Between rigorism and laxity

Photo by Bruna Gabrielle Fu00e9lix on

Greetings on this the Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Saint Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs
Readings: 1 Tm 4:12-16; PS 111:7-8, 9, 10; Lk 7:36-50
Notes: I promise to stop using so much of the Franciscan charism in my daily posts.
But they are so good!


It seems fairly true to say that almost every possible false doctrine has been proposed at some time or other in the history of the Church. The third century saw the resolution of a problem we scarcely consider—the penance to be done before reconciliation with the Church after mortal sin. Men like Cornelius and Cyprian were God’s instruments in helping the Church find a prudent path between extremes of rigorism and laxity. They are part of the Church’s ever-living stream of tradition, ensuring the continuance of what was begun by Christ, and evaluating new experiences through the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before.

First reading
Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands by the presbyterate. Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

When we teach the truth in purity our understanding of truth deepens and becomes more loving, compassionate and merciful. When I teach, I am changed by the word I transmit. When I listen, I understand why.

Responsorial Psalm
How great are the works of the Lord!

Alleluia Verse
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.

Gospel Portion
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

So often we struggle with the discernment between rigorism and laxity.
Certainly today’s gospel portion implies that, for the religious leaders of the day, the sinful woman’s life was simply unforgiveable.

But Jesus explains that those who know their problems and seek the face of God will not be denied.
The Pharisee does not know his sin, so it remains.

Bringing relief

When Pope John Paul II wrote Evangelium Vitae he had a twin messaging:

  1. The Law “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17); the entire Law of the Lord serves to protect life, because it reveals that truth in which life finds its full meaning.
  2. EV 26, 58 and 59 contain the roots of the pastoral response to abortion. This part of EV is woefully under-prescribed.

It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.

If we are stuck in the first point (the Law) we miss the second of the pastoral response.

Cross referencing Evangelium Vitae with Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110–118 we find the following connections of thought:

  • These below are common to both documents in about 30-45% of women respondents:
    • Convenience
    • Mother’s health
    • Father who directly pressures the mother
    • Fathers who abandon the mother
    • Psychological pressures
  • These below are noted in 75% of the responses by women:
    • Insufficient governmental support / social policy for work
    • Insufficient governmental support / social policy for financial
    • Insufficient governmental support / social policy for educational
    • Insufficient governmental support / social policy for dependent care

Many centres in support of life, or similar institutions, are sponsored by individuals and groups which, with admirable dedication and sacrifice, offer moral and material support to mothers who are in difficulty and are tempted to have recourse to abortion. Increasingly, there are appearing in many places groups of volunteers prepared to offer hospitality to persons without a family, who find themselves in conditions of particular distress or who need a supportive environment to help them to overcome destructive habits and discover anew the meaning of life (EV, 26).

Pope Francis recently added:

“Whenever the church, in order to defend a principle, didn’t do it pastorally, it has taken political sides,” Francis said. “If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.”

Don’t be a politician.

Peace be with you,
Deacon Gerry

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