Monday, October 13, 2014

Following Jesus' example of pastoral action as the Good Shepherd

In the midst of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there have been some questionable notions that have been promoted by some Church leaders as “pastoral.” One is the so-called “pastoral” technique of “graduality,” in which certain moral obligations are, in a sense, relaxed with the expectation that the person whose dedication is lacking will be moved by the outreach of the Church. Another presumed notion of “pastoral” action calls Church members to avoid language that is precise because its use could be inflammatory, thereby supposedly shutting down any opportunity of showing the merciful love of God. In the name of “pastoral sensitivity” the faithful have even been cautioned against bringing up certain topics, such as contraception, abortion, and homosexual behavior, because these issues are said to prevent the Church from reaching out. These notions about how the Church should proceed in relating to its body reveal a fundamental flaw in the understanding of what “pastoral” means.
Pastoral action is rooted in the image of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd. “I know my flock, and they know me,” (Jn. 10:14). This is why the calling of the Extraordinary Synod on the family is a good action. The Holy Father, as the head of the Body of Christ acts as Christ. He desires to know his flock. This is a great good, but it is also a risk in our modern time, since so many of the sheep are misguided and a great number of the shepherds have decided to follow where the sheep decide to go. Good shepherds know that they must stand firm and guide the sheep away from the wolves and thickets in which their horns can get tangled. Shepherds should know from years of experience what the sheep need to be guided and protected. Otherwise, the herd thins very quickly.

Pastoral action is love and law, united perfectly. To love is to will the good of the other. God wills that we have all the goodness He has to offer, and He has made us to desire the love that only He can give. Through the study of Christian anthropology, philosophers and theologians have been able to come to a deeper understanding of the essence of the human person. Humans innately desire union with God, union that can only come from following His laws that He has written on every human heart and has further defined through the authority of the Church. In softening these teachings for the sake of “reaching out,” Church leaders risk delaying the union that the Holy Spirit seeks for a great many souls. They become the shepherds who allow unruly sheep to lead the rest off a cliff.

Pastoral action is grounded in true and quiet humility that seeks only to draw focused attention to the matter at hand. Its fruit is clarity and union among those who honestly seek holiness. It does not promote unity for the sake of doctrine, but it rests peacefully in holy division (Mt. 10:34), always welcoming those who are touched by a moment of grace, by an event of transformation, by a tearful recognition of one’s own sinfulness. Church leaders who constantly chatter, using terms and phrases that are ambiguous and misleading, become accessories to unholy division, causing the faithful to doubt and argue among themselves, and further blocking the process of true conversion by confusing the message of the Gospel. They become shepherds who give unclear signals to the sheep, causing them to scatter in every direction, according to their own misguided instincts.

There are a good number of pastors, true shepherds, who have been so dedicated and disciplined in guiding their sheep that the sheep themselves have become conditioned to function despite the occasional bad shepherd that comes their way. These sheep know to stay out of the thorny bushes, they can smell a wolf coming from miles away, and they know where to go for nourishment. Thankfully, a good number of these sheep exist, but they are becoming weary of steering their misdirected brothers and sisters away from the shepherds who have these new ideas about shepherding. Strong leaders, clear teachers, and humble servants to the truth of the Gospel are needed in this modern time. Please, dear pastors, don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that shepherding has changed all that much from the time of when the Good Shepherd walked this earth.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great insight: "This is a great good, but it is also a risk in our modern time, since so many of the sheep are misguided and a great number of the shepherds have decided to follow where the sheep decide to go."

    Here in the US this is a common malady - it comes from thinking that the Church is a democratic institution, and that we should 'give the people what they want.' But Mother Church should not give her children what they want, she should give her children what they need. You also point out that ambiguity leads to ambiguity not clarity. Nice post.