Being a pastor is more like being a jazz musician than it is being say an engineer. All three of these occupations require a great deal of technical skill to be sure. But the pastor, like the jazz musician, is often called upon to improvise on a theme more than, like the engineer, apply a theory to a problem. This is all to say that pastoral ministry is more art than science.
Over the last 10 years or so I’ve worked with communities in transition. What I’ve notice is that typically problems arise in the parish when someone—it needn’t be the pastor—takes what we might call an engineering approach to the life of the congregation. They have a theory and they are going to fit the community into its framework.
This is also something I see frequently as a spiritual director and confessor. When I talk with people about the different ways they go off track in their prayer lives, at work or with their family and friends the source of their suffering is that life just isn’t working out according to [their] plan. Problems in living arise when life becomes a project to be completed or a problem to be solved and not the other way around. When I lose a living sense of awe in the face of reality, or when I don’t see my life as a mystery to be lived, this is when life becomes a problem.
How then do we response to these situations whether as pastors, as friends or even in our own lives?
The literature on priestly formation—I’m thinking here especially of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (Give Us Shepherds) a document should be studied carefully by anyone interested in forming Christian pastors—discusses the four dimension of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. If you’re a priest or someone concerned about priests and haven’t read it, I’d recommend you click on the link and do so and then come back here. In my opinion, it is one of, if not the, finest treatments on the subject available.
In the next series of post I want to look with you at each of these dimensions of priestly formation beginning in the next post with the dimension of human formation what John Paul II calls “the basis of all priestly formation” and what we might call the priest’s formation as a morally decent and integrated human being. We will then turn to the spiritual formation, of the importance of the priest knowing and accepting who is and is called to be in Jesus Christ. Along with self-knowledge and self-acceptance we will see here the importance of a mode of self-expression that is consonant both with the person of the priest AND his role in the Church.
Human and spiritual formations however are only the foundation for priestly service. While good in themselves they priest must also have an adequate intellectual and pastoral formation. Brief, he must not only know and believe what the Church (intellectual formation), he must also be able to express that in a manner that draws those around him into a deeper communion with Christ and, in Christ, with their neighbors.
A quick note, this will stay at the top of my blog until the series is finished, so please scroll down for new posts!
So next up the human formation of the priest.
Priestly Formation: A Suite in Four Parts:
Part III: To Believe & to Know: Intellectual Formation
Part IV: Uniting All Things in Christ: Pastoral Formation