Cognitive-affective Maturation for Pastoral Leadership

Abraham Mattakottil, csc


The context of my presentation is the theme of the convention, that is, “….the formation of priests for our times”. The assigned topic of my presentations is “affective maturity for pastoral leadership”. Cognitive-affective maturity or basic emotional intelligence, to use a concept popularized by Goleman[1], is a price of entry to the playing field of leadership, pastoral or otherwise. Recent studies, as reported by Goleman, have shown that affect and cognition are not separate, independent faculties of the mind as often assumed by philosophers and psychologists alike. Cognitive and emotional faculties are found to be integral components of one and the same competency. It may, therefore, be more meaningful to talk about cognitive-emotional maturity rather than mere affective maturity.

All emotions are, in essence, response to meanings and impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. Over millions of Years of evolution, the brain has grown with its higher centres developing as elaborations, and not replacements, of the lower, more primitive parts. The neocortex, the thinking centre, emerged as an elaboration of the limbic system, the emotion centre, which, in turn, emerged as an elaboration of the reptilian brain stem, the largely pre-programmed action centre. Since they are elaborations and not replacements, the challenge is to have them adequately integrated or held together integrally.

Normally, the thinking centre and the emotion centre work together resulting in behaviours having desired impact except in moments of what is known as emotional hijacking. There are situations and moments when one’s emotion centre may take over the control and the rational brain may get blacked out resulting in emotional outbursts and destructive behaviours. Thinking gives directions to the feeling and the feelings give life and passion to the thinking. That is emotional intelligence. The higher one goes up on the ladder of responsibility, the more one is expected to be emotionally intelligent. Longitudinal studies have shown that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success and effectiveness of leadership than the conventional measures of intelligence like the IQ.

I begin my presentation with a brief discussion of the basic dynamics of cognitive-affective maturation and a quick survey of some key emotional competencies[2] required for effective leadership as ‘price of entry’ to the playing field. Then I will try to situate ourselves in the context of ‘our times’ briefly examining the challenges faced by individuals living in the postmodern times. Then we will take a look at the ‘deeper’ challenges, beyond the price of entry, faced by pastoral leaders of today. I will do so with the freedom of a counselling psychologist and without the burden of a Catholic theologian. I will do so drawing from the many years of experience that I have in accompanying people in their growth and development through counselling, accompanying individuals in retreat and facilitating growth groups. I would like you, my elder brothers in the Church, to relate to my reflections not so much to see if they are ‘correct’ but to check if they ‘make sense’.

Cognitive-Affective Maturation and Emotional Competencies

Here is an excerpt from a paper presented by Baars and Terruwe at the World Synod of Bishops Meeting in Rome in 1970.[1] The conclusions given below were based on two extensive studies.

“In general, we estimate that 10-15% of all priests in Western Europe and North American are mature; 20-25% have serious psychiatric difficulties, especially in the form of neuroses and chronic alcoholism, or a combination of both; and 60-70% suffer from a degree of emotional immaturity which does not prevent them from exercising their priestly function, but precludes them from being happy men and effective priests…”  

The data given above is certainly not flattering especially when we realize that the situation in the subcontinent may not be any better than that of Europe and America. Besides, there are no clear signs that the global situation had been improving as shown by the explosion of the immaturity related scandals since the mid-eighties. Perhaps the scenario has become more distressing in our times.

Emotional integration or cognitive-emotional maturity is not the same as emotional self-control. Emotional self-control may very well be the result of downright repression, misguided or fear-induced suppression, belief-controlled denial, image-monitored masking, erroneous austerity or a conditioned habit. Emotional integration, on the hand, is achieved through the difficult and even painful process of maturation. I think it may be more helpful to speak of maturation rather than maturity. The term maturity suggests a state that I have arrived at or achieved. Maturation, in fact, is a life-long ongoing process.

Journey of Maturation

The following is a portrait of developmental journey[3] given in the first person singular and past tense, hoping that it would be easier on the listener.

I set out on my developmental journey from the pre-differentiated ‘mother-and-I-are-one’ fusion-union state. I indulged, for a time, in being my body, my physical self, through sensing and moving following my impulses. Having ‘hatched out’ out of the physical self, I got immersed in my emotional self, in my feelings, needs, likes and dislikes, and treated the world as an extension of myself and as existing for myself. I revelled, then, in the power of my newly discovered mental self and learned to control and even push aside my impulses, urges, feelings and fantasies. Building on the powers of the mental self, I moved into the roe-rule self. I learnt to be good in the eyes of the other by obeying the rules, playing the roles and following the scripts others made for me. Then I took my faltering steps into the space of reason and possibilities to build a mature ego, knitting together a stable sense of myself, becoming a sort of self-contained unit and, in some real sense, an individual on my own right. I was able to recognize with a measure of coherence and durability my needs, preferences, interests and perspectives only to discover that there are others with their needs, preferences, interests and perspectives. I realized that they are also similarly self-contained units and individuals in some equally real sense. I managed pretty well up to this point.

