To care “pastorally” is to embrace the one who is suffering and to dance with the one who is rejoicing.
Its image is an ancient one: a shepherd “abiding” with his sheep, “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Gospel of Luke 2:8). That image has expanded over time, but basically it is doing what those shepherds did: they stuck to their sheep.
So then, Pastoral Care is really the ministry of “abiding”—of being present. To move from sheep to people, it is a ministry of caring how the Other is—whether they are well, at peace, need something, or can’t find their way. And while it has become associated mainly with the role of the Pastor of the parish, to care for one another “pastorally” in this sense is an image for everyone.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (Gospel of John 10:27). Sometimes it’s hard to hear Jesus, let alone see him, especially when we suffer in mind, body or spirit. This is one of the reasons why we have the Church, who is given life by the Holy Spirit, helping us to become like Jesus, the Christ, the ‘Good Shepherd’ for each other and for the world.
If you are looking to find your way amidst a life crisis, or if the world seems just a little too dark, or if you think that God might be calling you to be present to those who find it so, read further.
St. Paul, commenting, as he ever was, on how we ought to be Christ in the world, said:
Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Letter to the Galatians 6:2)
Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .
for it is God who is at work in you. (Letter to the Philippians 2: 5-13).
The priests of the Cluster and certain trained Pastoral Care Ministers are available for various kinds of spiritual and emotional care to people who are hurting.
They are trained to listen, care, encourage, pray, and walk alongside people during difficult times.
When a parishioner’s need falls outside of their individual expertise or resources, they are able to make referrals to other modes of help.