Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Reclaiming the Term 'Pastoral'

Paul Zummo had a piece up at The American Catholic, "Being Pastoral Doesn’t Mean Watering Down the Faith", which touched on a point that I've been thinking about for a while:
And that, my friends, gets right to the heart of much that is wrong with the Church. Too many of our shepherds are under the impression that being pastoral means being soft and timid. Cardinal Kasper’s vision of being pastoral is placating the sinner rather than leading the sinner towards righteousness. This is in fact the very opposite of being pastoral. A shepherd of the Catholic Church is charged with leading his flock towards its eternal reward in paradise. There are many tools at the shepherd’s disposal, and I am not suggesting that there is any one right way. Certainly haranguing those of his flock who have strayed may not be the best method of getting them back into the fold. But telling them that they’re just spiffy as they march headlong towards the cliff is also inappropriate.
It seems to me that for far too long the term "pastoral" has been hijacked by a conception of the term which is divorced from the duty of a pastor, which is to shepherd souls. Pastoral has come to mean "nice" or "accommodating". As such, it's been embraced by those who reject Church doctrines (particularly those dealing with morality) and is increasingly rejected by those who take doctrine seriously.

You can kind of see how we got here. If a shepherd's duty is first to find his sheep where they are, and then to gently lead them back to where they belong, scaring the sheep or treating them so roughly they come to fear the shepherd is an obstacle. In human terms, a pastor will find it harder to lead people to God's truth if he doesn't understand where they currently are and manage to speak to them in ways that they don't instantly reject. He has to have a certain sensitivity to their feelings, and that often means not offending them. (Of course, one of the difficult things in these days of "I'm a good person" is that to many people simply suggesting that something they have done is wrong is in and of itself offensive. And clearly, if he's going to lead someone to a Christian understanding of sin and repentance a pastor is going to have to overcome that conception.)

However, too often people commit the fallacy of assuming that if being pastoral involves in part not offending someone such that he closes his mind to the faith, that therefore anything which avoids offense much be a "pastoral" approach. And once one has committed this fallacy, the obvious easy way to not offend someone is never to tell him that he's doing anything wrong.

Ditching Catholic teaching is not pastoral, because it fails to bring people to the truth. If we believe that God is truth and that we find our truest happiness in following God and achieving eventual union with Him in heaven, then glossing over or trying to change Church teaching is arguably the least pastoral thing we can do. Figuring out how to present the truth to people in ways that will actually get through to them and bring them closer to God may be more harder than telling them they're they're already "basically good people" and that's good enough (because what kind of mean God would say "be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect"?) But that is what being pastoral actually is. If shepherding simply meant leaving the sheep to wander into whatever dangers they wanted, we wouldn't actually need shepherds.


Anonymous said...

A few, unsorted jobs of real life pastores (historically):

-Breaking the skulls of wolves and other predators.

-Culling the herd of old/deranged cattle that attack/kill younger members of the herd.

-Living with the herd, exposed to elements and dangers of the wild.

-Finding scarce resources so the animals don't die.

If sheep marched dutifully to food and water, avoided or scared off predators, and inerrantly returned home to be sheared/butchered on their own, there would be no use for a pastor. The most famous shepherd I know claimed to have killed both a lion and a bear when he was a teen.


Paul Zummo said...

Thanks Darwin, and well said. As I indicated, there is a wider cultural aversion to speaking hard truths, and it is very much the opposite of being pastoral.

Anonymous said...

Pastors are also fathers and what good father allows their child to go on doing the wrong thing and ignore it? The type of father who does that raises selfish children who cause problems for everyone around them. A good father knows how to say no, knows how to say that's not good for you, knows how to say you've got to stop doing that even if you like doing it. I don't know whether the Holy Father is being misinterpreted, but I keep getting this sick feeling when I see some of the things he's quoted as saying because they seem to be more in line with unfaithful bishops and priests than with what the CCC teaches, or what's always and everywhere been taught by the Church. I want to like him, I really do, but much of the time the things he's quoted as saying make me really worry. Why is it that he's so quick to discipline the Franciscans and so slow to discipline the German bishops. The Franciscans only wanted to exercise the rights that Pope Benedict said that they had, while the German bishops want to tear apart the whole fabric of the Church's teaching on marriage simply so that they don't lose more funding.

Banshee said...

That was the moral of last week's My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode. ("It Ain't Easy Being Breezies." Uneven, slow starter, very bizarre in places and very tender in others, but ultimately pretty good on pointing out that enabling people when they're doing stuff that will harm them is not a good idea.)

Felix said...

To put it aphoristically, being pastoral used to be about helping people become good but is now about helping them feel good.