Many people have commented to me – and of course it has been covered extensively on the blogosphere – of the Pope’s Chrism Mass homily. See here for Kate Edward’s comments, and here for Fr Z.’s comments.
Yes, I think it is wonderful that the Pope has taken on the Austrian rebel priests. But I also note that these priests have wiped off the criticism as so much water off a duck’s back.
It just so happens that, in preparation for my course on Kings and Prophets, I have been reading James Kugel on the prophet Samuel and his relationship with King Saul. The passage in question is 1 Samuel 15 – a disturbing passage in many ways to modern ears, but one which concerns obedience to the Lord, even where the ‘common sense’ approach would demand otherwise. Saul makes all kinds of excuses about why he did not follow the command of the Lord, but Samuel will have none of it. Reading the passage together with the Pope’s Chrism mass homily and the Austrian priests’ excuses for why his comments do not apply to them is very instructive.
A couple of reflections:
1) The pope outlines a series of ways in which we can determine whether movements in the modern age are actually “of God”: “This new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.” Do you spot the ‘odd one out’? Yes, faith, hope and love – AND obedience. To be obedient is true ‘radicalism’. To be ‘disobedient’ is passe. Ho hum. You want to be radical? Then be obedient.
2) The pope goes on to discuss something actually authentic and essential to his whole theology: the anthropology of body and soul. Under the topic “animarum zelus” (the ‘zeal for souls’) he discusses the body/soul existence of human beings that has been central to his theology since at least the time when he wrote “Eschatology“. But curiously I was just reflecting on this myself only a few days ago, when I asked myself, “What makes the difference between your average ‘run of the mill’ Catholic parish priest and a really ‘on fire’ priest?’. The answer I provided myself was “A zeal for the salvation of souls”. Now, I know that sounds hopelessly outdated, but in this homily Pope Benedict defends exactly this outlook. A priest who has the “animarum zelus” will not be a rebellious priest, but one who seeks at every turn to call the people of God back to God in Christ Jesus in a spirit of repentance, seeking wholeness and well being – no less than human flourishing!
I commend the pope’s homily to you for full reading.