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31 January 2011

Pastoral Care and Counseling, Part Two: Efficacy of Sacraments Edition

In my earlier post, I found myself driving at an issue upon which I could not place my finger.  On a run through frigid and snow-covered Boston, I found my sticking point.

Pastoral care for a Catholic priest is a distinct and particular endeavor.  Surely, this statement might bring to mind all sorts of theological questions.  The above, is for certain, a loaded statement.  But, forgive my failure to answer what I figure to be the obvious questions.  Instead, what follows is what might be considered an affirmative defense.

For a Catholic, it seems to be that the most efficacious means of healing is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  (And of course, through the Anointing of the Sick, but stay with me here.)  The ontological change that takes place within a man ordained a priest is like nothing else known to the world. Absolution offered by a priest in the confessional seems to be one of his most important tasks (perhaps his most important, after celebrating the Eucharist).  The reason for this is one of efficacy.  Pastoral care and counseling might help a person; on the other hand, it might not.  Absolution never fails.  When a penitent is just that, penitent, and the priest prays the words of absolution, it is fail safe.  

Certainly there is a place (and a large, large one at that) for pastoral counseling and care.  However, for a Catholic priest, the sacraments must be the starting point of any type of pastoral care.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but God willing, when I'm ordained a priest the best thing I will ever be able to do for any person will be to celebrate the sacraments with them.  

If Jesus is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, shouldn't all pastoral care start with Him too?


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