Like many who love Jesus and His Bride, Fiducia Supplicans* has hit me hard. There’s much I could say about why I’ve wept, fumed, and stared numbly into space as I’ve grappled with what it means for the Church and for this world God loves so greatly. One thing seems most personal and pressing for us in MPC: FS’s confusing vision of pastoral care exposes the Church’s profound need, and the high calling that addresses it.
Leanne Payne argued that the Church’s greatest need is a profoundly Christian theological anthropology. Distinguished Christian thinkers today agree. Hans Boersma articulates it this way: “Only one thing can prevent this date [when FS was published] from going into history as one of the most tragic dates in the church’s history: it is the conscious and deliberate reconnection of the pastoral and the theological.”i Charles Chaput observes, “The most urgent challenge that Christians face in today’s world is anthropological: who and what a human being is; whether we have some higher purpose that warrants our special dignity as a species; whether we’re anything more than unusually smart animals who can invent and reinvent ourselves.”ii The Church needs those who can articulate a profoundly Christian vision of human life and show Jesus-seekers the Way in. What a thrillingly high calling.
When I stepped into leadership of Leanne Payne’s daughter ministry, the first book she encouraged me to read was Heresies.iii Why, as I was answering the call to a ministry devoted to pastoral care, should I begin by studying heresy? I could think of many books that seemed more relevant to pastoral care, but I respected Leanne and so I took her advice. She understood that faithful pastoral care must proceed from faithful theology. It must always be formed by a true answer to the question, “What is God like?”iv Although I must admit I didn’t make it through all 512 pages, Brown did convince me that that followers of Christ battle heresy — at some points in our history even to death — because heresy is a life and death matter for those who would hear a false gospel. At the same time, the fight against wrong teachings should be waged with a merciful heart toward any person who is so unfortunate as to become the proponent of heresy. Like all things, their failure is God’s servant, because the Spirit guards the Church’s integrity and works through the errors of Her members to refine Her. As both scripture and history prove, God’s people are prone to syncretism and vulnerable to confusion. It is very possible for us to believe we’re ministering in Christ’s name when in fact our offering is more shaped by the gods of progress or sentimentality than the God of scripture. Such corrupted care is cruelest to the most vulnerable among us.
To consciously and deliberately reconnect the pastoral and theological calls us beyond academic departments and professional guilds. It calls us beyond the mindset of our day. It calls us to dig deeper into the riches of scripture and the wisdom of the saints throughout Christian tradition. Higher still, it calls us to become saints ourselves, courageous and clear enough to be the truth and speak the truth. Pastoral care is always a particular, personal encounter, and so this great need of the Church comes down to a need for persons. Integrated persons — those who wonder and study from the head and heart, those in whom theology and worship form an interwoven fabric. Equipped persons — those who aim high as students of both theology and human experience, and kneel low in exposing their weaknesses in the Body where they can be known and refined. Courageous persons — real disciples who follow Jesus’s total reliance on the Spirit to empower total obedience to the Father. We need such persons in formal and informal roles, ordained and lay, professionals and neighbors. My husband spends his working days as an engineer, and is surprised by how often a younger man on his team asks him for advice on how to be a father. The more grounded we are in the truth of what God is like and what it means to be human, the better we’ll obey the great commission.
If you’ve read this far, I have what may be a challenging word. I suspect that you are a person who hears this call, and I urge you to answer it. The Enemy is pulling on every thread it can grasp to dissuade you. Words of intimidation, disqualification, and distraction fly like fiery darts, aiming to make you doubt what you hear or feel too ashamed or afraid to answer. These are stalling tactics by a defeated enemy. Don’t let it work. Admit your desire to yourself, to your Father, and to a brother or sister. Listen for your next step of obedience and take it. Rise up and go after the One who is compelling, “Follow Me.” These are dark days, and it’s right to lament FS along with every consequence of our loss of knowledge of the Holy. I’m grateful we can do more than lament, as Gandalf reminds us:
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”v
The key to answering this high calling is to listen to Christ’s voice and obey all He says. He knows what the Father plans to entrust to you, and has a brilliant curriculum mapped out for your learning and maturing in this call. Moment by moment, step by step, day by day, He will lead you faithfully. In case He might be inviting you to some head-and-heart training, I’ll share some of the best we’re aware of.
Andrew Comiskey and Desert Stream Ministries — I pray that their reach will grow until every community has a Living Waters program. I encourage you to look for a Living Waters group in your area, [https://www.desertstream.org/ find-a-group], or consider their leadership training
Christopher West and the Theology of the Body Institute — our team has gained much from Christopher’s inspired teaching. I encourage you to attend a TOB course or look into bringing “Made for More” to your community.
Leanne Payne’s legacy — God has called MPC to build on her legacy in our generations. I’ll make a foolish boast here and include us in this list. I believe that our five-day pastoral care schools are an excellent offering, and our video series makes for fruitful study and prayer in your local community.
Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world (I John 4:4). Rise up and follow Him.
*Fiducia Supplicans is a declaration on Catholic doctrine, made in December, that authorizes priests to bless same-sex couples.
i Hans Boersma, “The Fall of Rome,” Touchstone, 2/2/2024, emphasis added.
ii Charles Chaput, “The Cost of ‘Making a Mess’,” First Things, 12/22/23, emphasis added.
iii Harold Brown, Heresies, Hendrickson, 1988.
iv A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Harper One, 2009, 4.
v J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter two.