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Photo: Sarah Webb/ CatholicPhilly.com
Cardinal Sarah at the World Meeting of Families
By Joan Lamar (Apr 14, 2016)
With the release of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, there has been ample discussion about the family, and this discussion brought me back to a talk I heard at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last fall by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Cardinal Sarah's keynote address, "Light of the Family in a Dark World," was undeniably the best talk I heard that week, and his words and images about what God intended for humanity as it relates to the family remain in my memory months later.
He opened with two images from the creation narrative. First, the image of how God created light and how this light caused a brightness in the world. The second image he brought to mind was the creation of man in God's own image, in the image of the Most Holy Trinity. And the Trinity tells us something about the nature of God, Sarah said, and the nature of God is perfect love.
If we are made in God's image, we are made to be this community of perfect love, he continued. This community of perfect love is the family, and it is meant to have the same brightness as the light God created when He created the world.
Cardinal Sarah then recounted how man fell from grace and lost this likeness and brightness of that original image because Adam and Eve took the advice from the devil who advised them not to put limits on themselves. "This is original sin," he said, "and sin causes death. Sin causes ontological death, or death of being."
When we are in sin, "we don't believe God is love or that God loves us," he explained. We begin to separate ourselves from God and hide ourselves from God, Sarah added. And, separated from God, we begin to blame each other, and we even separate from one another.
This is what sin did to Adam and Eve, and this is what sin does to all of us, Sarah taught. We don't have to go back to the Book of Genesis to see this, he said. "At this moment, enter into your heart and ask the question, are these names of a biblical past or do they speak about my present life? Am I capable of doing this? Am I capable of speaking ill of another and morally killing him?" And he answered, "Yes, I am capable of sin. I am a sinner."
Sarah said sin weakens us and our lives begin to lose their meaning. He explained that we start to seek life and love through other things than our marriage and our family. We start to look for our hearts' deepest desires through money, through power, through pleasure, etc. But it is important to go back to the source of our separation from God because if we don't go back to the source — which is sin — nothing changes, he counseled. Sin is the reason for all of our troubles, he added, and repentance is the way back to new life, to a re-creation of that original image God intended.
But there is good news because God is mercy, and when we were dead in our own sins, He brought us to new life, Sarah said. This is why repentance is good news and why mercy is the beginning of healing for man and woman and the family. We need to see mercy as a gift from God, he added.
Then he proceeded to say that there are three elements from the kerygma that offer us this new life. First, that God so loved the world that He gave His own Son. In other words, the initiative was God's, and when He saw our condition, He did not remain indifferent. And by assuming our nature, God grants us access to the divine nature. Second, God allowed His Son to take our place for our sin. And third, by His Resurrection, Jesus opened up Heaven for us and carried our humanity to the Trinity and intercedes for us before the Father.
"This is a love to the end," Cardinal Sarah said. "And the Holy Spirit gives us the help to overcome what would be humanly impossible in family life – in sickness and in health, in wealth and in poverty, in old age — this is the love that He gives."
Cardinal Sarah said this love is stronger than any darkness. This is a salvific love, like Christ's love for us, to be poured out for one another. This kind of love, this community of love made in the image of the Trinity, is God's vision for the family. "The family is called to live this mission as relationship, and we become like God through a relationship of self-giving love."