13. The Church Professes the Mercy of God and Proclaims It
Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering His mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of His covenant with man; even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the” rediscovery of this Father, who is rich in mercy.
NICHOLAS DIAT: At the end his pontificate, in 2012, Benedict XVI insisted on celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. Why are there so many divisions over the last Council, even today?
In order to help us see that everything at the heart of the conciliar documents was centered on and oriented toward God, Benedict XVI invited us to focus our attention on the way in which the are ordered. He says that the architecture of these documents has an essentially theocentric orientation. Let us begin with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium. The fact that it is the first document to be published indicates that there were dogmatic and pastoral reasons of the utmost importance. Before all else, in the Church, there is adoration; and therefore God. This beginning, says Benedict XVI, corresponds to the first and chief concern of the Rule of Saint Benedict: “Nihil operi Dei praeponatur” (Nothing should be preferred to the work of God). Now, if there is one reality too often left out of consideration, it is certainly the consubstantial relation between the liturgy and God. The foundation of the liturgy must remain the search for God. We can only be dismayed by the fact that this intention of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and of the Council Fathers as well, is often obscured and , worse yet, betrayed…
In 1958, therefore, you were at the seminary when John XXIII was elected pope?
On the other hand, I stilled lacked the maturity needed to understand the scope of the council desired by that pope. I knew, however, that Archbishop Tchidimbo represented my country and that he traveled regularly to Rome for discussions with the bishops from the other countries of the world. Although he did not really speak to us about the content of debates, I nevertheless relate an event that impressed the Catholic faithful of Conakry.
The cathedral in Conakry had an elegant, ornate choir, with a beautiful replica of the Bernini baldachin, surrounded by very beautiful angels. At the time of the first discussions about liturgical reform, archbishop Tchidimbo returned to Conakry and ordered the destruction of the baldachin and the main altar. We were angry, incredulous at this hasty decision. Rather violently, we passed without any preparation from one liturgy to another. I can attest to the fact that the botched preparation for the liturgical reform had devastating effects on the Catholic population, particularly on the simpler people, who scarcely understood the swiftness of these changes or even the reason for them.
Where to begin “liturgical movement” that so many priests and faithful have awaited for so long? Cardinal Sarah proposes the following three paths, which he sum up in the three letters SAF: silence-adoration-formation in English and French, and in German: SAA, Stille-Anbetung-Ausbildung. Please see:
The exclusive English translation of the message sent by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to the Colloquium “The Source of the Future” byRobert Cardinal Sarah
Indeed, I can say that when I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and the way in which the two forms of the Roman rite could enrich each other. This will be a long and delicate work and I ask for your patience and prayers. But if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence in prayer and total submission to God.
At this point I repeat what I have said elsewhere, that Pope Francis has asked me to continue the extraordinary liturgical work Pope Benedict began (see: Message to Sacra Liturgia USA 2015, New York City). Just because we have a new pope does not mean that his predecessor’s vision is now invalid. On the contrary, as we know, our Holy Father Pope Francis has the greatest respect for the liturgical vision and measures Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI implemented in utter fidelity to the intentions and aims of the Council Fathers.
I want to make an appeal to all priests. You may have read my article in L’Osservatore Romano one year ago (12 June 2015) or my interview with the journal Famille Chrétienne in May of this year. On both occasions I said that I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—Eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.
And so, dear Fathers, I humbly and fraternally ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ (see: Introit, Mass of Wednesday of the first week of Advent) may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: “they have turned their backs to me and not their faces” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord! Since the day of his Baptism, the Christian knows only one direction: the Orient. “You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the East (ad Orientem), for one who renounces the devil turns towards Christ and fixes his gaze directly on Him” (From the beginning of the Treatise on the Mysteries by Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan).
Renewing his invitation to priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem, accompanied by catechesis, he said:
This way of doing things promotes silence. Indeed, there is less of a temptation for the celebrant to monopolize the conversation. Facing the Lord, he is less tempted to become a professor who gives a lecture during the whole Mass, reducing the altar to a podium centered no longer on the cross but on the microphone! The priest must remember that he is only an instrument in Christ’s hands, that he must be quiet in order to make room for the Word, and that our human words are ridiculous compared to the one Eternal Word.
