Defining Pastoral Care And Liturgical Renewal

Themes: Biblical, Christian Year, History, Pastors, Scholar, Theology

Pastoral care is often thought to involve one-on-one listening and counseling. Yet this is only one setting where pastoral sensitivity and guidance may be shown. For genuine pastoral care involves living and expressing God’s presence in all aspects of life, including pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and liturgical ministry. Worship leaders can effectively develop their pastoral sensitivity by considering themselves pastoral care-givers.

Whatever work we do in liturgy, we must begin to identify it with the work of pastoral care. Whether we are a leader of renewal, a member of the assembly, or a servant of it—presider, music minister, eucharistic minister, cantor, hospitality minister, altar server, environmental minister, lector, cross-bearer—we are involved in pastoral care. In all these roles, we will accomplish nothing if we are not first and always centered in God. A look at pastoral care will provide us with the framework to do just that.

In whatever we do for and with each other, there is a specific, underlying essence that is shared by all. St. Paul names this essence clearly: “?There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God accomplishes all of them in everyone?” (1 Cor. 12:4–6). This essence is present in all ministry work, including pastoral and liturgical ministry, spiritual direction, and pastoral counseling. The appropriation of the servant role transcends any specific ministry; we are all called to love and serve in whatever capacity we are able. All ministry has this underlying essence, and an unifying goal as well: increasing human wholeness centered in the Spirit. Howard Clinebell believes that “?each function (ministry) can be an instrument of growth and healing, a channel of pastoral caring.?”

In reviewing definitions of pastoral care, many authors seem to classify it as a separate area of ministry, on a horizontal plane that includes spiritual direction and pastoral counseling, liturgical and pastoral ministry. But I contend that pastoral care is not something separate, above, or side by side other ministries. It is not another type of ministry. Pastoral care is the awareness and expression of the essence of God that permeates and informs all areas of ministry.

When we understand ourselves to be pastoral care-givers in whatever we do, we must be guided by this essence, the presence of God. This understanding also recognizes the initiating action of God. When this presence and action are both tacitly and overtly expressed in and through the components of pastoral care—community, mutuality, inclusiveness, vision, orientation toward growth, support/challenge, and reflection—Christian qualities and virtues will become increasingly visible in our work. St. Paul sees these qualities and virtues very clearly:

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Educate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another … Whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:12–17)

This passage sums up some of the most important components of pastoral care. An understanding of these components and their corresponding Christian virtues and fruits needs to be brought into all of our efforts of liturgical renewal. We also need to be willing to bring them into our own lives. When we clothe ourselves with the mind of Christ, which is what Paul is describing in this passage, we become more effective ministers, be it in one-on-one relationships or in working with the community.

Community and Covenantal Promise

When we gather, we form not just a community, but a community in covenant with God. A deeply rooted sense of covenant brings a rich dimension to community, whether it be as large as a five hundred member assembly that has come together to worship or as small as two persons, who meet for spiritual direction or counseling. God’s promise and invitation to us to be the covenant community is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures: “?I will sprinkle clean water upon you … I will give you a new heart … I will put my spirit within you … you shall be my people and I will be your God?” (Ezek. 36:25–28).

The Christian Scriptures broaden the vision of this community: “?Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst?” (Matt. 18:20). Within community is the promise of renewal in the real presence of Jesus. It is the will of God that forms this community; it is the presence of Christ that guides it; it is the gift of the Spirit that empowers it.

Mutuality and Humility

According to Robert W. Hovda, “?The church teaches and shares its corporate wisdom through many different ministries. But the church is also taught by the child, the adult, the neophyte … Mutuality is a characteristic of every ministry.?” No ministry is one-directional. In virtually every situation, at some level and in some way, everyone is ministered unto. “?In the measure you give, you shall receive, and more besides?” (Mark 4:24). The person who is giving care has a need to be of help, a need that is met through those in their care. Beyond basic needs, there is an entire level of exchange: those who teach are taught; those who listen, learn; those who give, receive. This sense of mutuality gives birth to the humility that Paul asks of us. It also gives birth to a healthy respect and appreciation of the other that often gets lost when we are feeling overwhelmed by the demands of our ministry. It counters the burnout and frustration that are often experienced on many different levels.

