Having read Pope Francis’ beautiful, heartfelt sharing with the priests of Rome, I am reminded that the word “pastor” is really the word “shepherd”. As a priest I am caught up in so many different tasks–raising money, making administrative decisions, solving problems, planning events, and for me blogging, broadcasting, writing books, and yet it always, in the end comes back to people. It comes down to the salvation of souls.
We are so busy and concerned with so much else in church life, that it is easy to forget this very basic, bottom line. The ministry is about people. When we take our eyes of this priority everything else soon swims into our attention and we take our eye off the ball. We soon miss the point and spend huge amounts of time on secondary matters. Conversely, as soon as we re-prioritize our ministry and get back to people everything else soon falls into place. Anyone who has run a service oriented business knows the basic premise: focus on the staff, focus on the customer, focus on the people and everything else falls into line.
This is true in the church as in every other line of work. However, as a priest (and this applies to all Catholics) while the love of people is important it is the second commandment, not the first. The first is to love God. Everything hangs on these two: love God and love your neighbor. If we would focus on these two commandments–and lets admit it–to fulfill these two is the work of a lifetime–then all the troubles in our families, all the troubles in our parish, all the troubles in the church would soon be solved.
What has caused the great problems in the church? Either Catholics forgetting the first commandment to love God or Catholics forgetting the second commandment to love their neighbor. I know this is a broad generalization, but it seems to me that when the liberals go off beam it is because they have loved their neighbor more than God and when conservatives go off beam it is because they have loved God, but neglected their neighbor. When we hold the two together the balance is achieved and the fullness of Christ’s life is established.
This is illustrated by something I am trying to do in our parish. We are building a beautiful new church, but we are also planning to turn the existing church into a community center and we have purchased a house that we hope to turn into a Catholic Charities drop in center for the needy. The church is our visible attempt to “love God” while the community center and drop in house is our attempt to “love our neighbor”. So it should be in our own individual lives–a life of devotion and prayer and love of God and a life of service and care for others as a result of our love of God.
I will never forget visiting Calcutta and meeting Mother Teresa. She welcomed us to the mother house and invited us to take a tour of the home for the dying, the orphanages and works of mercy, but first she took us to the simple chapel where the sisters spend a holy hour each day. This is the truly Catholic way: to love God and love our neighbor, and when we live that radiant life of radical discipleship the world is transformed. This is how we evangelize, this is how we do apologetics. This is how we live the Catholic life.
Anything else is theory.