Cognitive-emotional Competencies

I began moving out from a state of being led by my urges and impulses, my feelings and needs, the rules, roles and scripts made by others towards a state where I had to begin the process of leading myself within the emerging space of reason and possibilities, hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties. I began feeling the burden of my developmental deficits: over-identifications and resulting fixations, over differentiations and consequent alienations, repressions and ensuing disconnect, and the growth inhibiting nature of some of the scripts that I internalised. The going began getting tough from this point onwards. I had to manage relationships of various types for which I required several new cognitive-emotional competencies.

Emotional Self-awareness

I had to learn how to sense, recognize, name and own my feelings and their probable sources. I needed to understand how my feelings, thoughts, self-talk, and behaviours are integrally interconnected. I had to recognise that my mind had not only taken charge and regulated my needs, urges and feelings but it also had, many times, simply denied and even pushed them out of consciousness and, thus, making them and their impact somewhat unavailable to my awareness now.

Emotional Expression

I had to learn to express my feelings in socially acceptable and interpersonally appropriate ways. I had to learn how to express, truthfully, directly, tactfully and unambiguously how I am emotionally impacted both from inside and from outside. I realised more and more that the quality of my emotional expression was directly proportional to the quality of my emotional self-awareness. Interpersonal communication skills could give me tools to express my emotions but it was the quality of my self-awareness that was going to determine the quality of my emotional expression.

            It was painful to realize that, the extent to which I was alienated from my physical self and had repressed my emotional self, I had difficulty in recognizing, sensing, naming and owning my feelings in relation to events in my personal and interpersonal life. It was one thing just to know that something had happened which affected me in some ways but becoming aware of the event was another thing. Only to the extent that I became aware I was able to recognize the impact the event had on me as a person, sense how my body reacted to the impact, hear the cry of body to release the energy thus generated, confide in another person about what I had been through and ultimately dialogue with the person concerned if and when possible. Though I theoretically knew that true healing and integration could not take place without bringing the emotional experiencing cycle[4] to a satisfactory closure, I did not know how to accomplish it without some competent assistance. Though I knew that unhealed wounds and undigested experiences could clog my emotional experiencing channels and make my interpersonal communications deficient and ineffective, I was at a loss, most of the time.

Recognizing Emotions in Others

I began to realize more and more that fruitful relationships and meaningful communications were not possible unless I also learnt to recognize and value how others were also impacted just like me by various events internal and external. I had to teach myself the art of reading verbal as well as nonverbal emotional cues in others, gauging how others might feel before I gave my opinion or feedback. I had to learn to show sensitivity and understanding of others’ needs and perspectives. I had to teach myself how to sense the mood of the other and configure my emotional expression depending upon the person I was dealing with.

I had to come to terms with the truth that when I am alienated from my body and disconnected with my emotional world, I found it very difficult, if not impossible, to sense other people’s feelings, read emotions from their body language, put myself in their shoes, go out of my way to help someone in trouble. When I did not recognize, name, own and take responsibility for my emotional experiences ranging from joy to pain, strength to weakness, and love to anger, I had difficulty even in permitting the other to experience them in my presence, leave alone listening to and understanding them.

Managing Relationships

Managing relationships was the next challenge. First and foremost I had to manage to bring together various aspects of me like my body, with its impulses and urges, my emotions with their essential volatility and my mind with its ability to recall and feel guilty as well anticipate and experience anxiety. Then I had to learn to hold together my needs, interests, likes and dislikes with those of the other I had to live and interact with. In order to do so, I had to experientially learn reciprocity, mutuality, respect, trust, fidelity and so on. It was not at all easy to do so.

I had to learn to dialogue first of all with my stable yet volatile, intentional yet ambivalent, inner self. I had to learn to dialogue with the other, their feelings and needs, their points of view and perspectives. It is through these struggles that I had to develop my intelligence for living and competencies for managing relationships.


It was not always easy to motivate me with focus and direction especially when my moods were low and when I faced setbacks. As a matter of fact, it was very difficult. I had to cultivate the ability to put aside short-term rewards for long-term goals. I had to discover my true strengths and come to honest terms with my weaknesses. I had to teach myself to say no when I had to, without feeling guilty. I had to ultimately take responsibility for owning and managing my emotions. I gradually learnt that what I was unable or reluctant to own and manage was often projected outside me. What I did not own eventually owned me. I learnt the hard and painful way that if I did not own my shadow, my shadow was sure to own me. Sometimes, some of my behaviours were a surprise not only to other but even to me because they had their origins in my disowned shadows.


