An Evangelizing Pastoral Ministry and the Truth of Love

Luis Granados

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”[1] The words of the prophet Jeremiah invite us to look at the crisis of the Church’s evangelizing pastoral ministry from the perspective of the divine exhortation to return to the origin, to the source. As Pope Francis points out, a true pastoral and missionary conversion is urgently needed.[2] In order to offer an accurate assessment (2) and an effective proposal for renewal (3), it is necessary to consider first of all the pastoral care of Christ, the Good Shepherd (1). Only by contemplating and listening to the works and words of Jesus can we understand the depth of the crisis and propose a path of renewal. We will take Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman as our inspiration and hope to show that for the grace of Christ to illuminate and transform our hearts and societies, we need an evangelizing pastoral ministry rooted in the truth of love.

1. The Model of Pastoral Conversion: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

What was Jesus’ pastoral approach when addressing the Samaritan woman? The Lord “addressed her desire for true love, in order to free her from the darkness in her life and to bring her to the full joy of the Gospel.”[3] In this key passage of St. John’s Gospel, the truth of love is presented as an indispensable element and the guiding thread of Jesus’ pastoral ministry.

First of all, the evangelist tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.”[4] The Lord was not obliged to do so. If he “had to pass through,” it was because he wanted to get close to the heart of the Samaritan woman. Jesus’ presence at the well is proof of the primacy of grace. All pastoral ministry begins with the initiative of God who actively seeks out the human being. The Creator bridges the infinite distance between himself and his human creatures. The divine itinerary passes by way of the Lord’s Incarnation, culminating in the Lord walking in his humanity, until he arrives, weary and thirsty, at Sychar.

Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman from a position of vulnerability, a vulnerability that is not feigned but authentic. He is thirsty and tired and has no bucket with which to draw water. Divine primacy is realized by weakness and poverty of means. The Fountain approaches the well, but he does so “thirsty,” lowering himself to our level.[5] His weakness is a provocation. Thus, from the common experience of need, the woman can gradually open up to dialogue and conversion.

Jesus’ pastoral ministry begins at the well, symbol of desire and human contingency. In Sacred Scripture it is the place of encounters and discord, of love and new beginnings. “We find the patriarchs constantly digging wells.”[6] The history of salvation always begins at the well. If we traverse the Scriptures in search of wells, we come to the Gospels and find the well of Sychar, where our Savior rested.[7]

The hour of the encounter with the Samaritan woman is relevant. Christ approaches the well at a time when no one would go to the well. The sixth hour (noon) was not the most appropriate moment for drawing water. It was the time of oppressive heat, loneliness and despair. This is the opportune moment (the kairos) chosen by Jesus to heal the woman’s desires.

The divine initiative does not stop here. In addition to making himself present, Jesus begins the conversation, thus breaking down the invisible wall that separated him from the woman. “Give me a drink.” In addressing her, Jesus provokes and challenges her in a personal and direct way. He does not wait, as he is moved by a divine desire: that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.[8]

“How is it that you, a Jew,…?” The Samaritan woman is puzzled by the Lord’s request. The modern and postmodern hostility to the gospel is reflected here. Yet Jesus is neither offended nor impatient. He does not reproach her, but gives her time, because, as St. Augustine points out, the woman was not in need of instruction but of compassion. She needed to walk. Pastoral care is the time of divine patience. In the face of the woman’s hostility, Jesus does not give up, but rather reinforces his invitation. ““If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you…”

Thus, we arrive at a second moment, that of the promise. Taking a vulnerable initiative, Jesus invites her to probe deeper into her experience of thirst. He wants to lead her from Jacob’s well to the fountain of her heart, from the multitude of desires to the Desire that underlies them all, from her wounded and scattered humanity to the love of God that mends her endemic dissatisfaction. Christ will speak to her of the gift of God, allowing her to break out of the vicious circle of inexhaustible desire and fleeting satisfaction.

In the Samaritan woman’s heart, curiosity arises, and with it a second objection. As he has nothing with which to draw water, from where will he draw this living water? “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?” The woman expresses her perplexity and opens up to the memory of the origin of the well from which she drinks daily. She wonders whether it will be possible to discover an origin that is more radical, a water that does not fail. She thus opens herself to the possibility of a miracle, of a new beginning in her life. Jesus will not quench the woman’s physical thirst, but he will invite her to walk and to rise. He will awaken in her the desire for salvation, hidden in her many desires. Little by little she will be saved from her desires, and there will be stirred up in her the desire for salvation.

Christ’s patient pedagogy accompanies the woman from the well to the source, from her needs to the gift of self, from eros to agape. This purification of desire is accompanied by a promise: a water that will quench her thirst forever. Jesus thus manages to generate in her a striking, if still confused and imperfect, request: “Give me this water.” The woman is intrigued by Jesus but still remains in the circle of her immediate desires. She does not want to return to the well to fetch water. She does not want to remain on the surface, but still does not know how to go deeper.

At this point, the dialogue takes an unexpected turn: “Call your husband.” The one who had previously begged for water, now enjoins the woman to bring her husband, her family. He challenges the Samaritan woman concerning the realm of her relationships. Jesus’ word does not come from nowhere, nor does it constitute a change of subject. Rather, it enters into the logic that is proper to the therapy and salvation of desires. The conversation with Christ does not remain external to the life of the family but enters into it, transforming the most intimate relationships. The water of the Spirit can only work in a person as a whole, healing the heart and all the personal bonds that constitute him or her. Jesus’ reference to the woman’s husband does not express a Pharisaic legalism, but is the logical consequence of the dialogue. The woman, who has agreed to set out on a path, now manifests her fragile loneliness: “I have no husband.”

