Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review: God or Nothing

I had never heard of Robert Cardinal Sarah before I purchased this book.  Perhaps that was God’s plan; He waited until He saw me troubled, and then He gave me a measure of comfort and hope.
The first three chapters of God or Nothing explain Cardinal Sarah’s upbringing in a small village in Guinea, Africa.  There he dealt with torture and the tyrants who regularly confronted the Church, and hardened his faith.  There, faith and family were everything, and enabled survival.  The rest of the book tells you, in his own words, who this man is now -- and how he, and other African cardinals, are a great hope for the Catholic Church, and the world.
I searched for but could not find words to adequately sum up my thoughts on this book, and Cardinal Sarah.  There is so much here, so much complexity, and yet so much simplicity.  And so I find that my review here is largely excerpts from his book --- but there is so much more here  than words could convey. 
I have absolute confidence in the faith of the African
people, and I am sure Africa will save the family.  Africa
saved the Holy Family (during the Flight to Egypt);
and in these modern times, Africa will also save the human family.
-- Robert Cardinal Sarah, August 19, 2015
As the youngest bishop in the Church, he saw how governments seek to tear down the family.  “Generally speaking, the most important measures taken by revolutionary governments always affect the family.  During the first five years of my episcopate, my pastoral letters were all dedicated to the defense of the Christian family.”  His battles pre-figure the ones now being waged in Europe and the Americas.  And he sees why the West is particularly vulnerable at this time:  “Man’s rupture with God obscures his way of looking at creation.  Blinded by his technological successes, his world view disfigures the world:  things no longer possess ontological truth or goodness but, rather, are neutral, and man is the one who must give them meaning. … Man intends to dominate nature.  Technology gives him the impression that he is master of the world.”  The title of this book lays down the lines of the battle we face.
I found Cardinal Sarah’s views on poverty to express what I myself could not adequately put into words:
  “I remember being disgusted when I heard the advertising slogan of a Catholic charitable organization: ‘Let us fight for zero poverty.’  Not one saint ever dared to speak that way about poverty and poor people.  Jesus Himself had no pretention of this sort.  … The Church must not fight against poverty, but rather wage a battle against destitution, especially material and spiritual destitution.  It is critical to make a commitment so that all men might have the minimum they require in order to live. … We do not have the right to confuse destitution and poverty, because in doing so we would seriously be going against the Gospel.  … Those who want to eradicate poverty make the Son of God a liar.  They are mistaken and lying.  … Christ chose poverty. … Mankind has never been so rich, yet it reaches astounding heights of moral and spiritual destitution because of the poverty of our interpersonal relationships and the globalization of indifference.  In the fight against destitution, there is one fundamental dimension, which consists in restoring to man his vocation as a child of God and his joy in belonging to the family of God.”
The Son of God loves the poor; others intend to eradicate them.  What a lying, unrealistic, almost tyrannical utopia!”  Wow!  Cardinal Sarah does not mince words, and he does know their meaning.
I saw that Cardinal Sarah liberally quoted (my favorites) Guardini, Augustine, Camus, St. Thomas, and Solzhenitsyn to convey his own thoughts:  “You are engaged in a formidable battle, and you behave as though it were a ping pong match.”  Like Solzhenitsyn, Cardinal Sarah knows what repression and true liberty are, and the seriousness of the battle we face.  And he touches me deeply when he speaks on another yet topic particularly dear to my heart:
“In Africa, an important place is reserved for the elderly; the respect due to old people is one of the cornerstones of African society.  I think that Europeans do not realize how shocked the peoples of Africa are by how little attention is paid to the elderly in Western countries.  This tendency to hide old age and marginalize it is a sign of a worrisome selfishness, heartlessness, or, more accurately, hard-heartedness.  To be sure, old people have all the comfort and the physical care they need.  But they lack the warmth, closeness, and human affection of their relatives and friends.” 
Cardinal Sarah looks at the confidence of our enemy, and sees a path to his eventual downfall:  “It is necessary to return to the foundations of Christian hope and to declare that life on this earth is only part of our existence, which will be prolonged and completed in eternity.  The Church must recall that life cannot be summed up in terms of the satisfaction of material pleasures, without moral rules.  At the end of a journey without God there is only the unhappiness of a child deprived of his parents.  Yes, hope abides in God alone!”
Having read this book, I must conclude that this man (or perhaps others like him from the African continent) would make a great pope.  He is prepared for battle:
I know that the African family still has magnificent prospects
ahead of it.  I wish I could be sure that such opportunities
existed for European, American, Asian and Oceanic families, too.
The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest
challenge that our world has faced since its origins.


  1. Tom, thanks for your review of this book. I did not there was a book out about him, and I think I'm going to get a copy and read it, because I am very impressed with him. I first heard of him was during Papal Conclave that selected Pope Francis, and the media was speculating that perhaps an African cardinal would be chosen, and they were speaking of Cardinal Sarah. From what I have heard and read about him, I like him a lot. Pope Francis has made him Prefect of Divine Worship. I know there are some more conservative priests who are happy about that, hoping some of the irreverence on the altar we sometimes see will be corrected. I hope so too.
    Cardinal Sarah will be a key figure to watch at the Synod on the Family in the next few weeks, so your review is very timely.
    God bless.

    1. I think you will like the book also. I had lunch today with a priest friend who I only see a couple times a year. He didn't know about Cardinal Sarah but was very excited when I described him, and plans to get the book ----- okay, I plan to GIVE him the book. ; - )

    2. My heart is cheering ! May God inflame the hearts of many who will get on board with Cardinal Sarah and support his initiatives. Thanks for encouraging our hearts with your book review. It is truly good news. I do believe God has been working behind the scenes to raise up mighty warriors of strong will and determination. I have been sensing the groundswell for some time now and have joined the fray on my knees. Your book review gives me new energy.

  2. It's kind of funny, Maryellen, in so many ways YOU encourage my heart. I had some thoughts this week, and am even now putting them into words, about how God is giving us opportunities to improve the world, even as it deteriorates. His plans are much larger than ours.