Wednesday, September 10, 2008

THE 'SCAFFOLDS OF FORMATION'

Discernment does not end with ordination. As a matter of fact, on the day of your ordination, your process of discernment enters an even more earnest phase, only this time, it is the expectation of those who have formed you that the scaffolds of seminary life which once supported you have been ‘internalized’ and ‘integrated’ into your very self, transformed from external structures into an inner way of being that mirrors the mind and life of Christ.

What are these ‘scaffolds’, these sources of ‘support’ and ‘nourishment’ that the seminary gives you? The chief one of course is your interior life, your life of prayer and communion with God. It is never a clichĂ© to say that our spiritual life is the anchor of our entire existence as Christians and as priests. It ‘cements’, as it were, everything we do, binding together into a coherent whole, all the other dimensions of our life: community, studies, human and social development, and pastoral work.

Without a firm anchoring onto a solid life of prayer and communion with God, much of what we do loses substance and depth. Our relationships become superficial and functional; our desire for learning and education is made an end in itself, or worse, a way to put others down in our belief that we are superior to everyone else; our pursuit of self-knowledge degenerates into narcissistic self-absorption, and our pastoral ministry starts to be defined in terms of the ‘work’ we do—the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of which is determined by the number of ‘activities’ we line up. This last one is especially important to bear in mind, as it sometimes is the view of many that ‘being pastoral’ means drawing up as many programs or accomplishing as many activities as one can, wherever one is assigned.

‘Being pastoral’ is an attitude before anything else. ‘Pastoral’ or ‘Apostolic’ work without the proper ‘pastoral’ and ‘apostolic’ attitudes of tolerance, understanding, openness, acceptance of others, but also of critical and deliberative thinking, can deteriorate into a catalogue of ‘things to do’ or ‘activities to undertake’—at whatever cost. Detached from the ‘attitude’, ‘being pastoral’ can become an area whereby the centrality of the self, it’s ambitions and goals, is made the priority, over and above the ‘reason’ behind the attitude—which is to serve the needs of God’s people, and not the requirements of our ego.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)