"In the World but Not of the World: A Guide for Pastoral Ministry"

By Fr. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC
First published by Catholic Stand, Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1

Is it feasible to be pastoral in one’s outreach to others, bereft of Gospel Truth, Judeo-Christian moral code, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church? Can one exercise care for souls, devoid of the Revealed Word of God and the Transformative Grace of the Sacraments?

The central intent, as Christ offered His life in sacrifice on the cross, which He applies to those who have faith, the medicine of Salvation. On October 1, 1986, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a: “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, and asserted a core principle concerning the pastoral care of souls: “Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral”.  Only what persists in truth, can be charitable and of authentic benefit, to those in need of the pastoral care of the Church. The first thing we must consider is the word truth itself as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas:

[T]ruth is found in the intellect according as it apprehends a thing as it is; and in things according as they have being conformable to an intellect. This is to the greatest degree found in God. For His being is not only conformed to His intellect, but it is the very act of His intellect; and His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He Himself is His own existence and act of understanding. Whence it follows not only that truth is in Him, but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth (cf. Summa Theologica).

It is self-evident that human beings possess an intellect, the faculty of reasoning. It is also self-evident, through our experience of the world, that human beings possess varying degrees of apprehension, that is to say, some are granted the ability to grasp with ease what others have great difficulty comprehending.

Thus, the question arises, is it possible for brain tissue, flesh alone, to possess the faculty of reason or power of intellect, in and of itself, completely autonomous from any other source? The answer to this question is apparent and readily observable. As a person expires and the soul leaves the body, the inanimate body no longer possesses the faculty of reason or power of intellect. Therefore, this faculty or power must necessarily be derived from outside of itself, it must have as its origin, a being that is not only conformed to His intellect, but it is the very act of His intellect, and His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He Himself is His own existence and act of understanding. God does not require – anything outside of Himself for existence, He is existence itself, the source and origin of all that has been created, the source and origin of the faculty of reason and power of intellect. It follows not only that truth is in Him, but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth.

These fundamentals of truth, morality, and the revealed Word of God, are cited in the 2004 “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace“, as they relate to pastoral action:

The Church’s social doctrine provides the fundamental criteria for pastoral action in the area of social activity: proclaiming the Gospel; placing the Gospel message in the context of social realities; planning actions aimed at the renewal of these realities; and conforming them to the demands of Christian morality. A new evangelization of society requires first of all the proclamation of the Gospel: God saves every person and the whole person in Jesus Christ. It is this proclamation that reveals man to himself and that must become the principle for interpreting social realities. In proclaiming the Gospel, the social dimension is an [sic] essential and unavoidable but not the only dimension. It is a dimension that must reveal the unlimited possibilities of Christian salvation, even if it is not possible in time to conform social realities perfectly and definitively to the Gospel. No results attained, not even the most spectacular, can escape the limits of human freedom and the eschatological tension of every created reality (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).

Above all, the pastoral activity of the Church in the social sector must bear witness to the truth of the human person. Christian anthropology permits a discernment of social problems that will never find an adequate solution if the transcendent character of the human person, fully revealed in faith, is not safeguarded (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes).

The social action of Christians must be inspired by the fundamental principle of the centrality of the human person (cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra).

The need to promote the integral identity of the human person prompts Christians to propose those eminent values that govern every well-ordered and productive human society: truth, justice, love and freedom (cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris).

Pastoral activity in the social field must seek to ensure that the renewal of public life is linked to an effective respect for these values. In this way, the Church’s multifaceted evangelical witness seeks to promote the awareness of the good of each person and of all people as an unlimited resource for the development of every aspect of life in society ( cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrrine of the Church).

Proclaiming the Gospel in the social realm is both essential and unavoidable. And, it is vital to realize, that every human life is sacred, that each human life – possesses dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms:

Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know and love his creator’. He is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for himself’, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:

'What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good’.

Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead (CCC 356-357).

Man possesses dignity, first, in that, he is created by God in His image and likeness. That is, man possesses the faculty of reason or power of intellect, and due to this fact, he can know and love his creator. Therefore, in this knowledge, and through God’s grace, acting in accord with it, he participates in God’s own life.

And, proclaiming the Gospel message, is proclaiming Truth, these are not simply words printed on a page, but Jesus Christ Himself. God reveals man to himself in the Light of Christ, He bears witness to the truth of the human person and sets the faithful on a journey toward Eternal life. Christ did not assimilate the truths of His time – He is Truth Itself.

