Saturday 14 March 2020

From the Depths of Our Hearts - Pope Benedict XVI and Robert Cardinal Sarah - Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church

From the Depths of Our Hearts: 
Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church
Pope Benedict XVI 
Robert Cardinal Sarah
Ignatius Press
ISBN 9781621644149
eISBN 9781642291193

There are few books that I can recall in recent history that causes as much of a kerfuffle in recent times. The closest would be Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within by Dr. Taylor R. Marshall. And in many ways the controversy surrounding this volume was even greater. The whole issues of Vatican claims that Pope Benedict XVI wanted his name removed from the volume. And the French publisher agreeing, and Ignatius standing firm and not doing so. And maybe that is the biggest sign that this book was desperately needed.  Two sons of the church wrote from their hearts, and from their experience on a topic that is a cause of great divide within the church. These men listened to the Holy Spirit and collaborated on this incredible volume. 

The book contains an introduction and conclusion that was jointly written by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah. And each contributed another piece to the collection. And this English edition has an extensive excerpt from Sarah’s The Power of Silence. The sections in this edition of this book are:

Editor’s Note
What Do You Fear?
Introduction by the Two Authors
I The Catholic Priesthood
by Benedict XVI
II Loving to the End: An Ecclesiological and Pastoral Look at Priestly Celibacy
by Robert Cardinal Sarah
In the Shadow of the Cross
Conclusion by the Two Authors
Excerpt from The Power of Silence
More from Ignatius Press

Part of the description of this volume states:

“From the Depths of Our Hearts is an unprecedented work by the Pope Emeritus and a Cardinal serving in the Vatican. As bishops, they write “in a spirit of filial obedience” to Pope Francis, who has said, “I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church … I don’t agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.””

And it is a book most needed. Needed for the priests and bishops today. For the priests and bishops of tomorrow. And for the laity. Thirty years ago, in the confessional I was told all it was going to take for married priests was “a puff of white smoke”. That priest was wrong and looking back from a very different point in life I am thankful he was. 

This was a deeply moving book. It stirred much in my soul. Reminding me of my own periods of discernment of vocation. Even of my times away from the Catholic Church. The three greatest things in the Catholic church are, the real presence in the eucharist, the sacrament of confession, and priestly celibacy. In the Editor’s note we are informed:

“Astute readers of the pope emeritus will have no difficulty recognizing the style, the logic, and the wonderful pedagogy of the author of the trilogy dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth. The discourse is structured, the citations are abundant, and the argumentation is polished.”

And it is true as someone who has read several books by Pope Benedict XVI, and many books about him, it is easy to see his imprint upon this piece. And in the introduction the two state:

“In recent months, while the world was echoing with the din created by a strange media synod that overrode the real synod, we met together. We exchanged our ideas and our anxieties. We prayed and meditated in silence. Each of our meetings mutually strengthened and calmed us. Our reflections, conducted along different lines, led us to exchange letters. The similarity of our concerns and the convergence of our conclusions persuaded us to place the fruit of our work and of our spiritual friendship at the disposal of all the faithful, following the example of Saint Augustine.”

In the piece by Benedict XVI he sets clear definitions and descriptions of the roles of:


One of the sections in that chapter that I keep thinking on is:

“At the time of Vatican II, this question of the opposition between ministries and priesthood became absolutely unavoidable for the Catholic Church as well. Indeed, “allegory” as a pneumatic transition from the Old to the New Testament had become incomprehensible. The decree of the council on the ministry and life of priests hardly deals with this question at all. Nevertheless, in the period that followed, it monopolized our attention with an unprecedented urgency, and it turned into a crisis of the priesthood that has lasted to this day in the Church.”

And Pope Benedict Xvi concludes his reflection by examining three biblical texts that should help clarify the notion of priesthood. And he concludes on a personal note:

“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.”

And it is that personal aspect that is most evident in the piece by Cardinal Robert Sarah. He gives examples of the missionaries that led to his family’s conversion, and his own call to the priesthood. He writes of work as a priest traveling to areas that did not see a priest often and they joy and anticipation with witch they were received.  He states:

“What view of the priest will some isolated, poorly evangelized populations have? Is the intention to prevent them from discovering the fullness of the Christian priesthood? In early 1976, when I was a young priest, I traveled to certain remote villages in Guinea. Some of them had not had a visit from a priest for almost ten years, because the European missionaries had been expelled in 1967 by Sékou Touré. Nevertheless, the Christians continued to teach the catechism to the children and to recite their daily prayers and the Rosary. They showed a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and gathered every Sunday to listen to the Word of God.

I had the grace of meeting these men and women who kept the faith without any sacramental support, for lack of priests. They were nourished by the Word of God and kept their faith alive through daily prayer. I will never be able to forget their unimaginable joy when I celebrated Mass, which they had not experienced for such a long time. Allow me to state forcefully and with certainty: 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. For, with the instinct of faith, poor people know that a priest who has renounced marriage gives them the gift of all his spousal love.”

And it is from those experiences that he writes. He states:

“As a bishop, I fear that the plan to ordain married men as priests might generate a pastoral catastrophe. It would be a catastrophe for the faithful to whom they would be sent. It would be a catastrophe for the priests themselves.”

I found this volume deeply moving. I could not put it down. And I know I will return to it again and again. My own son has been saying for 6 years now that he will be a priest when he grows up. I plan on rereading this with him, within a year or two. 

This is a book all Catholics should read. No matter where they fall on the questions of married priests, female deacons, or to really stretch it female priests. This book is written from a place of love, of devotion, of service, and of grave concern for the future of the Catholic Church. We need to read it and heed its warnings. For our good, for the good of the priesthood, and for those who will come after us.

A must read for all Catholics in this day and age.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Robert Cardinal Sarah:
The Power of Silence
God or Northing

Books by Benedict XVI:
The Way of the Cross - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI
Finding Life's Purpose: Inspiration for Young People
Don't Be Afraid To Be Saints - with Pope John Paul II
Confession Advice and Encouragement from Pope Benedict XVI 

From the Depths of Our Hearts - Pope Benedict XVI and Robert Cardinal Sarah
Way of the Cross Meditations and Prayers
Way of Calvary: Stations of the Cross 
Spiritual Masters Fathers and Writers of the First Millennium 
Spiritual Masters Medieval Fathers and Writers

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