August 23, 2010

The Love of God and Pastoral Care

Thomas Aquinas's commentary on John appears in the Office of Readings today, for those who didn't take the option of celebrating Rose of Lima, or for us Capuchins who didn't take the option of celebrating Conrad of Offida.

This line caught me: "Nobody is a good shepherd (pastor) unless by charity he is made one with Christ and a member of the true Shepherd."

It is the love of God that makes pastors, and empowers someone to give pastoral care. To me, this has two senses. First, anyone who dares to be a minister of God has to first know himself as loved by God. Of course this is a spiritual ideal. Everyone has some admixture of nonsense and distraction in this. Our own self-hates and the wrong beliefs we have been taught about ourselves by others (passing on their own negativity to us) sometimes get projected onto God. Part of our prayer must be our ascetical effort against this sort of thing. It might be subtle or even a secret to us, but if we, even in small ways, believe that God disdains or even hates us, it will come out and get passed on in our pastoral care of others.

Second, we must strive to purify the encounter of our heart and mind with others. We might find someone to be interesting or tedious, enjoyable or annoying, but we have to learn to bracket such things interiorly if we want to be ministers of genuine pastoral care. In my job before I was in the Order most of my coworkers were young women. Moment to moment cooperation made a big difference in how smoothly we could get through a day. Once I was examining myself on my charity, on how freely I could be helpful to others. I realized that I was more attentive and helpful to the coworkers I found pretty. Realizing that I had uncovered a subtle unchastity, I asked my spiritual director about it. He said something like this, which was very helpful: 'Whether or not you find a particular person attractive is largely an accident of your own history and your arbitrary prejudices. It's all a dead end in the face of the truth: each person is a unique and unrepeatable creation, loved by God beyond what we can imagine. In other words, they are all beautiful and lovable to God, regardless of how you might feel. Get that into your mind and heart and eyes, learn to view others as God sees them, and let it free you from the narrowness of your own particularity.'


Greg said...

Such a tribute to Francis, as it is this — seeing the divine in every creature, even the leper — that makes him stand out as a mentor, as someone who reminds us to open our hearts at every moment.

Brother Charles said...


More and more for me it comes back to a very basic question, Why did God make the creation? The scripture tells us that he did, but not directly about motivation. The more I think about it, he must have wanted us to share in his love and delight. The more we look at ourselves, each other, and the creation through God's view, the happier and more peaceful we are. When we don't, we tend to sin and make ourselves (and each other) miserable.

pennyante said...

Very very helpful... thanks for this article... We have a new priest who is very very different from our previous pastor. I will be working closely with him and I have discovered that I must pray for patience. I also must do as you have written... to remember he is also infinitely loved by God and to do likewise...

Please don't add this as a comment. Simply wanted to say "thank you"