Saturday, November 01, 2014

What Is "Pastoral Theology," Anyway?

You hear a lot about how we need to be "pastoral" these days. What does it mean? Well, first know that the root of the word means "shepherd" in the language(s) from whence it came. At the most basic level in theology, being "pastoral" means to shepherd people toward God, who loves all of us more than we do.

The problem is that some people think "pastoral" means that we should hide the truth, or excuse sin, because the life God calls us to is too "hard" for some people. Or that our revealed truths are nice in theory, but not in practice. I couldn't imagine anything more wrong, or ultimately, more hateful.

Still others think that being "pastoral" is a cowardly set of actions, seeming to forget that our God will punish all evil and sin that has not been pardoned with unquenchable fire in the pit of Hell. They believe that we should simply preach the Catechism, and admonish whoever we find the same way: "You're probably on the way to perdition for these reasons, and moreover, Catechism XXXX says...etc."

Firstly, God really is Love. "A great high priest, whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me," as the mostly-true hymn says. We can't even possibly belabor this point; there is no way. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it. The most unchanging and most important truth in the entire cosmos is that one. God is Love. Sit with that awhile; ponder the ways and times that you do not believe it. These are the places that God needs to touch, to heal. Out of our unbelief flows our sins; out of His mercy flows our hope and salvation. I think most of the preachers of judgment today have no real idea of this Love. True love and concern for souls would rather sacrifice one's own place in Heaven than see others judged: "For I myself wish that I could be cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren..." says St. Paul. Do you really hear this from people? I confess, I don't love this way. Not even close. But it's a thing to which I aspire, by God's grace.

Secondly, what if you didn't know anything? Sure, you might be a rambling crazy-face, with an intuitive notion that things you've done and things done to you were subhuman some way. You might even yearn for better. But I'm guessing that at some early point you would have no idea where to even begin. What's a catechism? What's "hypostatic union"? Who is Moses, and most importantly, why does any of it matter?

Believe it or not, not all of us come equipped with theology degrees; we don't toss out fancy words, on the whole. We're just people. And now it's time for the definition. Get ready.

Pastoral theology is the science of translating the truths of God into words that can not only be understood, but so that the saving communion between God and each person can be cultivated. God desires to live in us, and through us, but no two are the same. If you speak the same way to everyone, not only will you not be understood, but the seed of God will not grow in some hearts. You will make copies of yourself, and not of Christ. Realizing this, I'd like to hear why some of you don't see a need to be "pastoral".

They say that the most recent Council was a "pastoral Council". What does that mean? I'll tell you. It means the bishops and the Holy Father(s) realized that all of humanity had become clueless, rambling crazy-faces, falling into a bottomless pit of sin and ignorance. You don't boom Thou Shalt Nots from the mountain in a situation like that. You've got to put everybody on the Rock, put up a picnic table, and start from the beginning. If you love people, that's what you do. The Grand Story hasn't gone anywhere; it hasn't changed. But we've changed. We've gone after the lost sheep, no matter how dark it gets, and how long it takes.

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