Thus, what can be said about the notion of accompaniment as regards pastoral care? How is it, that one should accompany individuals who will a lifestyle incompatible with the Gospel Truth, and have decided instead, to live outside of natural law and the Magisterial teachings of the Church? A phrase, which now seems commonplace in our time, is that we need to meet people where they are at. Here, there are two distinct trains of thought.

The First is that we, as the Catholic Church, need to meet those who approach the Church where they are at, that we accompany them as they navigate a process of conversion, shedding their sinful lifestyle, and repenting of their sins. Another way of stating this is that we meet people where they are at – not – leave them where they are at. Beckoning them always, to live their lives according to natural law, the Commandments and the Judeo-Christian moral code. Not because, Christ established the Faith and the Church, that its members relinquish personal freedom out of the fear of punishment. But that, by living out the Faith, according to the teachings of the Church, they might attain a measure of peace and happiness in this life. And God willing, be called to their Eternal reward in the next.

This does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that one will be free of suffering in this life, or, that every moment of one’s life, will be an exercise in Eternal bliss. And yet, we hear both the promise of Eternal life and Eternal happiness, affirmed in the Baltimore Catechism: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” (cf. Baltimore Catechism No. 1)

The second train of thought, is that we as the Catholic Church need to meet people where they are at, that we accept and encourage all people – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even if, where they are at, is completely incompatible with natural law, Church teaching, and the Judeo-Christian moral code. And, we are assured by some, that that this is what being pastoral means.

Part 2

A true Christian cannot, and should not, accept, affirm, or encourage, the commission of sin under any circumstance, let alone, under the guise of establishing community with those who have made the choice to live outside of the Gospel Truth.

Not only does St. Gregory the Great, speak of this, in chapter ten of Liber Regulae Pastoralis, but also, of the qualities one should possess – that he be entrusted with the pastoral care of souls:

That man, therefore, ought by all means to be drawn with cords to be an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all passions of the flesh; who disregards worldly prosperity; who is afraid of no adversity; who desires only inward wealth; whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain: one who is not led to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own; who through the bowels of compassion is quickly moved to pardon, yet is never bent down from the fortress of rectitude by pardoning more than is meet; who perpetrates no unlawful deeds, yet deplores those perpetrated by others as though they were his own; who out of affection of heart sympathizes with another’s infirmity, and so rejoices in the good of his neighbour as though it were his own advantage; who so insinuates himself as an example to others in all he does that among them he has nothing, at any rate of his own past deeds, to blush for; who studies so to live that he may be able to water even dry hearts with the streams of doctrine; who has already learnt by the use and trial of prayer that he can obtain what he has requested from the Lord, having had already said to him, as it were, through the voice of experience, While thou art yet speaking, I will say,” Here am I” (cf. Isaiah 58:9) {Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers}.

Here we must understand the pastoral care of souls belongs most properly to bishops, yet, the bishop can delegate the care of souls to parish priests. Deacons can be involved in pastoral care as regards the sick and dying, through visitations, prayer and bringing those who are close to death, viaticum. Bishops are also known as shepherds, just as the pastor of a parish is known as the shepherd of his flock. There are three degrees, or orders, bishop, priest, and deacon, and each receives this particular order, when he receives ordination in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Saint Gregory refers to the qualities a pastor or shepherd should possess, that he provide pastoral care to the faithful. Specifically, that a pastor lead by the example of his life, that he, live a life above reproach, that he, renounce all fear and trust in God. That he, seek out what is above, over the comforts and rewards of this life. That, through his compassion for others, he be quickly moved to pardon, without compromise to sound morals or behavior in pardoning what should not be pardoned. Rather, with charity, and sympathy, he should instruct and admonish all who have erred, according to – the truth, morality, and the teachings of the Church, out of love for his brothers and sisters in Christ.

With this in mind, it would seem fitting for those seeking entrance into the Catholic Church, to know beforehand what it stands for and expects of its members. In this regard, one is free to study the Faith and implore the Lord in prayer, for guidance concerning the many ways one’s life has strayed in error. Yet, if this seems unfamiliar or infeasible to an individual, perhaps this is where the true pastoral care of souls begins. The individual is free to seek the counsel of a priest, to ascertain where his or her life differs from that of the teachings of the Church. And, as a result, what must be reconciled, that one’s life conform more closely to the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thus, is there a model for true accompaniment? All one need do, is look to the Gospel of John:

Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father (John 10:7-21).

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

Christ is the Good Shepherd, and the Gate. If we long to be raised up to Eternal life, then we need to enter – this Gate. But, how is it that we are prepared to enter this Gate? By following after The Shepherd, by recognizing His Voice, and His Word, by renouncing our sins and remaining open to His grace.

