The Church’s Pastoral Ministry and Spirituality
"The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently." Pope Francis, Wednesday Audience, September 18, 2013
I am compelled to comment. As a priest and pastor, having been deeply immersed into pastoral ministry all my life, I find our Holy Father's words here challenging, welcome, fresh, and full of love. As Catholics, we are delighted with the teachings of the Church as they have been communicated and revealed by the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries, beginning of course with Christ's education, the Gospels, later the pastoral letters, and in fact, the whole of scripture. Over the centuries, new revelations of the scriptural and traditional fundamentals have come to light for us as God has revealed them. I always found that to be very excellent. The fact that revelation continues to unfold even into our own time tells me that God is with us in spirit and truth! It all makes beautiful sense to me. It always has. Our doctrines of the Faith are so full of light and truth and purpose and meaning and importance for our spiritual life and salvation. The Doctrines of the Church are indeed Christ Himself, revealed and unfolding for us the great Mystery of Faith which we proclaim at every Mass! They are the glue that holds it all together, the purpose for our continuing journey, the food that keeps us alive and grounded, the communication of God to His Church that gives it all the most profound and most significant meaning.
The more I reflect on our Holy Father's statement here, the more I love it. Indeed, it reveals the profoundly religious nature and personality of our Pope Francis. He always refers to faithfulness to the Traditions and Teachings in about every talk he gives. Therefore, his statement above does not lessen or belittle the Church's doctrines. He invites all pastoral ministers and priests (you and me) to remember another critical dimension to being Catholic - love and serve. Loving service is not a remedial catechesis or a coldhearted academic recitation of doctrines out of context or out of wrote. Our doctrines keep us on track, give us a clear purpose, even create a goal for us to reach. They are not individual, separate, stone-written Commands with no pastoral implications but are followed by us all like a bunch of robots.
I am amused by his use of the word "disjointed" in his statement. I love it! I have often said what my experience has told me for a very long time as a priest, that people today are ignorant of the Faith (its Teachings, Doctrines, etc.) and do not seem to be able to "connect-the-dots" anymore. Today, people fail to see the "connection" in the seven Sacraments, in the Catechism, in Catholic moral positions, and even in the Scriptures. It may well be because we see the Church as many "disjointed" doctrines that don't apply. I hope that is not the case. So I think Pope Francis is trying to show us that the doctrines, as crucial as they are and will remain, are also like beautiful, elegant, beautiful cushions to fall back on and enjoy as we do the ministry in our day-to-day lives - loving and serving. Every single Sacrament to be celebrated by us has requirements and obligations for us to fulfill so that we will experience Christ as He wills to be received and experienced. Each one relates to and connects to the other. Our Doctrines support the experience through offering knowledge and wisdom for our understanding. Therefore, the Pope seems to be telling us that pastoral ministry is not a classroom drill session pounded into people's heads and lives like a book review or entrance exam or interview that must be passed first. However, an excellent, freeing encounter with a loving, caring, and present God who bestows that love and cares through our pastoral use of all the gifts at our disposal to make Him known and loved, experienced, and felt.