Traditional Catholicism, through its division between lay and religious life, attempted to accommodate both the heroic and the ordinary. While many lay people led heroic lives, often anonymously, it was the religious who sought to give public witness to that possibility. Certain types of “reformers,” of whom the early Protestants are the best examples, have found this distinction invidious and have insisted that all Christians are called equally to lives of holiness. Yet, however appealing this might be in theory, in practice it led eventually to a general lowering of standards for everyone. The fact that so many religious in the postconciliar Church find their vocations troublesome is directly related to the mentality which is not even certain that a distinctively Christian form of heroism – sanctity – is desirable.
Nowhere is the intellectual and moral revolution that has swept over the Church more tellingly revealed than in the current popularity of the word pastoral, which is often simply used as a synonym for permissive. A “pastoral” solution to a problem, a “pastoral” priest or a bishop, “pastoral” needs, are now frequently the simple equivalent of endorsing whatever happens to be current practice, a refusal to lay burdens on people’s consciences.
Yet an authentic understanding of the Church’s tradition of pastoral care cannot evade the recognition that, since this care aims at setting man right with God, it cannot be simply a concession to the individual’s subjective sense of rightness.
James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)