Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday in Pentecost, Proper 6: The pastoral principle of variability

Opening Sentence
I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." Psalm 122:1

Commemoration: Bernard Mizeki
Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 80

Lessons: Numbers 9:15-23, 10:29-36Romans 1:1-15Matthew 17:14-20

How great is the difference between pastoral counsel for the married and the unmarried. Significant differences remain between those who live alone compared to those who live together. And even among celibates who live in a community, there are still important differences in counseling those advanced and those beginning in the art of contemplation. Differences abound between pastoral care for urban and rural folk, between the simple and the crafty, between persons of leisure and persons of affairs, between those who have met with reverses and those who in their prosperity have never experienced misfortune. If you compare the temperaments of these persons you will see that they differ more widely than they differ even in physical features. So to give pertinent guidance to them is no easy task.

The principle is this: just as the same food and medicine is not appropriate to every body ailment, so neither is the same treatment and discipline proper for the guidance of souls. Those with wide pastoral experience will best know how to recognize the difference. Some persons are better motivated by words, others by example. Some who are sluggish and dull need to be stirred up to the good, while others are already inordinately fervent and so rushed about that they need to be calmed. Praise will benefit some, while correction will benefit others, provided that each counsel is administered in a seasonable way. Out of season counsel may do more harm than good.

Some respond best to confidential correction, while others seem unmovable except by public rebuke. Some pay no attention to a private admonition but are easily corrected it it risks public embarrassment, while others cannot bear a public disgrace and would if publicly rebuked grow morose and impatient, yet they would be happy to accept quiet correctives in response to sympathetic treatment. Some make it necessary to watch them closely even to the minutest details because they prefer to hide their faults and arrogate to themselves the praise of being politic and crafty. Toward others, however, it is better to make no notice as if seeing we do not see and hearing we do not hear. For if we call their faults to their attention, we may bring them to despair so that even with repeated reminders they tend recklessly to lose self-respect and grow in their guilt. In some cases it is necessary that the pastor show anger in the interest of love, or seems to despair of a parishioner as if a hopeless case, even though from another perspective he is far from hopeless.

Each pastoral response hinges strongly on the particular temperament of the person. Some we must treat with meekness in order to encourage them to a better hope. Others seem to require that we combat and conquer them and never yield an inch.

The pastoral principle: variability. All persons are not to be treated in the same way. We do not simply say this is virtue and this is vice uncontextually. For one spiritual remedy may prove dangerous in some cases and wholesome in other cases. The right medicine must be applied for the right occasion as the temper of the patient allows and as the time and circumstance and disposition of the individual indicate. This, of course, is the most difficult aspect of pastoral wisdom, to know how to distinguish which counsel is needed in which situation with a precise judgment so as to administer appropriate remedies for different temperaments. Only actual experiences and practice are the basis for skillfully applying this art.

Gregory of Nazianzus
Oration II 28-33

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name