Here we come to the key moment of conversion and purification. Jesus illuminates the situation: “You have spoken the truth. You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” The Lord praises her confession of humility and confronts her with the truth of her relationships. Current pastoral care is tempted to correct the Gospel and consider more acceptable versions of this dialogue. It would seem better if Jesus had said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you love him, it’s all right. We all have the right to start over. Go on as you are. Deep down, you have already stopped loving your previous husbands. And if love has died, the commitment is gone. Do what your conscience tells you. You don’t have to change your life.” Jesus’ pastoral care is the pastoral care of the truth of love, that is, of authentic mercy that illuminates the woman’s situation and calls her to conversion, without falsifying her situation and without making it look better than it is. He does not invite her to engage in discernment or to justify herself. Nor does he accuse her, but lovingly calls things by their name: “You have spoken the truth. You have not sought excuses. You have recognized that you need a Savior to heal the wounds of your relationships. Christ, the Bridegroom, comes to enlighten and heal you and let your life flourish.”

At this point, the Samaritan woman asks about worship in truth. The change of life proposed by Jesus is not possible without the presence of God and one’s relationship with him. This no longer depends on the place—the Jerusalem temple or Mount Gerizim—but will be fulfilled in Spirit and truth.

Then the disciples arrive, interrupting the conversation, but perhaps also stirring the woman in her progress toward the faith. Recently converted, she leaves the water jar and runs off to the village. The jar, which until now had been indispensable to quench her thirst, is left abandoned. The Samaritan woman has found the pearl of great price and will sell everything. She will become a missionary of Christ. Neither the well nor the jar are necessary any longer: the woman has become a fountain. Though she has not worked out everything yet, she still has received enough light to leave the well and run to the village. Through her apostolate, the Samaritans will come to Jesus and believe in him, and in this way, the woman’s faith itself will be strengthened.

“He told me everything I have ever done.” In evangelizing her neighbors, the Samaritan woman shows that Jesus’ pastoral care touches a person’s life, keeping together faith and life and integrating truth, mercy and freedom. The Church, expert in humanity, follows the path of its Master, neither justifying nor accusing, but calling to conversion and to the truth of love.[9]

2. A Diagnosis of Current Pastoral Care

In the light of the pastoral style inaugurated by Jesus Christ, we can consider the present situation of the Church. In the Samaritan woman we can recognize the postmodern individual who looks at the Church with indifference or hostility. After the failure of the modern project of building a world as if God did not exist, contemporary human beings have reduced their ambitions. We might say that the postmodern person lives “as if human beings did not exist.” The eclipse of God inevitably leads to the degradation of what is human. Abandoning God, the source of living water, leads to the digging of cracked cisterns that hold no water and generate despair and a proliferation of sad passions.[10] This is reflected in the weariness of the Samaritan woman, who lives isolated in liquid relationships, without bonds and without fidelity. In her five husbands, St. Augustine saw the symbol of an existence enclosed in the five senses, without the openness to the transcendence to which they point.

And yet, those who have rejected God cannot suppress the longing of their heart and quench its thirst. Even in their denial, they discover the aching for the lost homeland: “They say they are not thirsty. They say there is no fountain; they there is no water; they say there is no idea of a fountain and water. They say that water does not exist…”[11]

Today’s pastoral care must take into account that abandoning God has led to the loss of the idea of human identity and excellence. The moral subject has not just changed: in a certain sense, it has disappeared. It is no longer generated in familial and social relationships. This tragedy is related to the shipwreck of modern morality as pointed out by MacIntyre. After the modern storm, fragments of the ship have survived, concepts like law, virtue, or fortitude that are separated from each other and that no one knows how to connect. The problem is no longer just immorality, lack of coherence, or even corrosive relativism. We are facing a real crisis of the moral subject.[12] Human beings are marked by an emotivist and utilitarian rationality. It is necessary to rebuild the moral subject from its foundations, by healing desires and relationships. This is precisely the path on which Jesus embarks with the Samaritan woman.

However, our diagnosis of the pastoral ministry of evangelization cannot stop here. We must consider something even more serious and profound. Due to its contagious and invasive character, the crisis of the moral subject has not stopped outside of the doors of the Church. Emotivism and utilitarianism have entered it, permeating its actions and its pastoral vision. According to an emotivist and utilitarian approach, the Church’s mission supposedly consists in generating religious emotions that resonate with today’s human beings; allegedly the Church is to offer programs and initiatives that are entertaining and capable of fostering religious feelings. But, like cracked cisterns, these proposals cannot hold water and satisfy only for a short period. What is more, utilitarian criteria have become dominant when working out strategies for catechesis and sacramental initiation, mistaking efficiency and a quantifiable outcome for fruitfulness.

From the emotivist and utilitarian perspective, the goal of pastoral care is reduced to offering spiritual consolation and entertainment. Everything, even prayer and the sacraments, will then be judged through the filter of the emotions, according to the feelings generated in the person. From this viewpoint, what matters is not the existence of God or our friendship with Christ in daily life, but the person’s experiences of and feelings about these realities.[13]

“How do you feel?” We do not find this question in Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman. As we have seen, Jesus genuinely draws near and acts mercifully by inviting the woman to rise up and leave the vicious circle of her superficial emotions and sentiments. He sits by the well and makes himself vulnerable with the intention of freeing the woman from the chains of emotivism and utilitarianism, of a life without God and without humanity. A merely emotive pastoral ministry, on the other hand, approaches the well of human desires without the fountain of Christ’s living water. It will offer more of the same: more or less intense religious emotions that cannot satiate the heart.