It was initially hard for me to accept the truth that the meaning of my communication was the impact I had on the other and the response I elicited. I began understanding that it was not my intention and goodwill that really made the difference. The impact of my communication, I gradually learnt, was directly connected with my ability to give a single congruent message when I communicate, truthfully reflecting what I think, what I feel, what I sense, what I choose and what I really am. When people got an unambiguous single message from my person and from my communication, it was easier for them to trust me. I realized that I had to become credible to them, before they could trust me and trust what I said or did. When I became credible and felt trusted, I was less compelled to preach what I didn’t believe in and what I didn’t live. I realized how liberating it was to say yes and mean it and have the courage to say no when I had to. When I made only those promises that I was willing to keep and I did keep the promises that I made, I became more credible and felt good about myself. As I became more familiar with my strengths and more comfortable with my limitations I felt greater courage to ask for feedback on my style and functioning. As I grew in my courage to ask for feedback I experienced inner strength to give honest feedback to my colleagues, co-workers and even my superiors. I began functioning more on the strength of my character than by the glow of my status and image.

Please Help

All that sounds too good to be true, right? Right! That is what I learnt about the journey of maturation from developmental psychologists. The truth is that I am still struggling to develop and sustain these competencies so that I could engage myself, others, the world around me and my God in more and more mature intersubjective encounters. I hate to say that I received precious little accompaniment in my formation years as I struggled to grow and develop. Perhaps many of my companions would have thought and felt the same way as I did, as can be inferred from the following data.

From a national study of nearly 3000 seminarians and sisters in formation from across the country, Paul Parathazham[5] reported (1) that the formees when asked to compare themselves with their peers in the world outside, they stated that their peers were superior to them on several maturity indices, (2) that the longer they were in formation, the greater their sense of inadequacy in comparison with their peers and (3) that the formees scored less than their peers on achievement scale, and higher on self-abasement scale.

Even before I had become sure of the individual that I was, the invitation was to empty myself like Christ did. I had no other option than to learn the vocabulary of ‘kenosis’ and use them whenever or wherever I thought that I was expected to. I was constantly being told to let go what I had not yet even really discovered, that is, my real self. I was continually urged to become ‘nobody’ before I had managed to become ‘somebody’. I was told in subtle ways that I did not have to think for myself since someone else had already done the thinking for me, long before I was even conceived. Similarly I was persuaded to understand that I did not have to make choices on my own as there are competent people appointed to make decisions on my behalf. I was discouraged from standing up for and speaking up what I believed in since obedience was the best sacrifice. I discouraged myself from voicing many of those developmentally emerging questions within me about me, my body, my religious beliefs and practices and so on, because I did not want to be reported as lacking in faith, shallow in motivation and wavering in my vocation. I had to hide both from myself and from others my sense of pride in being myself and in my achievements lest I should be perceived as proud and lacking in humility. I did not know what to do with my sexuality and aggression because we hardly ever had a chance to talk about them or opportunities to deal with them as we had more important things to learn. But I must confess that I could confess my feelings of shame and guilt about them with the certainty that I could confess them again and again.

Taken together the aforementioned competencies can be said to constitute cognitive-emotional intelligence which, according to longitudinal studies referred to earlier, is a better predictor of leadership success in any domain. A ‘working knowledge’ of and functional ‘proficiency’ in these E I competencies, as we saw earlier, is the price of entry into the playing field of leadership of any kind. Unfortunately this ‘price of entry’ into the playing field appears to be beyond the ordinary means of a substantial proportion of our pastoral leadership as suggested by the data we looked at a while ago:” 60-70% suffers from a degree of emotional immaturity which does not prevent them from exercising their priestly function, but precludes them from being happy men and effective priests”.

Beyond the Price of Entry

            A certain competency in self-awareness, self-expression, awareness of others, managing relationships, intentionality and integrity, let us say, constitute the price of entry to the playing field of pastoral leadership. What more may be required of pastoral leaders in ‘our times’? In order to answer that question, we need to take closer look at what ‘our times’ are.

The Context of Our Times

Let me begin by briefly outlining what I gather are the challenges of our times. We live in the postmodern times. The fear-induced apprehensions as well as the legitimate concerns notwithstanding, let us take a quick look at the valid challenges posed by postmodern times, challenges that are here to stay.

The Dignity and Disaster of Enlightenment

There was a time when conventional religion could provide humans with an overarching coherent frame of reference for all the domains of human pursuits: the domains of art, science and morals. Religion determined the contours self-expression or art, inquiries into the nature of reality or science and ethical discourses or morals. The dawn of enlightenment challenged that overarching frame of reference in favour of domain differentiation and domain autonomy, freeing art, science and morals for independent pursuits of their domain-specific objectives. The dignity of differentiation went too far resulting in the disaster of dissociation, as described by Ken Wilber[6]. Gradually empirical sciences gained prominence claiming to play the role that was once assigned to religion namely that of providing both an overarching frame of reference as well as answers to the bugging questions about life and reality.