I am convinced that priests do not use the same tone of voice when they celebrate facing East. We are so much less tempted to take ourselves for actors, as Pope Francis says!
“GOD WILLING, THE REFORM OF THE REFORM WILL TAKE PLACE” (par. 257)
I refuse to waste time in opposing one liturgy to another, or the rite of Saint Pius V to that of Blessed Paul VI. What is needed is to enter into the great silence of the liturgy; one must allow oneself to be enriched by all the Latin or Eastern liturgical forms that favor silence. Without this contemplative silence, the liturgy will remain an occasion of hateful divisions and ideological confrontations instead of being the place of our unity and our communion in the Lord. It is high time to enter into this liturgical silence, facing the Lord, that the Council wanted to restore.
What I am about to say now does not enter into contradiction with my submission and obedience to the supreme authority of the Church. I desire profoundly and humbly to serve God, the Church, and the Holy Father, with devotion, sincerity, and filial attachment. But this is my hope: if God wills, when he may will and how he may will, in the liturgy, the reform of the reform will take place. In spite of the gnashing of teeth, it will take place, because the future of the Church is at stake.
Damaging the liturgy means damaging our relationship with God and the concrete expression of our Christian faith. The Word of God and the doctrinal teaching of the Church are still listened to, but the souls that want to turn to God, to offer him the true sacrifice of praise and worship him, are no longer captivated by liturgies that are too horizontal, anthropocentric, and festive, often resembling noisy and vulgar cultural events. The media have completely invaded and turned into a spectacle the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the memorial of the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of our souls. The sense of mystery disappears through changes, through permanent adaptations, decided in autonomous and individual fashion in order to seduce our modern profaning mentalities, marked by sin, secularism, relativism, and the rejection of God.
In many western countries, we see the poor leaving the Catholic Church because it is under siege by ill-intentioned persons who style themselves intellectuals and despise the lowly and the poor. This is what the Holy Father must denounce loud and clear. Because a Church without the poor is no longer the Church, but a mere “club.” Today, in the West, how many temples are empty, closed, destroyed, or turned into profane structures in disdain of their sacredness and their original purpose. So I know how many priests and faithful there are who live their faith with extraordinary zeal and fight every day to preserve and enrich the dwellings of God.
Before such a distinguished gathering, I offer three humble suggestions.
First: Be prophetic. The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Where there is no vision, discernment, the people perish” (29, 18). Discern carefully – in your lives, your homes, your workplaces – how, in your nation, God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated. Blessed Paul VI saw that in 1968 when, for the Church, he so courageously wrote Humanae Vitae. What are the threats to Christian identity and the family today? ISIS, the growing influence of China, the colonization of ideologies such as gender? How do we react?
Be faithful. This is my second suggestion. Specifically for you, as men and women called to influence even the political sphere you have a mission of bringing Divine Revelation to bear in the lives of your fellow citizens. Uphold the wise principles of your founding fathers. Do not be afraid to proclaim the truth with love, especially about marriage according to God’s plan, just as courageously as Saint John the Baptist, who risked his life to proclaim the truth. The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest challenge that our world has faced since its origins.[i] In the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
Third: Pray. Sometimes, in front of happenings in the world, our nation or even the Church, the results of our prayer might tempt us to become discouraged. Like Sisyphus in the Greek myth: condemned to roll a large boulder uphill, only to see it roll down again as soon as he had reached the top. Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est encourages us : “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone.”[ii]
Whether in doctrine or morality or everyday decisions, the heart of prayer is to discern God’s will. This can only happen in prolonged moments of silence where, like Elijah before the horrendous threats of Queen Jezebel, we allow the “gentle breeze” of God to enlighten us and confirm us along our journey to do God’s will. Such was the virginal silence of the Blessed Mother. At a marriage, the wedding feast of Cana, when for a new family “they have no wine,” Mary our Mother trusted in the grace given by Jesus to bestow the joy of love overflowing – Amoris Lætitia. She pronounced her very last words, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 1-12). Then she remained silent.