On the basis of this general diagnosis, we can now evaluate some manifestations or symptoms of the crisis. In the first place, we must consider the lack of clarity in the telos, the goal of pastoral care. It is as though the Church existed to console, to generate positive emotions and to help the faithful to feel good. Christ is preached from the perspective of philanthropic authenticity, not in terms of a call to personal conversion. The aim is to soothe consciences.[14]

Secondly, without clarity of purpose, the pastoral project loses all unity.[15] Much time and money, many resources and talents are used to organize numerous activities that lead to a fragmentation of pastoral care and amount to activism. All this fosters a consumerist attitude in the believer, who then comes to Church to receive a satisfying religious product. Pastoral action is thus atomized and divided. Being busy is preferable to facing the real problems. The multiplication of pastoral activities often leads to an excessive increase of bureaucracy in pastoral ministry, which then tends to become mechanical and impersonal. Committees, meetings, schedules, synods, forms and documentations are being generated, but there is a neglect of the freshness of the personal encounter that Romano Guardini described when he compared the way of transmitting the faith to a candle lighting another candle.

Thirdly, given this lack of telos and unity, pastoral care drastically narrows its horizon and becomes incapable of distinguishing what is important from what is urgent. What takes precedence, then, is solving problems in the short term, a measure that tends to be superficial and of little depth. Forming a person is the work of years, requiring countless encounters that usually are not urgent, but very important. As a result, pastoral care tends to be more reactive than proactive. Instead of taking the initiative and promoting remote preparation and prevention, it limits itself to managing what is immediate, occupying all its time responding to problems that need to be solved. In this way, the Church generates a negative image of itself, as always arriving late and always saying no. In this sense, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all agreed on the importance of proclaiming the beauty of our vocation in Christ.

There is a great temptation to seek accommodation with the world and to reduce the demands of the Christian vocation in order to avoid a negative public image of the Church. To be more in tune with society, it might be enough simply to keep silent about certain truths that are “disagreeable” to the world (such as the existence of intrinsically evil actions, like contraception or abortion). But in this way, the Church would be betraying its divine mission. “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”[16]

The situation is worsened by the fact that there is reluctance to recognize it in all its gravity. All members of the Church continually breathe in today’s utilitarian emotivism. It is necessary to acknowledge the gravity of the situation with serenity and hope. We live in times similar to those of the apostles, but with the novelty of living after Christ, yet without Christ.[17] As Benedict XVI points out, the future of the Church depends on creative minorities, small communities with a solid identity and a powerful missionary zeal. They will act as leaven in the dough, as salt of the earth, and light of the world.[18]

3. A Pastoral Ministry Based on the Truth of Love

We will now return to Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman so as to illuminate our diagnosis of today’s pastoral ministry. Everything begins with his vulnerable divine initiative. Our transformation is not the “result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,” but of the encounter with Jesus Christ, who prompts us and gives our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[19] In this dialogue the woman comes to know Christ (as Jew, Lord, prophet, and even the Messiah), and she also comes to know herself.

The encounter with Christ is a revelation of God’s love as well as a revelation of one’s own vocation. The Samaritan woman had become a great question for herself. She wanted to quench her thirst. She could not live without love, but at the same time she was incapable of a love that was beautiful and true.[20] She could not understand herself because love had not been revealed to her. In the encounter with Christ, the Word Incarnate, her mystery and her vocation were revealed to her.[21] She received the unconditional love of the Master and understood her call to the sincere gift of self, that is, to the truth of love. Thus, she came to understand that “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”[22]

As St. Paul VI points out in Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Magna Carta of pastoral theology, the foundation, center, and summit of evangelization is “a clear proclamation that in Jesus Christ … salvation is offered to all men.”[23] This salvation is not only the marvelous purification from sin and the healing of Adam’s wound, but it is also and principally our true divinization through friendship with God. It is the salvation of love and desires; it is the salvation of our personal relationships of origin, of mutual entrustment and of destiny. Christian pastoral ministry presents Christ as the one who, without accusing the human heart, calls it on and seeks the healing and increase of our desires. He is the teacher of charity, as St. Maximus the Confessor explains: “Many have said much about charity. Looking for it, only among the disciples of Christ will you find it, for they alone held the true Charity, the Teacher of charity.”[24]

a) Recovering the Telos: To Form Christ in Believers

Assuming the perspective of the truth of love, we can understand that today’s pastoral conversion first of all requires a recovery of the end, the telos that inspires it. The Church does not exist to entertain or to generate spiritual emotions in the faithful. What is needed is not to create committees or structures, or to change the mood, the rules, or the programs used in the parish, but to recover the telos. As St. Paul says, the constitution of the Church and its various ministries (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and doctors) seeks the perfecting of the saints and the building up of the body of Christ. The goal of all pastoral ministry is the formation of Christ in the hearts of believers by the workings of the Holy Spirit in collaboration with human freedom. The goal is that all may come “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”[25] Preaching, the celebration of the sacraments, and all catechesis tend toward the transformation into Christ’s likeness, the divinization of the person. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”[26]

This end, which unifies all pastoral efforts, comes to us as a gift. Everything springs from it, and everything is oriented toward it. Clarity of purpose allows us to overcome both a fragmented pastoral ministry and an excessive bureaucracy. For this to be possible, the light of Christ’s love needs to guide the Church’s action. Divine love that moves the sun and the other stars gives impetus to missionary activities at all levels.[27]

The goal of evangelizing pastoral ministry is the telos pursued by God ever since the creation of the world: our divinization through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Church is called to cooperate with God in our transformation in Christ. From clay to a human being, and from human beings to God. This cooperation demands the explicit preaching of the name, doctrine, life, promises, kingdom and mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God.[28] The formation of Christ in the heart requires knowing him internally, engaging him, and gradually entering into his mystery.

