesn’t seem to fit the imitation of the Lord, who actively engaged people like Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24:15-24) or Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) or those numerous healings where he asked, what do you want me to do for you? Was Jesus just a radical? Think about Abraham bartering for the virtuous in Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33). Or much of the book of Job. If God welcomes the queries of the just, but the Church cannot be questioned, what does it say about our hubris?
I did look for the above quote in the cardinal’s latest NCReg interview. But I found another quote that gets the situation about half-right, but misses an even bigger indictment of the institution:
On the other hand, as Pope Francis pointed out at the end of the synod, the real problem in the Amazon is not the ordination of married deacons. The real issue is that of evangelization. We have renounced proclaiming the faith, salvation in Jesus Christ. Too often we have become humanitarian assistants or social workers.
Evangelization is certainly an issue. It could be that “mother and teacher” have been more concerned with education or indoctrination. I’ll continue on my theme comparing the Church in the Americas with the Church of the Roman world.
After five centuries, the Church produced great teachers, eight of whom were elevated to the rank of doctor. And not for nothing.
In comparison, the 16th century certainly produced evangelizers like those of the apostolic age. To name a few, Francis Xavier, Juan Diego, and other missionaries who were up to tasks that eclipsed in numbers what Paul tackled in the ancient world. Five-hundred years later, where is the Jerome of Brazil, the Basil of Mexico, the Ambrose of the Philippines, the John Chrystostom of Colombia? If Augustine could write so eloquently of God in Latin, where is the written theological tradition in Tagalog, or Portuguese, or Spanish language?
My hypothesis is that the Tridentine cooperation with colonialism and infantilizing the believers outside of Europe somehow short-circuited a healthy and organic development of the Church around the world. The institution oversaw evangelization, sure. But why are so many churches, including those of the Amazon, still thought of being in a stage of theological toddler-hood, where a mother is needed to do most everything?
My friend Sherry Weddell has written eloquently of the “doctors” of evangelization, clergy and laity, men and women alike, who rescued the faith at a very dark time in the decades after the Council of Trent. And I’ve been taken to task here for my criticism of the
Tridentine Era. But I can’t escape the sadness that something is missing, that something great and wonderful has been carved out of the possible Church that was emerging from the Renaissance Era.
Instead of a delicious deli sandwich, we have ketchup on bread. Instead of a concert grand, we have a toy piano. Instead of a city on a hill, we have shacks in the shadows of mountains. To be sure, one can avoid starvation on bread alone. One can play musical themes on toy instruments. Shacks shelter from the rain as effectively as a house, as long as they are kept in good repair.
The question I ask: are we satisfied with mere survival? I think the Church could be aiming much higher.
In the title, I reference Cardinal Sarah’s “problem.” But it is really the problem of all Christians. I doubt he has much to teach us, at least on the issue of why we seem to be falling so far short of the ideals of previous ages. Jesus seems so far away at times, and not just two millennia. God help us if we find ourselves in the same boat in another twenty centuries.