Be prophetic, Be faithful. Pray. That is why I came to this prayer breakfast. To encourage you. Be prophetic, Be faithful. And, above all, pray. These three suggestions make present that the battle for the soul of America, and the soul of the world, is primarily spiritual. They show that the battle is fought firstly with our own conversion to God’s will every day.
And so I wholly welcome this initiative, and join you in prayer that this great country may experience a new great “spiritual awakening”, and help stem the tide of evil that is spreading in the world. I am confident that your efforts will no doubt contribute to protecting human life, strengthening the family, and safeguarding religious freedom not only here in these United States, but everywhere in the world.
For in the end: it is “God or nothing.” (My emphasis)
[i] Robert Cardinal Sarah, [“God or Nothing. A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat” (San Francisco,
Ignatius Press, 2015)], 166.
[ii] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2006), 36.
My dear children: may Jesus watch over my daughters and sons for me!
After the close of the Year of Mercy, which has impacted the whole world, we are beginning Advent and a new liturgical year. The Church encourages us to quicken our pace towards our Lord. This advice is always timely, but now, in preparing for Christmas, it becomes if possible even more urgent.
We all have engraved on our hearts some words that, in the upcoming weeks, should leave their imprint on everything we do: veni, Domine, et noli tardare; come Lord, and do not delay. We are invited to turn our eyes to Christ, while recalling his terrestrial birth in Bethlehem and awaiting, also with joy and peace, his glorious coming at the end of time. If we were to fail to make this effort, our daily occupations, the monotonous succession of days almost always the same, could perhaps make our daily path seem tedious and uninteresting, and undermine the expectation of an encounter with the Saviour.
Hence this marvelous cry of the Church: come, Lord Jesus! As Saint Bernard said, between the first and final advent comes an adventus medius, an intermediary coming of Christ, which marks the entire course of our existence. “This intermediary coming is, one could say, a path leading from the first to the last: in the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this intermediary one he is our rest and our consolation.”
In preparing ourselves for the imminent commemoration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, these weeks spur us to realize how God draws close to us at each moment; he awaits us in the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist, and equally in prayer, in the works of mercy. “Awaken! Remember that God comes! Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today, now! The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’ is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned about us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes.”
Each day of this waiting places us very close to Mary and Joseph, also with Simeon and Anna, and all the just of the Old Covenant who longed for the Messiah’s coming. Let us ponder on the yearnings in God’s heart (for his delight is to be with the children of men) revealed in salvation history. How are we striving to respond? Let us turn our eyes more frequently to our Lady and the holy Patriarch, meditating on how they awaited, each day with greater eagerness, the birth of the Son of God. We can also reflect on how, during the months preceding this celestial event, their conversations would have revolved around Jesus. Our Father’s words are very timely here: “Joyfully keep Joseph and Mary company… and you will hear the traditions of the House of David. You will hear about Elizabeth and Zachary; you will be moved by Joseph’s pure love, and your heart will pound whenever they mention the Child who will be born in Bethlehem.” I suggest that we try to put more love and affection into praying the Angelus.
In today’s world, both complex and exciting, the danger exists that the hustle and bustle around us will lead us, almost without noticing it, to lose our focus: to forget that our Lord is very close to us. Jesus gives himself to us completely, and it’s only natural that he asks a lot of us. Not understanding this reality means not understanding, not truly grasping the Love of God.
But let us not imagine unusual or extraordinary situations. Our Lord is waiting for us to make a more refined effort in carrying out the ordinary duties proper to a Christian. Therefore I suggest that these weeks (which in so many countries are marked by a crescendo of external preparations for Christmas) should lead to a crescendo of recollection in your closeness to God and in your generous and cheerful service to others. Amid the rushing around, the shopping (or the financial hardships, perhaps tied to a certain lack of social stability), amid wars or natural catastrophes, we have to remember that God is watching over us. Thus we will find peace of heart. Let us turn our eyes to Christ who is arriving, as the Pope said a few weeks ago, citing a well-known phrase of Saint Augustine: “I fear that the Lord will pass by without my recognizing him; I fear that the Lord may pass before me in one of these small needy persons, and I will not realize that it is Jesus.”
