“This kind of demon cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.” – Jesus, Matthew 17.21
Cardinal Robert Sarah only recently became known on the international stage. A holy, courageous man who can articulate the faith with love and clarity, Cardinal Sarah was a major player in the recent synod on the family and is currently prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican.
And in a new wide-ranging book length interview called God or Nothing, the 70-year-old cardinal reveals his secret weapon for spiritual battle: prayer and fasting – and lots of it.
When he first became an archbishop, he explains, he made a commitment to do a three-day retreat every two months. During these retreats, he completely fasts from both food and water, and takes with him only the basic supplies for Mass, the Bible, and other spiritual reading. He says this has helped him “to recharge and return to the battle.”
Of course, there’s nothing original about prayer and fasting: Jesus practiced both and exhorted his disciples to do the same.
But how many of us actually do it? It’s easy for all of us Christians to become lax in our spiritual practices. Cardinal Sarah’s example should serve as a powerful reminder for all of us of what’s most important. If a elderly cardinal can do it, the rest of us can do it, too!
In the book, he also expresses his gratitude to the French Holy Ghost missionaries who converted his family: “I owe my entrance into Christ’s family entirely to them.” He says they helped him understand that “Jesus alone truly gives us the gift of being born again.”
And he credits them with helping him to resist the allure of Marxism as a young man: “the humility of [the missionaries’ faith] was the strongest defense against the… aberrations of the revolutionary Marxist ideology of the State Party in Guinea.”
When it comes to contemporary questions about the relationship between doctrine and pastoral practice, the cardinal makes it clear he supports no separation:
The idea of putting Magisterial teaching in a beautiful display case while separating it from pastoral practice, which then could evolve along with circumstances, fashions, and passions, is a sort of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology.
I therefore solemnly state that the Church in Africa is staunchly opposed to any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and of the Magisterium… The Church of Africa is committed in the name of the Lord Jesus to keeping unchanged the teaching of God and of the Church.