One of the first and most important characteristics that a religious leader must have is a pastoral heart. That is, he or she must have a genuine care and concern for the welfare of the people for whose care they have been entrusted. This is normally a gift – it is not something that can be learnt! Even when the gifting is there, it takes a lot of work to truly develop the gift to its full potential. In the Gospel today Jesus laments the fact that the leaders of the Jewish people have failed in their pastoral duty to care for the people. As is mentioned in the prophet Ezekiel, God is looking for men who will care for the People of Israel as a true shepherd cares for his flock.

It is okay and even necessary to have visionary people in leadership as well but without pastorally minded people to back them up, a community will not prosper. There are few things that evoke greater levels of pity in me than coming across a community that is floundering and falling apart because there is little or no pastoral care of its members. At the same time we must also be careful not to over-pastor people. It is important that no person is deprived whether unintentionally or not of the ability and freedom to make decisions for their lives. Good pastoring is always about consultation and sharing and very rarely about laying down the law as to what people can and cannot do as regards their lives.

A good pastor will always leave the decision in the hands of the individual and his attitude or demeanor towards an individual will not change depending upon whether they may follow his or her advice or not. This is what unconditional love is all about. A true shepherd’s heart for the people of God is such that no matter where a person may be in relation to the community life, there is the desire and will to work with them in love and mercy to draw them back to the heart of God. A pastor should never try to manipulate a person under his or her care in any way whatsoever including putting conditions upon the type of response the individual might make. Time and again I have invited people to make certain decisions and they have not responded. This is a disappointment to me but I cannot allow it to alter my disposition of love and care towards the individual involved. Nor is it an excuse for me to exclude the person from my life.

Can I identify the gifts that the Lord has given me to share with the community to which I belong? How am I actively seeking to strengthen these gifts?

Father, your heart is always one of mercy and love towards your people. Help me to grow in the way that I imitate you in this. Teach me how to grow in love and acceptance of people for who they are and not demand that they be who I want them to be.