instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pastoral rules

I should finish my thought by saying that I unlearnedly and provisionally think of the word "pastoral" in the Catholic context as meaning something like "of or relating to the love of a pastor for those in his care."

This can be contrasted with the connotation wryly offered by Fr. Philip in a comment on the previous post:
In my seminary, "pastoral" was code for "how to get around the rules."
You can see how such a code sets up a mutual contradiction between "pastoral" and "obedient." Those who don't think much of obedience as a virtue shouldn't be sanguine, though, since they aren't always going to be in a position to decide which rules need to be gotten around. I suspect Fr. Philip would confirm that those who approved of the "how to get around the rules" code in his seminary in fact had quite a long list of rules the getting around of which they would not have considered very "pastoral." Certainly the pastoralists at the National Catholic Reporter do.

Still, I think there is a certain tension between true pastoral love and following the rules. It is pastoral neither to ignore those rules that are contrary to the desires of those in one's care, nor to ignore those desires that are contrary to the rules. As always, virtue lies in the mean. In this case, I'd say it's a matter of understanding how the rules relate to the good of those in one's care -- which, of course, is the end the pastor seeks in loving them. To put it another way, the rules are a means to the good of the flock, but the rules aren't a good to be sought for its own sake.