Though the sciences could not really fulfil the promises they made, religion did not and perhaps could not regain its original grounds. Science managed to occupy the space thus vacated by religion. The other domains began to model themselves after science and the scientific methodology. Issues and concerns once ‘classified’ as mysteries of faith began getting successfully converted into problems to be solved and hypotheses to be tested. Since human dimensions like interiority, meaning and depth would not lend themselves to scientific investigations and hypotheses testing, they got pushed into the realm of ‘speculations’. We almost reached a point when crowds began asking science, “Are you the messiah or do we have to keep waiting for the messiah to come?”

The Challenges of Postmodernism

The hegemony of science often referred to as scientism began to be resented and the fundamental claims of science like that of uncontaminated objectivity and empirical certainty began to be systematically questioned. These challenges began to echo in the corridors of all the domains of human inquiry including the bubble chambers of nuclear physics as well as the libraries of theological investigations. The following assertions could, perhaps, summarize both the challenges posed and the turmoil generated by postmodern times.

1.Humans are meaning-making organisms. An event becomes an experience through the unique personal process of meaning-making that takes place in the interior personal space we refer to as self, person or consciousness. Meaning-making is a developmentally evolving life-long process[7].
2.Meaning and ‘reality’ to a large extent are co-constructed by the meaning maker in relation to the givens. ‘Reality’ is not simply lying around to be objectively gathered, dispassionately analysed and scientifically manipulated. The colours of a setting sun, the music in the orchestra, the smell of flowers, the taste of fruits, the meaning of events and so on are co-constructions.
3.This co-construction takes place within ‘contexts within contexts’ that are intrapersonal, interpersonal, cultural-educational, and social-political.

4.Just as there are multiple contexts within contexts, there are multiple co-constructions of ‘reality’.

5.No particular context-dependent co-construction can assume arbitrary predominance over the others

6.Evolution is the master motion of life and the only thing that may be considered constant is change.

As a logical consequence of the above came the demand for recognizing, valuing and celebrating differences to the point of developing an aversion toward anything even remotely resembling an overarching metanarrative with absolute truth claims and universally valid principles. Along with the aversion for metanarratives came the reaction towards hierarchy of any kind including that of values, worldviews, perspectives and preferences. The all important distinction between natural or evolutionary hierarchies and the arbitrary pathological hierarchies of domination and oppression got blurred and hierarchy per se came to be resented.

Deeper Challenges to Pastoral Leadership

At this point the postmodern perspectives and their very valid challenges begin to get caught in the quicksand of ever-sliding context within contexts, and the multiple and even conflicting context-dependent co-constructions of ‘reality’ and their truth claims. Individuals in postmodern times are left with the burden of making sense and finding meaning in the midst of this confusing multiplicity of contexts within contexts, co-constructions and their truth claims. The challenge before the postmodern individual is to do so without getting stuck in the quicksand of debilitating relativism devoid of depth and direction, interiority and spirit. That challenge, says Robert Kegan[8], is beyond the ability of most adults living in the postmodern times and he poignantly titled his book on the subject “In over Our Heads”.

Pastoral leadership is invited to step in, accompany individuals in their meaning-making process and enable and empower them in co-constructing life-enhancing meanings, and making wholesome choices. Conceiving pastoral leadership primarily through the conventional pastoral roles of preaching, teaching and sanctifying will not be sufficient in accompanying postmodern individuals in their meaning-making process and in their struggles to make sense of the multiple contexts, perspectives and co-constructions. As a matter of fact, they are becoming increasingly resentful of being preached at, being simply taught and ‘shepherded’, and merely being at the receiving end of priestly sanctification.

The postmodern individuals look for whole-person[9] pastoral leaders with mind capable of courageous re-visioning, will capable of aligning systems and practices with the renewed vision and mission, and cognitive-emotional competencies capable of empowering and enabling individuals in their search for truth and meaning. They look for pastoral leaders willing to be true ‘servant-leaders’ exercising leadership and authority through modelling the above and not through mere preaching, teaching and sanctifying. Abundance of good will, even when backed up by deep faith, is not sufficient. We need competencies. We need integral maturity and leadership capabilities beyond the price of entry to the playing field.

