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Approach to Pastorship

My Personal, Priestly, and Pastoral Framework, an approach to pastorship in my life described in four components:

Part I. The Person

In 1992, Pope John Paul II penned ”I Will Give You Shepherds (Pastores Dabo Vobis or “PDV”). In this Apostolic Exhortation, he wrote that priest must simultaneously focus on four “dimensions” in their lives if they are to be effective as persons, men and ministers:

  • Human Dimension
  • Spiritual Dimension
  • Intellectual Dimension
  • Pastoral Dimension

The order was not coincidence. Following the “Jesus Model,” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace builds on nature.” Thus the Human aspects (health, diet, exercise, recreation) must be attended to first. The Spiritual aspects (personal and communal prayer, spiritual direction) build upon this and deepen our relationship with God. However we can only know if we’re “getting this right” by engaging the Intellectual component. This means “doing our homework” through research and by comparing our thoughts, approaches and actions to the advice and counsel of contemporary experts and those throughout history. Finally, only when we have built this healthy, solid, personal foundation can we begin to assist or “Pastor” others (family, friends, parishioners).

This is the first component which guides my “daily” life. As the phone rings, emails come in, people ask to stop by, I look at the calendar and run through the “PDV checklist” and ask, “Which components do I have covered? What can be shifted? What needs to be sacrificed this week to be emphasized next week?”

I have also found this to be an effective tool in the Confessional and when providing pastoral guidance or Spiritual Direction to lay people.

Part II. The Time

The ideas contained in PDV were later “fleshed out” in a 2001 document by the U.S. Bishops entitled, “The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests.” What I like about this document is that the Bishops realized that the “4 Components” of Pastors Dabo Vobis change (and sometimes dramatically) over the life of the priest. As he gets older, the body rebels with age, new assignments offer different challenges and life gets in the way while you are planning something else. Thus an effective approach is almost three-dimensional as the 4 dimensions of PDV intersect with the stages of a person’s life. Thus the person/pastoral minister must also adjust along the pathway of life.

This cannot be done without an examined life where I routinely place my thoughts, words and actions in front of another and allow my life to be examined, critiqued and adjusted.

Approaching 20 years of priesthood and having reached the “half century” mark in life, I have found this useful as a basis to look at how I am doing personally. As new assignments are offered, I also use this to begin the conversation in discerning my vocation.

Part III. The Place

Several years ago I had the opportunity and privilege to be a member of a focus group called together by “Catholic Leadership Institute.” The result was the leadership curriculum program “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds.” Much like the ideas of leading oneself according to “Pastores” and the US Bishops’ “Basic Plan,” effective Catholic organizations are about leadership in relationships.

Priests must learn to lead themselves first, and then be given the skills on how to lead in:

  • Other individuals (In a “One-on-One Context” like staff members and teachers),
  • Teams (Like Parish Councils and school boards),
  • Organizations (the parish or the school),
  • Strategic Relationships (town councils and the local police department).

The Catholic Leadership Institute realized that such skill training needs to be offered to key members of each parish. Thus the “Tending the Talents” program was developed.

Part IV. What Does God Want Us To Do?

When assigned pastor at a parish, I have quickly posed this question to the congregation, then I give them the answer – “I have no idea!” But God knows. The direction will be according to the “New Evangelization” called for my Pope John Paul II, which has become the key element of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Our task is to discern God’s will for ourselves and for the parish/school, etc.

Think about it — 20 years ago, the documents or “tools” mentioned above didn’t even exist! I believe that God is working in new and exciting ways to bring about the “New Evangelization,” first in each person’s life, then in ever widening circles of relationships. This must also be done not only in our parishes, schools, Archdiocese, etc. but in the secular world as well (in business, medicine, law, politics, education, and social services)

As priest and pastor, my task is to be a shepherd and leader, help the people the Lord has placed around me to discern God’s will, and bring a part of His Kingdom into our world as a reality.

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