Doctrinal orthodoxy and pastoral charity PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 April 2016 14:36



They are not supposed to be in conflict with each other, though we have to admit that in real life there is some kind of tension between the two. This should not come as a surprise or as a big, insoluble problem, because this is as much part of our human condition as the tension between our thoughts and actions, between what is ideal and what is the reality on the ground.

We have to learn how to live with this fact of life and do our best, with God’s grace and our docility to the authority of our Church leaders, to put them together. What we should try to avoid is to emphasize one at the expense of the other, doctrinal orthodoxy over pastoral charity and vice-versa.

This is going to be an ongoing affair, a never-ending work in progress. New insights, new ways will always come as new developments, challenges and issues arise.

Before this reality, we should not over-react no matter how right we think we are or how wrong we think the others are. We just have to help one another, quick to engage everyone in an abiding dialogue that is constructive and marked with patience and clear love for God and souls.

Especially these days when many people, mostly the young, find themselves in very complicated situations due to the new developments that are not matched by a proper progress of people’s spiritual and moral life, we all need to be most delicate in striking the balance between doctrinal orthodoxy and pastoral care.

Many of them are confused and practically lost precisely because they are not with Christ. They simply depend on their own instincts, their own perceptions and estimation of things that can only do and cover so much.

I suppose what is ultimately needed here is true sanctity, not the officious kind that’s good only on the outside but is empty inside, or as Shakespeare would put it, like “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

What is needed is the sanctity that knows how to be with Christ in a living way, identifying himself with Christ’s sentiments, his will and ways. It’s the sanctity of the Good Shepherd who knows how to look for the lost sheep, the sanctity of the paschal lamb who is offered as a sacrifice.

In concrete terms, priests when giving homilies should avoid resorting to bombast and condescending lectures. The sensitivities of the people, especially the young, have changed drastically. No one wants to be shouted upon, much less, scolded, and given lectures full of “sound and fury” only to be given a very basic, generic reminder.

The messages given in homilies, while on the whole simple and with the distinctive mark that it comes from Christ and not just from the priest, should be more nuanced and more attuned to the complex fabric of today’s world. Simple should not be mistaken for simplistic. A world of difference separates them.

And while some literary devices and rhetorical sparklers may be used, good judgment is truly needed to distinguish what can truly foster the transmission of the gospel message from what is mere gimmickry and theatre.

Yes, it’s true that the shepherd, if he is truly good, should go all the way to even smell like the sheep, as Pope Francis once said. He should be able to fraternize with everyone, including those who are far from God and the Church, ever showing compassion and understanding without compromising the truth.

But he should see to it that the people get convinced that with his mere presence alone, not to mention, his words and behavior, the presence and the words of Christ are somehow felt.

Remember what Christ said to his apostles: “He who hears you hears me, and he that despises you despises me, and he that despises me despises him who sent me.” (Lk 10,16) This is a tremendous standard to reach, but with God’s grace and our all-out effort, we can abide by it.

Yes, we need a never-ending formation for this, immersing ourselves in God’s word and ways as well as in the very lives and conditions of real people in the real world. Constant study and prayer is needed as well as continuing monitoring of developments and accompanying of people in their earthly journey.

We should never think that we already know enough of doctrinal orthodoxy and pastoral charity. We should never forget that we are dealing always with mysteries even if we are right in the middle of things.