Wednesday 2 May 2012

No Pastoral Care without The Sacrifice

"Eucharistic and sacrificial aspects are inseparable from the pastoral aspect, of which they are the nucleus of truth and salvific strength upon which the effectiveness of all activity depends. ... The preaching, works and other activities which the Church carries out with her many initiatives would lose their salvific fruitfulness if the celebration of Christ's sacrifice were lacking. This celebration is entrusted to ordained priests. ... Only through the 'door' of the Paschal sacrifice can men and women of all times and places enter eternal life. It is through this 'holy path' that they can make the exodus which leads them to the 'promised land' of true freedom, to the 'green fields' of endless peace and joy."

The words of our Holy Father last Sunday as he ordained nine deacons to the Priesthood.

They struck me because emphasising the sacrificial aspect of what the priest primarily does - offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - is inevitably bound up with celebrating the Mass in a serious and reverential way.  If it is just a banquet we can kick our heels up and have a good time.  If it is a sacrifice - a life sacrificed - then some gravitas is needed.  Those of us who think that this serious demeanour is needed at Mass and make efforts to keep a certain solemnity in its celebration are sometimes accused of only being interested in the liturgy (sacristy priests) and not in the values of the Gospel (social justice).  But the Holy Father rightly points out that, "Eucharistic and sacrificial aspects are inseparable from the pastoral aspect, of which they are the nucleus of truth and salvific strength upon which the effectiveness of all activity depends."

For Christians, the reason for our social action and pastoral concern has to be connected to the Faith and to the Cross.  Without that we can easily drift into humanism, as we see all around us in the western world, so that the faith is squeezed out of the picture.  The only difficulty with this is that we pull out the foundations from underneath us.  If there's no reason to look after others, the weak or needy, except the milk of human kindness, then it can all too easily become distorted or abandoned when times get tough. Witness "reproductive rights" now firmly entrenched as part of social justice.  As the Holy Father said in Deus Caritas Est (no. 37): It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."  And I think he must mean prayer and not some sort of performance  jamboree!

As someone sometimes labelled as a "sacristy priest" myself, I have on occasion found that when I'm engaged on so-called 'social justice issues' I'm ignored or not taken seriously.  Somehow, it doesn't sit well when the "sacristy priest" is getting thrown out of the Town Hall Council meeting for challenging from the public gallery because some his parishioners are about to be deported and the help you might expect from "social justice" types simply evaporates. (Yes, that was me - in my cassock, of course - being threatened with ejection from the Town Hall!)  

Incidentally, we couldn't save the family (the father had been murdered in prison and the mother had suffered torture) but the parish did find them somewhere to live and set up a fund to pay for it when they were put off the plane with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing (thank you Mr Blair and your social justice "Catholic" conscience) and then help send the children to school.

My experience has often been that those who celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with a certain seriousness are also those who have a true pastoral heart, precisely because they rely not on themselves, or the approval of the world, but on the image and example of the Good Shepherd.  Witness the good shepherd have in Pope Benedict.

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