Saturday, April 4, 2009

Being pastoral

Those of us in ministry have such a wonderful tool that helps us in our service of the Church. Being pastoral. In the easy decision and situations. And definitely in the hard ones too.

Being pastoral allows us to enter into the depth and context of every relationship and situation, and move toward uncovering a reality that can't be seen if we don't see the big picture.

It's kind of like someone stealing $5. Obviously, stealing $5 is morally unacceptable. If we don't go deeper, we'd resolve the situation by, justifiably, punishing the thief.

However, what if we were to discover that the person who stole was trying to buy milk for his needy, hungry child?

Being pastoral in action.

So, here's the question of the moment:

Is being pastoral compatible with the reality of the truths and doctrines that define Catholic life?

I mean it's a question of how do we manage the tension between the letter of the law (stealing is wrong) or the spirit of the law (but, physical hunger is wrong too). And which of the two is the right thing to choose, if we're desiring to be authentically Catholic?

There are so many situations - publicized and not - that we can see how this plays out: Teens and Confirmation, Notre Dame and President Obama, Pope Benedict and rogue priests, American Catholics and Church moral teaching.

Perhaps, in the interest of keeping peace in our faith communities (and not sparking a migration out of our communities), the current definition of being pastoral seems to rest in the spirit of the law. However, have we gone too far in forgetting, and even disregarding, the letter of the law?

In all situations, the choice between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law must be decided with and in love. But, is real love only offering a hug and forgiveness (and a gallon of milk)? Or does the Church and her Body need to do the things that are necessary to bring about conversion, even when it will most certainly cause anger and division?

Can being pastoral be more accurately defined as choosing to create good tension (caused by faithfulness to God's truth and trust that His way WILL prevail in spite of tremendous suffering) and bad tension (caused lack of love on the Church's part - and the ministers who serve the Church - in not going deep enough to uncover the reality of the conditions and circumstances of our brothers and sisters)?

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