In particular, let us take greater care of the small gestures of piety that make our relationship with God warmer and more intimate, and that prepare for the Child Jesus a welcoming inn. For example, making the sign of the cross slowly, knowing we are welcomed by the Trinity and saved by the Cross; recollecting ourselves, with naturalness but with devotion, when saying the blessing or giving thanks at meals for our nourishment; showing by our genuflections before the “perennial Nativity scene of the Tabernacle”the firmness of a real and living faith; accompanying almsgiving with a smile; greeting our Mother with affection in her images, and preparing during these first days of December for the solemnity of her Immaculate Conception… Amid the dryness of certain days, our Lady will place on our path fragrant flowers, filled with the bonus odor Christi, the “good aroma of Christ,” as happened in the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego, which we will commemorate on the 12th of this month.
From December 17 on, the wait for Jesus takes on a holy impatience: He who is to come will come and will not delay, and now there will be no fear within our land, for he is our Saviour. “When we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth.”
When our relationship with God takes on this serene and joyful air so proper to the stable at Bethlehem, there spreads around us, as its ripe fruit, a more intense family atmosphere overflowing with joy, so closely united to these dates. Therefore the Church urges us to better prepare our heart during Advent, and to set aside unimportant matters, distractions that lead us astray, the superficiality of the immediate… Perhaps we have in hand many concerns, and we lack peace in our relationship with God. If we strive to maintain our peace and calm with God, we will also offer it to others. The closer family life over the days of Christmas will not be marked by arguments, anger, impatience or frivolity, and we will enjoy relaxing and praying together, nourishing good times together as a family, and ironing out prejudices and small grudges that perhaps our heart may harbor.
Don’t be concerned if, despite our good will, we are sometimes attacked by distractions in our practices of piety. But let us struggle to acquire the supernatural and human fortitude needed to reject them. Let us renew perseveringly our eagerness to construct within ourselves a “living crêche”to welcome Jesus, spending time praying before the Nativity scene, although we may sometimes have the impression that our head is in the clouds. Recall then that Saint Josemaría was not discouraged to see himself like this in some of his moments spent before our Lord. In 1931 he wrote down: “I know a donkey of such poor character that, if he had been in Bethlehem next to the ox, instead of humbly adoring the Creator, he would have eaten the hay in the crib.” Therefore, I am filled with joy to see that in many countries the Christian custom of setting up a Nativity scene is spreading.
Don’t forget to remember during these days people who are alone or in need, and whom we can assist in one way or another, knowing that we ourselves are the first beneficiaries. Try to spread this concern that is so Christian to relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues. What a deeply Christian gesture, among many others, is the practice of some faithful of the Work who during some nights go to offer something to eat and drink to homeless persons, and also to those who are engaged in watching over the rest of the other citizens.
Before ending these lines, I would like to thank the Holy Father once again for the affection he showed me in the audience on November 7, and the blessing he imparted to the faithful and apostolates of the Prelature. Continue to pray for him and his intentions, with the firm hope that Christ, in the upcoming Christmas, will pour out his gifts abundantly on the Church, the Roman Pontiff, and the whole world.
And let us go with filial trust to our Lady during the days of the novena to the Immaculate Conception. Let us feel the holy pride of being children of such a good Mother, who places us face to face with Jesus, as Saint Josemaría told us. This will also spur us to joyfully increase our closeness to those who are sick. Don’t fail to meditate on the fatherly affection and closeness with which our Founder accompanied us already in the first Christmas celebrations in the history of the Work: alone with God, with Mary and Joseph; and with each of his daughters and sons who would come to Opus Dei.
With all my affection, I bless you, and ask you for more prayers, more fidelity.
Rome, December 1, 2016
 Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer I for First Sunday of Advent.
 Saint Bernard, Discourse 5 on Advent, 1 (Liturgy of the Hours, Wednesday of the First Week of Advent, second reading).