In John’s Gospel Jesus describes himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’, indicating that sacrificial love and pastoral care are at the centre of his heart:
The Good Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his Sheep.
It is this love that the Lord wishes his disciples to imitate:
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Jesus desired that his disciples in turn should carry on his work of love by becoming shepherds to his flock:
‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
“Pastoral” comes from the Latin for “Shepherd”, indicating that pastoral life at Allen Hall seeks to be in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd. Pastoral life, therefore, helps students to show the love which is at the “heart of the Good Shepherd” to the world.This love heals, sustains, guides, challenges and reconciles.Pastoral theology brings practical application to human, spiritual and intellectual formation.
This expression of love is not limited to particular people, or shown in certain defined places, but is exhibited to all and everyone. Pastoral formation is an opportunity to work with the Lord, to discern his approach to his flock, and to apply it. Pastoral life is thus about allowing one-self to enter into ” the charity of Christ the good shepherd.”Students for the priesthood are helped to discern their ability to be shepherds through living in the seminary and taking part in specific pastoral placements.
Pastoral activity is not just about individual relationships: It has a public aspect too. The priest acts in the place of ‘Jesus Christ, Head and Servant of the Church’.His role, with the bishop, is one of leadership, and he stands as a public witness to the faith. He is a representative of the Church, and is responsible for guiding his flock and speaking for Christ and his Church. His work is one which seeks to exhibit love with authority; an authority which is respected by the People of God because it exhibits the heart of the Shepherd.
Seminary as the First Place of Pastoral Formation
The first pastoral placement to be considered by the students is the seminary itself. Here the students learn how to live within a community. Like a Parish or a Presbytery the seminary comprises people of different attitudes and backgrounds. It is in this primary pastoral placement that students can learn to acknowledge and show the pastoral charity of Christ to others, for the seminary is to be understood as “an original experience of the Church’s life.”
The life in the seminary mirrors the life that Jesus lived with his disciples, and that they shared with each other. It offers to those called by the Lord to serve as Apostles the possibility of re-living the experience of formation which our Lord provided for the Twelve. Allen Hall seeks to be a place where those called to the priesthood may co-operate among themselves and with those who have responsibility for their formation. In so doing it allows people to form relationships which will support them in the present and the future. This is a community which is built on friendship and charity, a community caring for each other and acquiring the skills to look after the wider flock of the diocese. It is a community which is prayerful and reflective, and active and outward-looking, so that every act of love is recognised as the work of the “good shepherd”.
The second place the student exhibits and develops the heart of the shepherd is on specific pastoral placements within a diocese. This placement could be in a parish, school, hospital, prison, or elsewhere. These placements are where the student can engage with and learn from the people of God.
During Christ’s time with his disciples, he often sent them out. Before going, the Lord instructed his disciples, highlighting areas he wished them to notice. After a period of time apart, the disciples would return to the Lord and reflect with Jesus on what they had seen and learnt.
Students are sent out on pastoral placements so as to have an opportunity to encounter the body of Christ, visible in his Church. They have an opportunity to learn and develop skills which will be of valuable service when they reach priesthood. Integral to these skills the student should show a deep desire to work with and to work alongside the “People of God”.
Pastoral theology helps students to connect their systematic and moral theology with the pastoral realities of priestly ministry. It draws on the Church’s theological reflection on concrete pastoral situations. It teaches students different ways of reflecting on their own pastoral experience and relating it to the scriptures and the teaching of the Church. It allows students to adapt their ministry and preaching to the needs and circumstances of those they minister to, without losing the integrity of the Gospel message.