The Prophet Pastors: How Truth Transfigures the Tender Care of Persons
‘The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds…it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle…You have to heal wounds.’ Pope Francis
We’ve all felt the divide: a teachy correction that provokes us to righteousness and veiled rebellion, the empathic gaze and warm touch that assures us all is well but fails to address our sin-sickness. We categorize the two camps as prophetic and pastoral as if God differentiated His Son into two gift sets and personalities.
But personality and gifts fall away when Jesus encounters us, His wounded friends. Full of grace and truth, He acts decisively and clearly. The Gospels describe a Savior who aims His healing gaze and touch at our diminished, oppressed lives. He accomplishes what He envisions, restoring us to full communion with the Father and His original will for our integrity as persons.
Splitting the prophetic from the pastoral truncates Jesus’ healing ministry. That divide reduces our service to an arid orthodoxy on one hand, too layered and abstract to set an average sinner free; on the other, we welcome the prodigal and his embittered brother with refreshment that sweetens but doesn’t save us.
The truth of our human dignity must guide us to draw near and summon what is most authentic from our wounded fellows. My friend stalled in his conversion when a priest responded to his request for help in overcoming homosexuality by handing him two tomes of moral theology (a grad student he wasn’t); on the other hand, I wouldn’t advise a same-sex struggler to follow Pope Francis’ embracing yet utterly confusing guide to sexual integration.
Prophetic wisdom, infuse our pastoral care! May our deep wounds find the tender consolation of guides clear on the way forward.
The pastoral and prophetic divide appears to be widening. Funerals of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Pell elicited opposition to Francis’ nice-guy-approach-without-apostolic-heft. ‘Truth has stumbled in the streets!’ (Is. 59:14), cry the prophets from their graves. Benedict’s longstanding aide just released his take on the tensions his former boss experienced with Francis while Pell’s posthumous memo described Francis’ ‘catastrophic’ papacy, including his global synod, as ‘a toxic nightmare’…’what is one to make of this potpourri of New Age good will?’
Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput reflected on these losses. While he commended Francis for his ‘experienced’ pastoral abilities, he decried the Pope’s ‘ambiguity at the top,’ in contrast to two beacons of an ‘articulate, faithful Christian intelligence,’ now gone.
Where do we go? Draw near to the wounded. We can be wholly tender in drawing near broken souls and bodies. We just need the light of truth to guide us! Last weekend we gathered in a New York City parish that had just started one of our weekly groups. That church wants to heal the sexually and relationally broken!
We did our part: opening our lives and extending the power of Jesus who reached deeper than our sin as to raise up pretty good men and or women. We came near persons broken by all kinds of sexual and relational sin who needed an embrace and an exhortation: ‘Trust Jesus with the whole of your broken lives! We’ll walk with you!’
Turned on Christians, full of the life and light of Jesus, outshine teachy abstractions and toothless condolences. Jesus lived and died and lives once more to save us, every part. His Church—the prophetic pastoral--needs to cooperate.