Inclusiveness and Reconciliation

Our Scriptural tradition clearly articulates the sense of inclusiveness that we should carry into all of our ministry work. “?There is but one body and one spirit, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and works through all, and is in all?” (Eph. 4:4–6). There is no mention of exclusion for any reason here, no mention of a system which judges some as less worthy of invitation.

Our ability to openly include and accept is possible only when there has been reconciliation, only when we have been able “?to bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances we might have.?” As we receive this forgiveness and reconciliation, we learn to be more forgiving and reconciling. Barriers and impediments to relationship fall away. We are moved to accept and then to include. Jesus’ own example of inviting the most lowly to share at table with him can serve as our own example. “?If Jesus ate with sinners as a witness to God’s offer of reconciliation, how can his Church do any less??” (Regis Duffy, Real Presence [New York: Harper and Row, 1982]). We must “?reach out creatively to the ‘?unacceptable?’ and the ‘?undesirable?’?” as part of our call to serve.

Vision and Prophecy

A faith-inspired vision of Christ living in each of us is crucial in our work. This vision is neither complicated nor sophisticated. Its very simplicity baffles most. In the words of St. Paul, “?The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me?” (Gal. 2:20).

How different we would feel, how different would our actions be if we could see this potential and be fed by that vision. The vision of community is one of the body of Christ: “?members may be concerned for one another. If one members suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy. You then, are the ‘?body of Christ?’?” (1 Cor. 12:25–27).

As pastoral care-givers within liturgical ministry, we have a responsibility to treat each member of the community according to that vision. When we greet each person, it is Christ whom we greet as well. “?God is not to be found in isolated individualism then, but in others,?” writes Walter Conn in Christian Conversion (New York: Paulist Press, 1984). To treat the community as the body of Christ will increase our reverence of and respect for the group which has come together in Jesus’ name. The vision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we treat each other as Christ-like, we become more Christ-like. The prophetic call that we are to become Christ-like and to become the body of Christ achieves reality for an ever-increasing number of people. In so doing, we spread our faith in a subtle, self-fulfilling way.

Growth and Transcendence

Orientation toward growth and transcendence enables us to view the people with whom we work as people in search of a different way of being. This orientation sees the human being as a creature in search of the transcendent. In working in liturgical renewal, we must begin to look at all the various needs, tasks, and issues as opening into growth, not as demands to be met and pathologies to be corrected. It is generally believed by most of the developmental theorists that the movement from place to place is often precipitated by crisis, a concept which the Chinese understand as including both danger and opportunity. Liturgy, by its very nature, brings us into the heart of this opportunity over and over again. It does this by asking us to be more honest, by asking us to see who and where we are now and who and where God is calling us to be. Resolution of the crisis brought about by this soul-searching often leads us to a place in our journeys that is more transcendent than the previous one, to a place where we live in greater awareness of and harmony with God.

As pastoral care-givers, the view of crisis resolution as a potential for growth can positively affect our view of the work that we do and the people we serve. Perception (negative and positive) tends to be contagious and self-fulfilling.

Support, Challenge, and Liberation

Our ability to support and at the same time to challenge is one of the many paradoxes that are a part of living a life based on the Christian faith. As ministers, we support those whom we serve. But at the same time, we also need to promote a liturgical environment in which there is freedom for self-evaluation and challenge from others when feelings and behavior appear to be inconsistent with the gospel message.

This component of pastoral care involves support as people struggle to understand and then answer God’s call to them as individuals and as a community; it also involves challenge when they grow complacent and satisfied with ritual alone. In Jesus, we have the perfect example of support through his healing and his love. He also gives us a perfect example of challenge through his many exhortations to the people to take up their crosses (Mark 8:34), sell their possessions and give to the poor (Matt. 19:21), and serve (Luke 22:27).

When we respond to loving support and challenge, we move beyond our concern with material possessions and self-absorption into loving service to others. What we experience is liberation from past wounds and from current values that are false and misleading. No longer as wounded and no longer as obsessed, we become more free to experience the transforming power of the gospel through Christ and the Spirit.

Reflection and Wisdom

Reflection upon our life experiences is like fertilizer in the soil—it will bring the experience to its greatest life and purpose. It allows the experience to bear its fruit, the wisdom hidden within it. This is as true about our liturgical experiences as it is about other experiences. It is only through reflected experience, which constitutes our meaning-seeking, that our faith can be deepened and strengthened and our ministry become effective.