Through this preaching and frequent association, the faithful participate in the virtues of Christ. The Spirit works in the flesh by healing our desires and leading us along a path of purification and growth: from eros to agape. Therefore, true evangelization cannot come from ignorance of desires, nor from their mere satisfaction or negation. The Spirit enlarges the hearts of the faithful, introducing them to a new measure of love.[29]

This widening of the heart does not happen without pain and suffering. “A disciple of Jesus does not go to Church simply to observe a precept, to feel he/she is in good standing with God who then will not ‘disturb’ him/her too much.”[30] Christ does not limit himself to consoling us, rather he provokes us through the experience of beauty. His presence affects all dimensions of life and introduces us to a new vision of the world and of life (relationships, work, sexuality, the body, food, study, rest…).

For pastoral ministry to fulfill its mission of forming Christ in the believers, it must be based on the truth of love. If evangelization consisted in providing entertainment, satisfaction, or excitement, or if it were all about solving legalistic problems of conscience, then other approaches might work better. However, if it is a matter of conforming the faithful to Christ, then the key is to follow the path that he himself has chosen when he met the Samaritan woman. In the encounter with God, the fullness of love that precedes, transforms and inspires us is revealed. Without the truth of love, the Gospel does not reach its goal, unable to touch people’s hearts; faith and life will continue to go their separate ways. A faith that does not change our relationships, our way of seeing the world, and our manner of living in the body will be sterile and irrelevant, untrue to how Christ works his mercy. It is a faith that is incapable of opening up a path to a new future, remaining stuck at the well.

b) A Pastoral Care of the Family from Its Very Roots

“Go, call your husband, and come here.” To be faithful to its master, the Church in its pastoral ministry looks at the person as a network of relationships, not as an isolated individual or a pure consciousness. Personal relationships constitute the person as daughter, wife, mother… And all these relationships must be cultivated and healed. Jesus did not appeal to consciousness or emotions, but to personal relationships. He faced the challenge of the renewal of all human relationships, operating his “divine architecture.”[31]

Contrary to an emotivist approach to pastoral care, which is a poison that impedes pastoral conversion, the Church focuses on relationships that draw the person out of his or her isolation. The place where these relational bonds are generated and cultivated is the family. If the encounter with the living Christ is the starting point for the formation of the Christian subject, family life is the environment in which this subject can grow. In the domestic Church one learns how to receive and express gratitude, how to interpret one’s affections and educate them with time, how to promise and keep one’s word, and how to give oneself in the gift of self. The family understood as a subject is the environment within which the utilitarian and emotive subject is transformed and regenerated.[32]

Thus, we see that the pastoral care of the family is not just another sector of the Church’s activity. In the face of a pastoral care that is fragmented in many areas, the family is the place of unity. In and through the family, it is possible to reach persons in all walks of life: the ill, the elderly, adolescents, children, the poor, the hungry, students…. With the family at its center, pastoral care ceases to be sectoral and becomes integral. Therefore, either parish ministry will be family ministry, or it will fall short of what it is called to be in its fullness.[33] Without the domestic Church, it is not possible to evangelize. The domestic Church is an active and indispensable agent of the new evangelization. The family is “the way of the Church because it is the ‘human space’ of our encounter with Christ.”[34]

The Church’s task, therefore, is to strengthen the family in its identity and mission. For this reason, the Church’s pastoral care must be “a pastoral care of the bond,” of the promise.[35] Pope Francis expressed his concern that the Church is not exerting enough effort in strengthening marriages and helping couples to overcome difficulties and to educate their children. “The pastoral care of engaged and married couples should be centered on the marriage bond, assisting couples not only to deepen their love but also to overcome problems and difficulties.”[36] Marital spirituality, too, should be “a spirituality of the bond, in which divine love dwells.”[37] To strengthen married couples and families in their vocation, the Church must focus on the beauty of the vocation to conjugal love, which culminates in conjugal charity, “which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.”[38]

c) Conversion and Gradualness

“You are right. You have no husband: you have already had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband”. (Jn 4:17-18). Following in the Lord’s footsteps, evangelizing pastoral care begins with the invitation to conversion and brings persons face to face with the truth of their loves and of their relationships.

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.”[39] Following in the Lord’s footsteps, evangelizing pastoral care begins with the invitation to conversion and brings persons face to face with the truth of their loves and relationships. To obtain salvation, one must recognize one’s own history as well as the new beginning offered by Jesus Christ. There is no personal situation so dramatic (let us think of the Samaritan woman and her repeated divorces) as to make a new beginning impossible.

The call to conversion comes within a patient pedagogical itinerary proper to the law of gradualness. Jesus Christ adapts himself to the situation of his hearers. At times, he simply says: “Repent and believe.” At other times, as with the Samaritan woman, he acts gradually, generating trust, awakening curiosity and openness, until he arrives at the call to conversion and the invitation to believe in him and to follow him. In all cases, Jesus offers a path of hope that is at the same time demanding, a path of the truth of love.