False prophets and thieves come to steal, slaughter and destroy. The teachings of those who stray from the natural law, the revealed word of God, and the deposit of faith, those, who take what is profane and make it seem sacred, those, who would boldly proclaim error, and call it charitable, or pastoral, to them it is said:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

Jesus became Incarnate, that we might have life and have it more abundantly. The Good Shepherd laid down His life in sacrifice for our sins – the Loving Shepherd Who knew no sin – took upon Himself the sins of us all and offered His life as a ransom.

And, just as Christ offered His life in sacrifice, to protect and shield us from the pitfalls of sin, the bishop and ministerial priest must follow after the High Priest, Jesus Christ, in laying down their lives for their flocks, that the souls of men be saved. This is a great responsibility and cannot be evaded, nor accomplished, without the grace of God.

Thus, is the revealed word of God, prayer, and the sacraments, essential in the care of God’s people? All of these must remain at the core of the pastor’s life as he attends to the souls of the faithful. If these fail to remain central to his ministry, he is lost, because he has ceased relying upon God and His grace, and has decided to depend solely upon himself. This will not end well, perhaps, in exhaustion and burnout, if not God forbid, in the enslavement of sin, through addictions and the like.

The other sheep who do not belong to this fold, these also the Good Shepherd must lead. Does this mean, those living outside of the teachings of the Church? One would have to conclude, yes! Nonetheless, should this elicit a pastoral response which would accept and encourage sin, in those whom bishops and priests expect to lead toward a lasting conversion? Not at all! Rather, it is truly charitable, loving, and pastoral, to assist those living outside of natural law, the revealed word of God, and the deposit of faith, by fostering in them, a recognition of their need for conversion. This is a noble pursuit, and not, an insignificant matter. What is at stake is the Eternal consequence of the individual’s soul.

The fact is, Christ established the Church for the spiritual benefit of souls, not to appease those who would change or include teachings – the Lord did not set forth in the deposit of faith. Because, these so-called modernizations, would not serve to save the souls of men, or unite them to Himself in Eternal life.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen summarizes these realities in this antithesis – what is wise in the ways of the world is foolishness to God – and the Wisdom of God seems folly – to those who are wise in the ways of the world:

From a worldly point of view, Our Lord did the foolish thing. What would you think of a man before a court who might clear himself of a charge by a word, or a show of power, and yet refused to do so? Well, here is Our Lord going to the Cross and to death, simply because He will not do the worldly thing. Herod wanted one thing, and Christ gave him another. Herod wanted a trick—something to relieve the intolerable monotony of his sensuous life. He wanted fireworks, and He who claimed to be the Light of the World, offered him Light instead, the white flame without flicker of a Divine Personality, in the lantern of His sacred Humanity. That was foolishness! The folly of Omnipotence! And so Herod robed Him in the garment of a fool!

And from that day to this, the Church has been robed in the garment of a fool, because she never does the worldly thing (Moods and Truths).

The Church must always bear the taunt of being unmodern and unworldly, as Our Lord had to bear it before Herod. And Our Lord warned us that it would be the mark of the Divinity of the Church: ‘If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you…. If the world hate you, know you that it hath hated Me before you.’ In other words, ‘if you ever want to discover My religion on the face of the earth, look for the Church that does not get along with the world’.

The religion that gets on with the world, and is accepted by it, is worldly; the religion that does not get on with the world is other-worldly, which is another way of saying that it is divine.

The Church is very modern, if modern means serving the times in which we live, but she is not modern, if it means believing that whatever is modern is true. The Church is modern, if modern means that her members should change their hats with the seasons, and even with the styles, but she is not modern, if it means that every time a man changes his hat, he should also change his head, or in an applied sense, that she should change her idea of God every time psychology puts on a new shirt, or physics a new coat.

She is modern, if modern means incorporating the new-found wisdom of the present with the patrimony of the centuries, but she is not modern if it means sneering at the past as one might sneer at a lady’s age. She is modern, if modern means a passionate desire to know the truth, but she is not modern if it means that truth changes with the calendar, and that what is true on Friday is false on Saturday. The Church is modern if modern means progress toward a fixed ideal, but she is not modern if it means changing the ideal instead of attaining it.

The Church is like an old schoolmaster—the schoolmaster of the centuries—and as such she has seen so many students pass before her, cultivate the same poses, and fall into the same errors, that she merely smiles at those who believe that they have discovered a new truth; for in her superior wisdom and experience, she knows that many a so-called new truth is only a new label for an old error (Moods and Truths).

Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, is the author of Hagia Sophia: The Wisdom of God as Offered to the Modern World (Marian Press). 

Next column: "The Bane of Change."
Photo courtesy CatholicStand.com.


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