Friday, April 6, 2012

Rigorism or Laxism?

"Is the alternative in pastoral ministry rigorism or laxism? Everything goes - or nothing goes?"

That was how Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn framed the question in his Chrism Mass homily in vienna's historic St. Stephen's Cathedral this past Monday. Lest he be thought - eminent scholar that he is - to be speaking about the challenges of pastoral ministry in an abstract way detached from those neuralgic situations we increasingly encounter in Western societies, situations in which "the order of creation and its binding interpretation by Jesus himself" seem increasingly incomprehensible to more and more people in a world which seems to suffer from a "lack of awareness of the need for salvation," Schoenborn specifically cites three such situations in his homily.

Anyone actively involved in pastoring readi;y recognizes the reality to which Vienna's aristocratic Archbishop refers. Where some respond with rigorism, others appear dangerously lax. At a Chrism Mass, a bishop gets to speak directly to his priests. So the Cardinal pointedly asked: "Are we ourselves, the shepherds, or in other words, is everyone of us convinced that this Biblical perspective is the true perspective, not some distant, abstract ideal but something magnificent, life-affirming, life-giving? If we ourselves regard all of this as an illusion, then we can't help others to 'come to know the truth'."

(It was just this challenge that motivated my 2005 study project at St. George's House, Windsor Castle. Building on an idea from a contemporary Jesuit moral theologian [James T. Bretzke, A Morally complex World: engaging Contemporary Moral Theology, The Liturgical Press, 2004], I considered the increasingly widespread contemporary reality of a kind of "cultural invincible ignorance" to examine what range of responses might be beneficial in such circumstances).

Cardinal Shoenborn's homily deserves to be read in full. It can be found in English at:

It should be read together with yesterday's beautiful Chrism Mass homily given by the Holy Father (Schoenborn's former Professor), speaking to some 1600 priests concelebrating with him in St. Peter's Basilica:

I've attended numerous Chrism Masses over the years and heard and read lots of homilies composed for that occasion. these two are undoubtedly among the very best - a fitting introduction to the upcoming "Year of Faith."

No comments:

Post a Comment