We must begin to understand what our own experience is before we can work with and for others. We must take time to reflect what is meaningful to us for it is through this process that our own faith is formed, transformed, and enlivened; it is through this process that our passion is reclaimed and rekindled. We can learn various facts about Christian tradition and ritual, but these, in and of themselves, will not constitute faith. When we reflect on experience in the light of Scripture and tradition, deeper faith and wisdom are born. Wisdom “?knows all and understands all things, and will guide me discreetly in my affairs and safeguard me by her glory?” (Wis. 8:11).

Liturgical Renewal

The embodiment of these components is a lifetime process. It does not happen all at once. However, becoming aware of each of them will enrich our work and inform our approach to all ministry. We must keep in mind that fruit and virtues arise through God’s initiative and ongoing action in our lives and work; they are a gift.

How do these components and their fruits and virtues work in the area of liturgical renewal? In our renewal efforts, we assume many roles: as models of prayer, reflection, or sharing; as teachers of content, doctrine, or tradition; as leaders of eucharistic liturgy and other forms of communal worship. Applying to these roles the components of pastoral care we have just examined will help us rekindle the passion in liturgical renewal.

As Models. We serve as models when our renewal efforts are directed toward helping people to reflect on their experience of liturgy, to share those reflections, and to enter prayer more deeply. This reflection, which is really a deep savoring of all that is, breathes new life into our liturgies. A sense of mutuality certainly is necessary here; we do not model from above, but among. As we give, so do we receive. Grateful for all those with whom we work, able to see them as contributing to the process in different, but equally significant ways, mutuality brings the gift of humility to our work.

The component of inclusiveness also is necessary. When we model reflection, sharing, and prayer, we are in a place where we can make everyone feel equally welcome and accepted. If we incorporate a willingness to accept support and challenge when we model reflection, sharing, and prayer, we will encourage others to do the same. Our willingness to accept, support, and challenge will liberate us from complacency and the status quo.

As Teachers. When our renewal efforts are directed toward instruction, purpose, and doctrine, two components of pastoral care are critical. First, are we faithful to God’s call to be not just a community, but a covenant community, a community bound together by God’s promise? Second, do we believe in the prophetic vision of ourselves as the body of Christ? In our teaching of liturgy, we need to communicate how liturgy informs and strengthens this covenant community, the body of Christ, and how the community informs and strengthens liturgy. They are inseparable. Our vision works hand in hand with God’s prophecy. As we see ourselves as the body of Christ, as we see the Christ within each of us and the Christ among all of us, so it is that we become Christ among all of us, so it is that we become Christ for one another. This prophetic vision will help those we instruct to see liturgy as a living sacrament, liturgy as a sacred gift from God that reveals the Christ within and among us.

As Leaders. When renewal is directed toward prayer, we may function as leaders of the that prayer in the community we serve. In leading, we must incorporate the component of inclusiveness—all must be lovingly encouraged to come to the Table and to be reconciled. This component of pastoral care is perhaps the most important one when we lead—no one must be forgotten. As leaders, we are the instruments, who guide our assemblies, who prepare an environment in which real communal prayer, relationship with God, will thrive. The component of reflection is also essential. It is often in our own reflections, in our savoring, in our willingness to simply be in the experience of worship that this intimate relationship with God is revealed and wisdom is born. This “?wisdom made perfect?” becomes the silent, steady hand in our leadership. When we lead others in prayer, this gift of wisdom will be our guide as we guide.

From the outset, our renewal efforts will be informed by a certain attitude and approach, whether the effort is involved with prayer, reflection, or sharing; programs or projects; liturgical praxis, gestures, symbols, music, environment, or catechesis. If this approach and attitude is one of orientation toward growth—an orientation that all humans possess by their very nature—the process will be greatly enhanced and facilitated. An orientation toward growth, a way of seeing every effort as an effort that originates from an unspoken desire to come to rest in God, points us into the light of the risen Christ.

It is a forward-looking orientation, rather than an orientation arising out of sin, darkness, and a need to fix. The difference is subtle, but significant. Every renewal effort arises from the desire to support human beings in their journey toward becoming one with the God who so loves them. Arising from this desire, our renewal will be about wholeness and holiness, about passion and life, about involvement and commitment to all that God has created us to be.

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