Maturation: an Integral Process

Maturation is an integral journey of unfolding and enfolding, the journey of ‘going ahead’ plus ‘taking along’. We could compare to an ocean this unfolding of consciousness and growth toward maturity. The various stages from a prepersonal fusion-union state of infancy, through ego-centric autonomy, ethnocentric identity, independence and interdependence toward fully differentiated universal spiritual communion with all and the All could then be described as distinct waves in the ocean of development. Self-sense, cognitive structures, cognitive-emotional maturity, ethical sense, aesthetic sense, and relationship with the Ultimate could be compared to streams in the same ocean unfolding along similar developmental waves. Though the developmental paths are similar the developmental schedules of the various streams may vary owing to any number of reasons. Maturity, when seen integrally, would mean that there is more or less similar developmental unfolding along all the various streams from fusion-union of infancy through the various autonomies toward the universal-spiritual communion.

An individual may have progressed rapidly in the cognitive stream but if his ethical sense has not caught up with the cognitive stream, if his emotional growth schedule is badly stuck at some under-differentiated earlier stage of development, if his interpersonal development is narcissistically retarded and if his faith development has not moved farther than the mythic membership stage, we will have an intellectually accomplished but immature person. He may have had his doctoral studies completed with honours, his sermons may be eloquent but he may not even feel guilty about his unethical practices with people and things, he may not have the inner strength to take a feedback from any one, he may be impossible to live and work with, he may hardly have any experience of honest intimacy and he even may impulsively slap a little girl because she did not go to confession as expected. He might even land up in jail.

The integral nature of maturation is elegantly captured by the notion of the unfolding of Orders of Consciousness or Modes of Knowing proposed by Kegan building on but going beyond Piaget’s development of cognitive structures.

Orders of Consciousness

Piaget[10], through his ground-breaking research on cognitive development drew our attention to the two-fold fundamental cognitive process of assimilation and accommodation. A growing person has to first assimilate his numerous encounters with reality within the given cognitive structures available to him or her. In the process of assimilating the givens of experience, he or she soon encounters the limits of the given structures in the face of some newly encountered experiences. He or she then has to accommodate these experiences by going beyond the boundaries and crossing the borders of the given cognitive organisation and its structures in search of wider, more encompassing, and more adequate cognitive spaces. As a result, there emerge newer structures of cognition and fresher organising principles of knowing.

Robert Kegan, drawing from the Piagetian genius, expanded the notion cognitive structures to include multiple dimensions of being and knowing and called them Orders of Consciousness or Modes of Knowing. Following the Piagetian process of assimilation and accommodation, orders of consciousness were found to unfold from atomistic through categorical, cross-categorical, system to trans-system orders of consciousness. We shall now briefly examine this unfolding of orders of consciousness so that we can better grasp why Kegan believes that the postmodern challenges of meaning-making (and responding) is ‘in over the heads’ of average individuals including the pastoral leaders. That will also throw light on the enormity of the challenge and burden on the shoulders of the pastoral leadership of our times.

Atomistic Order of Consciousness

The order of consciousness or the mode of being and knowing we begin with is atomistic or single-point awareness. The little infant with its single-point awareness makes meaning through fleeting sensations and perceptions of reality and has relatively little difficulty in assimilating different experiences like sucking the nipple, feeding from the bottle, and even biting a blanket. The infant can be said to be functioning happily within an atomistic order of consciousness without the burden of organizing, categorizing or classifying experiences.

Categorical Order of Consciousness

The child runs into difficulties with its single-point mode of knowing as new experiences begin to challenge the prevailing principle of cognitive-emotional organisation and necessitate redrawing of boundaries and crossing of borders. For example, the child perceives that the same amount of water and right in front of his eyes changed shape and appeared to be different in quantity when transferred to a different container. He struggles to realize that only the shape and appearance changed and not the actual quantity of water. He begins to realise that water has properties like volume, which are independent of its appearance and his perception of them. This is a more evolved mode of knowing (Categorical Order of consciousness) capable of constructing durable categories of the objects of his knowing based on enduring properties. It is within this Categorical Order of consciousness that the child is able to construct a relatively coherent sense of self, a relatively good grasp of the other, and a relatively stable perception of objects around.

Cross-Categorical Order of Consciousness

The inadequacies of categorical mode of knowing begin to dawn, so to say, on the youngster, when parents, teachers and society begin to demand from him mutuality, trustworthiness, dependability and the like. In order to construct a sense of mutuality, obligations and trustworthiness, the youngster needs a more competent order of consciousness that is capable of several things that must go beyond mere categorical way of knowing. One would require the ability for coordinating more than one set of interests, needs, preferences and points of view. One would require capacities not only to recognize durable categories and classes but also to hold categories and classes together and abstract cross-categorical or trans-categorical considerations, perspectives, values and principles.

One needs to become conscious of the fact that one is a durable self with one’s own needs, interests and preferences, that the others (parents, siblings, classmates, group mates, neighbours, etc.) are durable selves with their own needs, interests and preferences and that the two have to be related in terms of reciprocity, mutuality, relationship, trust, fidelity and accountability.