In today’s pastoral ministry, one does not often speak of conversion. And yet, all efforts of evangelization should be directed to this goal, understood as an authentic change of mentality and life. Calling to conversion does not simply mean generating positive feelings and consolation. The preaching of Jesus, inspiration of the Church’s every action, did not bring peace but war and the sword. True, Jesus healed and consoled many, offering his presence and encouragement,[40] but his preaching was like a fire that required one to reconsider one’s life. This is what happened with the Samaritan woman, with Zacchaeus, with the rich young man, and with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were corrected and rebuked by the master. “To believe that we are good simply because ‘we feel good’ is a tremendous illusion.”[41] It is also a tremendous illusion to think that we evangelize well just because people are emotionally stirred. Jesus Christ did not call us to feel but to act: “Come, follow me!” “Call your husband.” “Take up your pallet, and walk.”

Conversion is the beginning of our transformation in Christ. It is always a death and resurrection: the self ceases to be an autonomous subject and becomes a new creature intimately united to Christ, whose environment is the Church, Christ’s body.[42] While the present crisis stems from the loss of the moral subject, who is reduced to emotions and utility, the encounter with Christ means the birth of the Christian subject. Participating in the Lord’s paschal mystery, the faithful advance on the path of purification and growth in love, moving from desires (eros) to true love (agape).[43]

As we can learn from Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman, conversion is neither a romantic ideal nor an unattainable message generating resentment. Rather, conversion is a gift to be embraced with courage and patience.[44] “If you knew the gift of God.” A change of mind and heart is possible because Christ has truly redeemed us.[45] Conversion is not simply a human decision, but the free response to a divine vocation.[46] Therefore, true freedom does not consist in an absolute independence and indeterminacy before many options, but rather in a response to a gift that precedes us.

At this point, it is necessary to point out that conversion is not a one-time event in human life. The law of gradualness denotes the necessity of a gradual journey. Persons are in a permanent state of conversion (status conversionis): their hearts need a constant reform, and they must ceaselessly go out of themselves. Insisting on this point does not stem from an obsession with sin. On the contrary, the constant source of conversion is the authentic knowledge of the Lord as the God of mercy and love.[47] Conversion is not only a momentary interior act, but also a stable disposition that transforms one’s entire vision of the world and of history. Awe before divine love makes it possible to live in statu conversionis, which is “the most profound element of the pilgrimage of every man and woman on earth in statu viatoris.[48]

The dialogue with the Samaritan woman shows us that the offer of forgiveness and the call to conversion know no limits of time or space. After five divorces, the Samaritan woman became Jesus’ disciple and a missionary to her city. Through conversion and repentance, there is always a future. However, this renewal requires the truth of love as well as repentance. Sin and vice must be acknowledged and confessed in order to be healed. In this sense, it is necessary to insist that being “pastoral” does not mean lowering the demands, avoiding the problems, or falsifying the truth of the Gospel. The true missionary follows the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd. At times, as happened to St. Augustine, God acts with a mercy that is “severe” and medicinal[49]: “If love requires the teaching of a lesson, gentleness should not depart from the heart. What after all could be more considerate than the doctor bringing his scalpel? The patient due to be cut open cries—and is cut open, cries at the prospect of cauterization—and is cauterized. That’s not cruelty. God forbid we should charge the doctor with ferocity. He’s ferocious against the wound, in order to cure the person, because if the wound is just fondled, the person’s finished.”[50]

It is therefore understood that this patient and merciful pedagogy has nothing to do with what some authors call the “gradualness of the law.” Proposed in the twentieth century, this theory has surprisingly returned to the scene in recent years, but without new arguments. Already in the past it has demonstrated its theological weakness and pastoral sterility. According to this theological approach, God’s law must be adapted to the personal situation and the concrete possibilities of each person. Taking for granted that it is impossible to fulfill the divine law, the theory of the gradualness of the law proposes degrees in the law’s requirements and application (gradualness), even in the case of intrinsically evil acts (negative divine precepts). On this view, for example, the application of the norm taught by the Encyclical Humanae Vitae will depend on the conscience of each person, so that in some cases recourse to contraception may be good or even necessary for marriage.

Against this falsification of the Gospel, Cardinal Lustiger has already pointed out the way in which the term “gradualness” must be understood, avoiding both Pelagianism and relativism. Divine pedagogy involves the story of a true birth to divine life through the Spirit. The exclusion of the gradualness of the law is the necessary condition for an evangelical law of gradualness. Only by maintaining the obligatory character of the commandments can one offer a pedagogy of accompaniment based on the power of grace and conversion.[51] Everything must begin with conversion, which is death to sin. There is no gradualness between death and life, between a corpse and a living body. Only on this premise is it possible to offer the gradual path that involves the growth in virtue and the reception of God’s gift. To change the law of God and redefine what is good and evil is a false mercy: a legalistic act that makes pastoral care unnecessary and even impossible.[52]

What is at stake here is not simply a question of terminology (gradualness of the law or law of gradualness) but one of substance. Do the law of Christ and the moral demands placed on the Christian depend on human frailty or divine grace? Who determines our real possibilities: our weakness or Christ’s power? Augustine’s answer is clear: “The law was therefore given, in order that grace might be sought; grace was given, in order that the law might be fulfilled.”[53] The measure of God’s covenant is not our frailty but God’s infinite mercy.

