Friday, December 7, 2012

Education in Pastoral Charity

St. Paul's Mystical Encounter with Christ

There's a never ending list of things that somebody needs to know before they are ordained.  I hear all of the time that the seminary should instruct priests on: Human resources, business, accounting, and management.  Allow me to add to that list: cooking, plumbing, furnace maintenance, real estate law, property management, decorating, psychiatry, social work, education, and investments.  I agree.  All of these things are great and important.  The problem is that if a priest studied all of these things (or studied some of these things more than we already did), you would only ordain guys who were in their 70's.  There just isn't time to do it all.  I'm not saying those things aren't good for a priest to study, but it's just not possible to do it all.

I think that if I could teach a course in the seminary, it would be called, "Heart of the Shepherd."  It would be a study of the great shepherds of the Church, beginning with Christ himself.  We could look at the apostles--especially St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Charles Borromeo, John Vianney, and perhaps some others and identify what it means to have a pastor's heart.

Pastoral Charity--the virtue unique to the priest--is what all of us who share in the priesthood are called to exercise.  This virtue is given to the priest for the sake of the flock.  When one reads, for instance, the Pauline Letters, you cannot but help to see the intense love that St. Paul has for the people entrusted to his care.  He is able to rebuke, admonish, encourage, and instruct all within a few lines of one another.  Without pastoral charity, rebuking and admonition are just harshness.  Without pastoral charity encouragement becomes pandering.  Without pastoral charity, instruction becomes vapid opining.

There are any number of things that priests need to keep learning about: culture, technology, various skills etc.  But, what all of us have to most learn occurs in our hearts.  We have to keep being educated in pastoral charity.  Without pastoral charity, the priest who wants only to be liked will preach only what will make him popular.  Without pastoral charity, the priest who wants only to be the smartest guy in the room will indiscriminately pontificate on theological truisms.  Without pastoral charity, the priest who wants worldly success will see his people as a stepping stone to greater things.  Without pastoral charity, the homilies will run dry.  Without pastoral charity, the priest will get lazy.

There are many things in life that we can learn through coursework and practice.  But being a shepherd is a grace given by Christ. Becoming educated as a shepherd requires that we beg him to give us a heart like his.  It requires that we learn from him and that we are configured to his own priestly heart.  When St. Paul taught, admonished, rebuked, instructed, wept, endured chains, preached, travelled, and so on, he did it as a shepherd after the heart of Christ.  He did those things with a love for the sheep.  A pastor's heart is one that rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn.  A pastor's heart longs for the return of the sinner, rejoices when the lost are found, knows when to encourage and when to admonish, and is attached not only to Christ the Good Shepherd, but is also attached to the sheep of his flock.

Those of us who are and who will be priests of the New Evangelization have a never ending list of things that we need to learn.  But, we should only learn those things as men who are continually living with a Shepherd's Heart. The most important thing we can do for the New Evangelization is to grow in Pastoral Charity.  We grow in Pastoral Charity by staying close to Christ, the Good Shepherd--especially in his Word and in the Eucharist.  But, we also grow in Pastoral Charity by opening our hearts to the people whom we serve.

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