We may not adequately appreciate the cognitive-emotional demand on the youngster who finds himself thoroughly enjoying his game with his buddies on the field and who clearly recalls that his hardworking father wanted him home early enough to assist him with some household chore. The cognitive-emotional demand on the youngster is to recognize that his valid enjoyment of the game with his buddies and the legitimate wish of his father have to be simultaneously held together and related to, in order to construct some higher order abstractions like considerateness, self-sacrifice, mutuality, and trustworthiness. Cross-categorical construction of values and principles of choice is a difficult task even for most well-meaning adults especially under stress. This is a level of cognitive-emotional maturity not easily achieved by most average adults, say Kegan.

Many well-meaning average adults (seen often in counselling and psychotherapy) do experience considerable difficulty in employing cross-Categorical Order of consciousness especially when they are emotionally disturbed. When one feels deeply hurt, wronged, betrayed and so on, it is somewhat difficult to hold one’s own feelings, perspective, needs and points of view together with those of the persons related to one’s experience. Without this ability to cross borders of Categorical Order of knowing into those of trans-categorical mode of knowing, genuine encounter and dialogue between individuals is difficult. Similar is the cognitive-affective demand on a public servant who is challenged to transcend the boundaries of the categorical mode of knowing. For example, he has to hold together his love for his family and his anxiety about the future of his children on the one hand, and the legitimate demands of his “tax-paying employers” on the other, and construct cross-categorical principles of accountability and professional honesty. Very similar is the cognitive-affective demand on the priest administrator of a parish, school or diocese when he enters into negotiations with the architects and contractors of constructions under his care.

What is true in the case of individuals in encounter and dialogue is true for groups, cultures and worldviews when they wish to engage in dialogue. Cross-cultural encounters essentially require trans-Categorical Order of consciousness or mode of knowing. Individuals and groups engaging in cross-cultural (understood in a broad sense to include faiths, worldviews, race and ethnicity) dialogue need to have several cognitive-emotional facilities. They should be able to simultaneously hold their own and the others’ perspectives, truths and interests in one respectful cross-categorical embrace. They should, like the adolescent we talked about earlier, be able to construct cross-categorical values like mutual respect and mutual trust.

System Order of Consciousness

That one is capable of recognising one’s needs, interests, perspectives and ideals, and simultaneously acknowledging those of another in reciprocity and respect is not sufficient if one were to move into deeper levels of encounters with the reality of the world. The cognitive affective demands get tougher as one has to network several cross-categorical perspectives into abstract systems and networks capable of embracing multiple dimensions of reality and “incarnations” of Truth. More than cross-categorical mode of knowing is demanded when one tries to hold together in oneself and relate to in others, several dimensions of being and knowing at once. That is system/complex mode of knowing.

Consider what the demands would be on an individual wanting to hold together multiple identities forged by religious profession, cultural embeddedness, linguistic origin, ideological stance, and philosophical and spiritual leanings. For example, think of the mental demands involved in being a Christian by religion, a Hindu by cultural embeddedness, a Malayalee by ethnic origin, an Indian by geo-political necessity, secular by ideological leaning and a pluralist by philosophical and spiritual leanings. Imagine how tougher the mental demands would get when the individual wants not only to merely recognise but also to genuinely relate to such compound identities in authentic intersubjective and inter-contextual encounter with one another.

Personhood, multiculturalism, pluralism and secularism are some such abstractions. The compound individuals with their multiple identities can authentically relate to each other if they are experienced as persons. A multicultural perspective can grant different contexts (cultural, racial, ethnic, religious) their integrity and honour without oppression and dominion. Such a stance can hold together multiple identities and perspectives without granting undue prominence to any one of them. Genuine pluralism can honour the fact that Truth finds expressions in different contexts and that forms or expressions of truth evolve along with human consciousness and modes of being and knowing.

The labour pain of birthing higher orders of consciousness was evident in the recent ‘Anna crisis”. Only from a system perspective the warring groups could recognize the fact that “we the people gave ourselves a constitution which guaranteed the supremacy of the Parliament’: “the will of the parliament is the will of the people”, as stated by the Prime Minister or “Parliament and peoples power partnering each other in the dance of democracy’ as articulated in the Times of India editorial of August 29, 2011. Of course, the system perspectives have to be sustained and nourished if the dance were to continue.

This order of knowing presupposes self-authorship. An individual should have attained a considerable degree of autonomy, self-regulation, self-formation, and individuation to become the author of her choices, beliefs, ideals and norms. She is able to critique and norm the norms, so to say. She is no more embedded in her context. She values and honours her context. She is able to review her context. She has her context and her context does not have her. She is not her roles, relationships, and obligations but she, instead, has roles she chooses to play, obligations she considers important to meet, and relationships she wants to sustain and nourish despite their challenges and difficulties. Self-authorship is a prerequisite for genuine intersubjective encounters of depth and quality.