This clarification allows us to show in what sense the Church’s action is called to be a pastoral ministry of mercy. Contrary to current falsifications, mercy stands as the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. Mercy goes beyond mere compassion and simple tolerance of evil. Those who tolerate evil do not eliminate it; they do not heal it, and, therefore, they do not offer a perspective of hope to the person. For this reason, true mercy calls to conversion, which “is the most concrete expression of the working of love … in the human world. The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man.”[54]

Beyond mere compassion and tolerance, mercy presupposes a regeneration of the Christian subject, who becomes capable of loving in truth. Here is an authentic battle culminating in the victory of good over evil. Inasmuch as mercy concerns the relationship between God and human beings, its true meaning entails the reestablishment of the covenant. This is the mercy that “constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission.”[55]

d) A Pastoral Care of the Spring, not of the Well

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”[56] Christ’s pastoral care of the Samaritan woman is a pastoral care of transformation, not of preservation, a pastoral care of the spring, not of the well. Jesus goes to the place of desires (the well) to meet the woman, but he does not stop there: he makes of her a spring. There will be no more cracked cisterns, but a spring from which the water of eternal life gushes forth. In the woman Jesus’ prophecy in the temple at Jerusalem is fulfilled: “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.”

According to Johannine theology, the gift of the water of eternal life, the Holy Spirit, flows from the pierced heart of Christ on the cross.[57] From Calvary flows a river of living water that regenerates wounded relationships and transforms the human heart into a paradise and a spring for many. Thus, on the cross, Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman are fulfilled: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”[58] According to the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Holy Spirit given on the cross is the fountain springing up in the hearts of believers and whispering: “Come, come to the Father.”[59] The power of the Spirit flows like a subterranean river and unites us more and more to Christ through the grace of the Church’s sacraments.

Therefore, the pastoral care of the wellspring is always a Trinitarian pastoral care: in Christ, through the Spirit, towards the Father. In contrast to this, the emotive approach (of “the well”) offers a salvation that is purely immanent, “meeting material or even spiritual needs, restricted to the framework of temporal existence and completely identified with temporal desires, hopes, affairs and struggles.”[60] Christ’s salvation surpasses all these limits and introduces us to communion with God; it is already present now and is increasing on the way. Salvation is transcendent: it certainly begins in this life and reaches its fullness in the life of eternity.

From this perspective, we also understand that ecclesial pastoral care must be essentially Marian. In Mary we encounter Christ. The blessed woman, full of the Holy Spirit, is the one who shows us the way and teaches us to embrace the logic of superabundance.

Here we are faced with a true paradigm shift in pastoral ministry: from our isolated human strengths, we must move on to the original gift of the vocation entrusted to us by God. There is a new measure because there is an inexhaustible fountain of eternal life. The overflowing gift of the Spirit leads us to abandon an individualistic and mediocre kind of pastoral care that focuses on solving problems, and to embrace a communitarian approach that calls us to holiness. Where the “old pastoral ministry” has sought to excite and console, it is necessary to offer a new approach that calls to action, promoting the person’s flourishing in his or her following of Christ. What is at stake is no longer discerning in conscience and assessing values; rather, it is a matter of receiving the divine gift, exercising prudence and growing in virtue. The guiding question will no longer be, “What should I feel?” but “What have I received?” and “What should I do?” In reality, this “paradigm shift” is not a “revolution,” but a return to the sources of Scripture and Tradition from the freshness of the divine wellspring that never ceases to gush forth with newness.

Taking this perspective, one overcomes the temptation to censor or ignore the difficult and demanding teachings of the Church. The “no’s” that the Church must proclaim are part of Christ’s great “yes” to human beings and their happiness. “Without a ‘no’ to certain things the great ‘yes’ to true life cannot grow.”[61] We thus avoid any opposition between pastoral care and doctrine, between the work of the pastor and that of the theologian.[62] A pastoral conversion to the truth of love discloses the profound unity between doctrine and pastoral care, between faith and daily life.[63] What saves us is the truth of Christ’s love, not a truth without love or a love without truth.

The “pastoral ministry of the spring” is not based on the multitude of human activities but on divine initiative. Therefore, it recognizes the Church’s liturgy as the actualization of the mystery of Christ and the source of pastoral initiative. The sacraments, far from being one-off social actions, are true births, new beginnings in the life of a person that renew his or her relationships. Since the sacraments are wellsprings of eternal life, preparing in advance for their celebration is not enough; one must consider them as starting points for subsequent accompaniment at the level of the parish and the family.[64] In particular, the celebration of the Eucharist, source and summit of the Church’s life, will be central to the renewal of pastoral care. “Thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew!”[65]

The wellspring of Christ’s heart does not run dry. The pastoral care of the spring, by not depending on the isolated forces of human beings, offers confidence in the future. God’s grace will not fail us. At the same time, by requiring us to assume a new measure, this pastoral care calls for humility and docility. We must “let ourselves be overcome” by the Lord and rejoice in doing so. As St. Ephrem beautifully says: “The thirsty one rejoices because he can drink, but is not upset because he is unable to render the source dry. The well can conquer your thirst, but your thirst cannot conquer the fountain. If your thirst is satiated, without the fountain running short, whenever you are thirsty, you can drink again. But if, through your being satiated, the fountain were rendered dry, your victory would be unto your misfortune. Give thanks for what you have taken away, and do not murmur over what remains and is in excess.”[66]

e) A Pastoral Care of Holiness

Given the overabundance of the divine source, the pastoral itinerary must be placed in the perspective of holiness.[67] “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”[68] This dynamic is intrinsic to and decisive for pastoral care. This path will not be just for a select few, because the truth of love is the vocation of every person, without exception.

Considering the present situation of the Church in the world and given the post-modern atmosphere, it is necessary to insist on this aspect of evangelizing pastoral care. Holiness is possible because Christ’s redemption is real.[69] Priestly celibacy can be promised and observed. Conjugal chastity can be joyfully lived by married couples. As the example of the Samaritan woman shows, there is always room for repentance and rebirth.