A membership identity, no matter how firmly rooted, in whatever you consider important, without self-authorship is terribly inadequate in intersubjective dialogues. Try to visualize formation that cannot and does not promote self-authorship required for trans-Categorical Order of consciousness. Try to visualize pastoral leadership for our time, which does not cross the boundaries of entrenched Categorical Orders of consciousness. Try to visualize reconciliation without crossing the boundaries of entrenched categorical perceptions of the history of hurts and wounds and warfare.

Trans-system Order of Consciousness

An even more evolved, a more developmentally refined, a wider and deeper mode of knowing or order of consciousness is called for when I am challenged to embrace mutuality, fidelity, sensitivity, respect, justice, fairness and similar considerations to include myself and the other, my group and the other groups, my faith and other faiths, my nationality and the other nationalities, my species and the other species of life, life forms and material forms, and the planet and the cosmos. That is trans-system mode of knowing. From this mode of knowing, contradictions may become paradoxes, opposites may become dialectical polarities, and conflicts may become dialectic tensions. Another name for trans-system order of consciousness could very well be integral spiritual order, though Kegan, being a professional psychologist, would not use the term spiritual. But one can be truly spiritual without necessarily being religious just as one can be religious without being truly spiritual. Integral spirituality, as mentioned earlier, may be conceived as the movement of consciousness from fusion-union state of infancy, through various identities toward stages and states beyond the ego leading to communion with all and the All in a trans-system embrace with ever widening reach and ever deepening grasp.

Integral Maturity for Pastoral Leadership

The relevance of pastoral leadership and its impact as spiritual catalyst would be determined by the width and embrace of the orders of consciousness our pastoral leaders can function from.

Higher orders of consciousness, more developed cognitive-emotional competencies or greater cognitive-affective maturity are required to meet the challenges of postmodern pastoral leadership. We need pastoral leaders capable of functioning from system and trans-system or integral spiritual orders of consciousness so that they can understand, relate to and accompany postmodern individuals as they grope for meaning and truth in the multiplicity of contexts and context-dependent co-constructions of realities around them. We need pastoral leaders who are capable of validating and honouring partial truths emerging from all the domains of human pursuits in search of meanings that are life-enhancing, unifying and dynamic?

Orders of consciousness can be considered to function like one-way mirrors[11]. A particular order of consciousness, if not developmentally outgrown, it cannot reach beyond. On the other hand a specific order of consciousness can always reach back to a previous order or orders any time. A person, for instance, who is deeply embedded in the Categorical Order of consciousness, will find it impossible to cross borders and abstract cross categorical principles and eventually form system and trans-system perspectives. But pastoral leaders the centre of gravity of whose consciousness is towards the trans-system or integral spiritual order of consciousness can sensitively and respectfully relate to reality from any of the previously outgrown orders of consciousness. A mystic can understand how a child understands God but a child cannot understand how a mystic understands the Ultimate and his relationship with the Ultimate. This fact has tremendous implications for postmodern pastoral leadership.

Pastoral leaders the centre of gravity of whose consciousness is towards the trans-system or integral spiritual order of consciousness can relate to the magical-mythical faith, its images, symbols, and stories about God. They can relate to the mythic-rational faith of the devout ‘faithful’ for whom their God, their myths and their faith is unique and even superior to the God, myths and faiths of others. They can also relate to the pluralistic faith of those who believe in letting faith and myths meet one another without preconditions and prejudices and let emerge mutual recognition, appreciation, and convergences. They can also relate to the integral faith of those who believe in letting faiths & myths interact with each other to find common ground for the Spirit to manifest itself. They can also relate to those who believe in a unitive spirituality beyond religion and religiosity capable of the largest embrace and deepest unity.

Such pastoral leaders can accompany and lead individuals and help them recognize Jesus in fleeting moments of their encounter with the Divine in those largely Pentecostal gatherings, be with those for who experience Jesus exclusively as belonging to them and their group for their salvation, recognize and validate the experiences of those for whom salvation is through Jesus Christ for them but believes that others might find their own following other paths, permit and honour the spiritual integrity of those who want to hold together their experience of Christ with other expressions of the Holy Spirit around the world.

Such pastoral leaders can listen to without being threatened, understand with empathy and compassion, and respond to with true equanimity to questions and statements like the following. “Can I honour the integrity of your experience of the Spirit without having to subscribe to the developmental validity of your interpretation?”   “Is not my God generous enough to permit me to understand him in the best way I am capable of even if it is not the “correct” way according to some?” “Can I not be part of your faith community even if I do not share in all the context-dependent interpretations of your experience of the Spirit unfolding and enfolding?”   “Is it not wonderful that one may encounter the Eternal Unfolding Spirit as a “Great I”, as my Hindu friends do, or as a “Great YOU” as we Christians do, or as a “Great IT”, as some others like my Buddhist friends do?