On this path, the saints are no islands but rather “oases around which life sprouts up and something of the lost paradise returns.”[70] Therefore, the path to holiness is not individual but communitarian. The future of pastoral care depends on creative minorities,[71] that is to say, on missionary communities in which persons flourish in their relationships. In these communities, persons are formed through common practices and itineraries as well as rites of passage.

Holiness goes by way of the cross and embraces pain and persecution as a participation in Christ’s self-giving. The perfection of charity in following Christ has its highest expression in martyrdom.

f) A Pastoral Care of Missionary Activity: From the Spring to the Springs

The woman abandoned her water jar and ran into the city.[72] Her running manifests the urgency generated by the great love of Jesus Christ. She became a source of living water for her neighbors. She who had come thirsty and desperate returned free and satisfied. The woman did not wait to receive more formation. She could not help communicating the gift she had received. Evangelizing was the natural fruit of her conversion. Therefore, if earlier we have spoken of a permanent “state of conversion,” we can now also think of a status evangelizationis, a “state of evangelization,” that is proper to every baptized person and to the whole mystical body that is the Church. To be a Christian is to be a missionary. Sharing the faith with others is the way in which the faith grows and consolidates its roots. The faith is a contagious gift that keeps generating springs wherever it goes.

“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”[73] The woman invites her fellow-villagers to the faith on the basis of the light that the Lord has brought to her actions and relationships. With his presence, Christ transforms the life story of the Samaritan woman, introducing a new beginning.

Saint Augustine points out that in this woman we can recognize a symbol of the Church announcing the Gospel.[74] The missionary urgency of the Samaritan woman shows that making disciples is an interior need of every believer. Proclamation is not the work of a few experts, but it is proper to whoever encounters Christ. All members of the Church are active missionaries. It is necessary to highlight not only the missionary importance of the family, the domestic Church, but also the relevance of the laity in the sanctification of the temporal order. The pastoral approach based on the truth of love allows us to shed light on the relationship between the family and the consecrated life, between the laity and the priestly order in the covenant of vocations.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”[75] The Samaritans straightaway follow the example of the woman: they leave behind the “water jar” and run to announce Christ, transmitting the faith to others. St. Augustine summarizes this missionary spread in this way: “first by report, then by His presence.”[76] First, Christ is announced through Christian friends who spread his fame. Then, those who receive the word know the Savior and receive the gift of his presence. The purpose of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus who—almost immediately—become missionaries.

Christ is recognized by the Samaritans as the “Savior of the world,” and not simply as an exemplary man or one among many mediators of the divine. Only in him is the mystery of human beings and their vocation to love fully revealed. The perspective of the truth of love, which has its roots in a theology of Creation and in anthropology, shows the need to promote an evangelizing culture that, while respecting other religions and cultures, knows how courageously to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, avoiding relativism.[77]


“When all the wells have dried up, she (the Samaritan woman) will still have water.”[78] The Church, expert in humanity, preserves the water of eternal life until the end of the world, until the victorious return of the Lord. In the present situation, when the wells of the modern project and of the utilitarian emotivist subject are running dry, the new evangelization requires the perspective of the truth of love, which directs our gaze to the wellspring of Christ’s heart.

Pastoral care will not receive any new light by adapting the Church to the world, renouncing the demands of truth. Reducing God’s plan to human possibilities with a politically correct, low-profile Catholicism would constitute a betrayal of the Gospel of Christ. And yet renewal will not come from a mere return to the past either, which would confine us to old models that served to confront the crises of times gone by. Renewal will not involve going backward, just as it will not entail leaping forward into the post-modern abyss. The key will be to ascend to the wellspring of divine love.[79] The perspective of the truth of love allows us to overcome sterile dialectics (between traditionalism and liberalism) by inviting us to elevate ourselves toward the source, toward the “beauty ever ancient and ever new.”[80] This fountain is the Lord, present in the Church and, in particular, in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Church’s life. At this fountain, Jesus teaches us “the truth about the love which is the very essence of God.”[81] For this reason, evangelizing pastoral care finds its center and source in the sacrament of the altar, which is extended in Eucharistic adoration.

“If you want to find the source / you have to go up, against the current / Break through, search, don’t yield.”[82]

  1. Jer 2:13.

  2. Cf. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 24, 27, 30, 32.

  3. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 294.

  4. Jn 4:4.

  5. Cf. Phil 2:5-11.

  6. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, Paulist Press, New York 1988, 9; cf. Gen 33:18; 48:21; Jos 24:32.

  7. Cf. Origen, Homilies on Numbers, 12.

  8. Cf. 1 Tim 2:4.

  9. Cf. Paul VI, Address to the United Nations Organization, October 4, 1965; John Paul II, Address to the Participants at the VI Symposium of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, October 11, 1985, Address to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, April 26, 2001.

  10. Cf. François Dubois, La época de las pasiones tristes, Siglo XXI Editores, 2020.

  11. Paul Claudel, Le Père humilié, Act II, Scene 2.

  12. Cf. Livio Melina, Morale: tra crisi e rinnovamento, Ares, Roma 1993.

  13. Cf. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1943.

  14. Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families, n. 13-14.

  15. Juan José Pérez-Soba, La pastoral familiar. Entre programaciones pastorales y generación de una vida, BAC, Madrid 2014.

  16. Mt 5:13.

  17. Cf. Charles Péguy, Clio I, Temporal and Eternal, Indianapolis, Liberty Press 2001, 85-165; Charles Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

  18. Cf.: Luis Granados and Ignacio De Ribera (eds.), Minorías Creativas: El Fermento del Cristianismo, Colección Didaskalos, Burgos: Editorial Monte Carmelo, 2011.

  19. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 1.

  20. Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, n. 10.

  21. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 22.

  22. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, n. 24.

  23. Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 27.

  24. Maximus the Confessor, The Four Centuries on Charity, 4, 100.

  25. Eph 4:13.

  26. Gal 2:20.

  27. Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, 23 January 2006, citing Dante, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, 33.

  28. Cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 22.

  29. Cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 103. Also see thesis 10 of the Veritas Amoris Project.

  30. Francis, Homily on the Occasion of a Pastoral Visit to the Roman Parish of “Ognisanti,” 7 March 2015.

  31. In this regard, see the interesting reflections on the divine architecture of human relationships in the first encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei. See also Carlos Granados and José Granados, El corazón, urdimbre y trama, Didaskalos, Madrid.

  32. Cf. José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, and Juan José Pérez-Soba, Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating. A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of the Family According to Amoris Laetitia, Emmaus Road Press, Steubenville 2017, 4.

  33. Cf. Luis Granados, “Family Friendly Parishes,” in Giovanni Paolo II, Papa della familia, Siena, Cantagalli 2015.

  34. Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Council for the Family, 1 December 2011; see also: Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 200.

  35. [Note of the translator: This phrase is from Amoris Laetitia, n. 211, though it gets lost in the English translation. The authoritative Latin version reads: “Oportet cura pastoralis praematrimonialis et matrimonialis ante omnia pastoralis cura sit vinculi.”]

  36. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 211.

  37. Cf. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 315.

  38. Cf. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 13.

  39. Jn 4:17-18.

  40. Cf. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 100.

  41. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n. 145.

  42. Cf. Livio Melina, Conciencia y prudencia. La reconstrucción del sujeto moral cristiano, Didaskalos, Madrid 2019, 43.

  43. Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Also see: Livio Melina and Carl A. Anderson (eds.), The Way of Love. Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2006.

  44. Cf. John Paul II, Homily, 25 October 1980; Familiaris Consortio, n. 9 and n. 34.

  45. Cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 103. See the 10th thesis of the Veritas Amoris Project.

  46. Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dilecti Amici, n. 9 and 13.

  47. Cf. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, n. 13.

  48. John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, n. 13.

  49. Cf. Augustine, Confessions, 8, 11.

  50. Augustine, Sermones de Scripturis de Novo Testamento (PL 38), 83, 7.

  51. Cf. Jean-Marie Lustiger, “Gradualità e conversion,” in Various Authors, La “Familiaris Consortio,” LEV, Vatican City 1982, 55.

  52. See Livio Melina, Conciencia y prudencia, 125.

  53. Augustine, De spiritu et littera 19, 34: CSEL 60, 187. On this see also: Juan de Dios Larrú, “Gradualità e maturazione,” José Noriega, René Ecochard, Isabelle Ecochard (eds.), Dizionario su sesso, amore e fecondità, Cantagalli, Siena 2019, 442-449.

  54. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, n. 6.

  55. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, n. 6.

  56. Jn 4:13-14.

  57. Cf. Jn 19:31-37.

  58. Jn 4:23.

  59. Cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom., 6:1-9. See also: Benedict XVI, Homily, World Youth Day, 20 July 2008.

  60. Cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 27.

  61. Benedict XVI, Address on the Occasion of a Meeting with the Youth of Rome and the Lazio Region in Preparation of the World Youth Day, 25 March 2010.

  62. Livio Melina, ed., Conversione pastorale per la famiglia: sì, ma quale? Contributo del Pontificio Istituto Giovanni Paolo II al Sinodo, Cantagalli, Siena 2015, 19.

  63. Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, n. 43.

  64. Cf. Karl-Heinz Menke, Sacramentalidad: esencia y llaga del catolicismo, BAC, Madrid 2014; Juan de Dios Larrú and José Granados (eds.), La perspectiva sacramental. Luz nueva sobre el hombre y el cosmos, Didaskalos, Madrid 2017.

  65. Benedict XVI, Homily in Occasion of the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, 7 May 2005. Cf. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 6.

  66. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron, I, 19. Saint Ephrem’s Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron. An English Translation of Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709, edited and translated by Carmel McCarthy, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1993, p. 49.

  67. Cf. John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte, n. 30.

  68. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 40.

  69. Cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 103.

  70. Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Doubleday, New York, 2007, 248.

  71. Cf. Luis Granados and Ignacio De Ribera (eds.), Minorías Creativas: El Fermento del Cristianismo, Editorial Monte Carmelo, Burgos 2011.

  72. Cf. Jn 4:28.

  73. Jn 4:29.

  74. Cf. Augustine, Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, 15, 33.

  75. Jn 4, 42.

  76. Augustine, Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, 15, 33.

  77. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus, 6 August 2000.

  78. Paul Claudel, Le Père humilié, Act II, Scene 2.

  79. Cf. Livio Melina, Conciencia y prudencia,124.

  80. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 27, 38.

  81. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 2.

  82. John Paul II, The Poetry of John Paul II. Roman Triptych. Meditations, USCCB Publishing, Washington DC 2003, 9.

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Luis Granados

Luis Granados

Father Luis Granados is a Faculty Fellow at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology. He is the director of the men's division of Mater Salvatoris College Preparatory School in Stamford, Connecticut, United States.

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The Veritas Amoris Project focuses on the truth of love as a key to understanding the mystery of God, the human person and the world, convinced that this perspective provides an integral and fruitful pastoral approach.

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