When inspired by an integral spirituality capable of a system and trans-system order of consciousness, we can birth leadership that would permit and facilitate search for truth recognising that incarnations of Truth are context-determined co-constructions and that order of consciousness undergo evolutionary unfolding from less complex to more complex, from less encompassing to more encompassing and from less unitive to more unitive levels and perspectives.

That is the kind of integral spiritual maturity required for postmodern leadership especially in the multi-religious context of India. Only then can we, without fear of sanction and guilt of betrayal, place the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian context of our acquired religious and spiritual meanings within the context of our Indian Culture and Heritage and make sense of the Christian mysteries and interpret and articulate them in idioms and metaphors that resonate with our intimate context and psychic mould.

Educated individuals, especially the young, would need understanding and accompaniment in their struggle to recognise the Christ who came to this world deeply embedded in a specific culture and context as Jesus of Nazareth, who courageously differentiated from and transcended his embeddedness in his parochial culture and heritage in order to become the Christ of the universe and a pointer toward trans-system modes of knowing, being and relating. They will look up to us not so much for the correctness of our faith or the intensity of our convictions but for our ability to listen to, understand and accompany their meaning-making even when they ask troubling questions.


If you want incremental changes, says Covey, work on attitudes and behaviours. If you want quantum changes, work on paradigms. The paradigm of pastoral leadership with its primary mission to preach, teach and sanctify may need to be reviewed in the direction of a paradigm of whole-person leadership and accompaniment in meaning-making. Though we can manage, for some more time to come, with our premodern paradigms of priesthood and pastoral leadership, we may not be successful for too long because the times are changing and changing fast.

The ­gifts of our times are increasing differentiation and autonomy (of domains, perspectives, cultures, identities), enhanced awareness of personal authorship (humans as co-constructors of ‘reality’), and growing recognition of differences (multiple context-dependent co-constructions of ‘reality’ without granting arbitrary predominance to any one in particular), accompanied by concomitant weariness of metanarratives (with absolute truth claims)and their hierarchical impositions (especially arbitrary oppressive hierarchical ideas and practices). In this expanding and exciting kaleidoscope of multiplicity and celebrations of differences, the human search for depth, height and interiority has become a burden “in over the heads” of average individuals.

Though the individuals of today may not want our compulsive preaching and obsessive teaching, they definitely would like to be listened to, understood and accompanied as they struggle to find meaning and make choices. Though they may continue to resent hierarchical impositions of ‘made-meanings’ from arbitrarily pre-determined privileged contexts, they will look up to us to accompany them as they struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff in the postmodern whirlwind. They will look up to us for accompaniment as they struggle to figure out what is meaningful (not merely correct), what is life-enhancing (not merely life-saving), what is unifying (not merely defining), what is wholesome (not simply scripted correctly) and what is developmental (not simply hierarchically imposed). As pastoral leaders, we are called upon to have travelled farther than the average individual along the developmental waves of the multiple streams of consciousness so that we can hold together a larger array of contexts, perspectives and meanings. 

Some Questions for Your Consideration

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change, until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. (R.D. Laing)”

 1. What is your reaction to the central proposal of this presentation that the Church today needs to move beyond the conventional paradigm of formation for priesthood, and sanction and facilitate the emergence of cognitive-emotionally maturing and integrally unfolding pastoral leaders for the postmodern times and the multicultural multi-religious context of the India of today?

2.Should your reaction be favourable, what must we do regarding the choice of persons of formators, the nature of training for formation ministry, the structures and practices of formation, and the need for ongoing formation of priests?


[1] The paper was also presented to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the U.S.A. in 1971.

[1] Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence : why it can matter more than IQ. London, Bloomsbury.

[2] Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. London, Bloomsbury.

[3] Wilber, K., J. Engler, et al. (1986). Transformations of consciousness : conventional and contemplative perspectives on development. Boston, New York, New Science Library ; pp. 65-105

[4] Egan, G. (1971). Encounter groups: basic readings. Belmont, Calif.,, Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.

[5] Parathazham, P. (2000). “Vocation and Formation of Priests and Religious in India.” Jnanadeepa 3(2): 5-40.

[6] Wilber, K. (1998). The marriage of sense and soul : integrating science and religion. New York, Random House.

                pp. 41-58

[7] Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self : problem and process in human development. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press. pp. 1-12

[8] Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads : the mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

[9] Covey, S. R. (2006). The 8th habit : from effectiveness to greatness. Philadelphia, PA, Running Press. pp. 20-22

[10] Piaget, J., H. E. Gruber, et al. (1977). The essential Piaget. New York, Basic Books.

[11] The analogy of one-way mirrors was used by Smith while relating to the functioning of worldviews in Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions. [San Francisco], Harper SanFrancisco.