"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests

SO WHEN HE HAD WASHED THEIR FEET AND PUT HIS GARMENTS BACK ON AND RECLINED AT TABLE AGAIN, HE SAID TO THEM, “DO YOU REALIZE WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR YOU? YOU CALL ME ‘TEACHER’ AND ‘MASTER,’ AND RIGHTLY SO, FOR INDEED I AM. IF I, THEREFORE, THE MASTER AND TEACHER, HAVE WASHED YOUR FEET, YOU OUGHT TO WASH ONE ANOTHER’S FEET. I HAVE GIVEN YOU A MODEL TO FOLLOW, SO THAT AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU, YOU SHOULD ALSO DO. JOHN 13:15

In 2015 during our annual gathering of Jesuits in the first five years of ministry, Fr. Roger Champoux, SJ (former Tertianship program director) presented a research study on priestly wellness and spirituality in the U.S. and abroad done by Stephen J. Rossetti, an American Catholic priest. In 2011 Msgr. Rossetti published this landmark research study, Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests. As a strong advocate in promotion of wellness and spirituality of priesthood he has written dozens of articles addressing such topics as a healthy integration of sexuality, anger management, stress in ministry, and priestly identity. In an article entitled THE FIRST FIVE YEARS published in America (based on a talk presented at an international symposium titled The Training of Priests Today, held on June 2–5, 2013, at Laval University in Quebec), he identified two main challenges faced by priests today.

TWO MAIN CHALLENGES

First challenge, secularization: "Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington often speaks of a 'tsunami of secularization' sweeping our country.  It is impossible to overemphasize how this tidal wave is shifting the lived experience of priesthood.  The happy images of priesthood, though certainly idealized in movies like 'The Bells of St. Mary's' and 'Going My Way' in the 1940s, have been supplanted by images of priests as deviant, unhappy and members of an anachronistic era of faith—a perception fuelled by the crisis of sexual abuse of children by clerics. I believe, however, that these distorted images are most fundamentally the result of a growing gulf between the Christian faith and the secular culture."

The entire climate that surrounds a person choosing the Catholic priesthood and ministering in the church today has changed from one of admiration and support, 50 years ago, to discontent and disbelief. Walking down the street wearing a Roman collar today evokes strong emotions from some passersby.

Second challenge, reduced number of priests: "Today there are fewer priests, and they are more isolated from each other, with increasing workloads.  Formerly, there were often several priests living in the same rectory.  Now one priest may have two or three rectories to himself as he rotates from one parish to the next.  The tendency will be to overwork and become isolated.  Mixing isolation, overwork and a lack of support is a recipe for personal disaster.  Such situations make priests more susceptible to loneliness and separation and sometimes to the temptations all too prevalent in our sexually addicted society.  To make matters more difficult, a priest’s celibate commitment is increasingly viewed with suspicion, and this affords him less external support for his celibate lifestyle."


THREE IMPORTANT REQUIREMENTS

Given these two challenges, Msgr. Rossetti outlines more importantly three requirements for today's pastors. He quotes Pope Francis, in the now celebrated words from his homily on Holy Thursday in 2013, who urged us “to go out... to the outskirts” to get “the odor of the sheep” on us. Msgr. Rossetti, interprets the Holy Father's call not to be passive, far from it, but bolder, bearing a more assertive faith without sacrificing the tenderness of the Good Shepherd towards the sheep. Pope Paul VI had a similar quote: "The world will believe teachers only if they have first been witnesses."

1. INTEGRATED FAITH:
The ability to articulate my faith and explain it… Question: Does my FAITH allow me to speak meaningfully to the people I meet in my ministry? Richard Rohr has this to say, "The people most likely to change our hearts are those who share with us, who walk with us, and who love us."

2. MASCULINE  SPIRITUALITY:
Survey using Sandra Bem’s “test” about masculine and feminine traits (You can have the test through the link below.) 

Results have shown that the most important traits chosen by priests were… feminine traits: e.g. compassion, warmth, sensitivity… What about: willing to take a stand, assertive, willing to risk…? Question: Are we helping our new priests towards a balance of both "feminine" and "masculine" spirituality? Will they be bold proclaimers of the faith, or will they just sit in their rectories as their congregations dwindle?

Richard Rohr talks about the feminine and masculine principles which are not exclusively tied to gender. Some men, e.g., represent the feminine principle better than some women. Feminine principle means, e.g., everything vulnerable, interior, powerless, subtle, personal, intimate, and relational. By masculine principle, it means, everything clear, rational, linear, ordered, in control, bounded, provable, and hard. Like Sandra Bem, Rohr urges us to embody all the good in both feminine and masculine but it is important that they balance each other. (Richard Rohr, On The Threshold Of Transformation, Daily Meditations for Men, p. 107.)

3. STRONG SOCIAL SUPPORT NETWORK:

This is primarily community, then outside friends, family… Question: Is my community (religious or secular) a helpful support to my ministry? Richard Rohr reminds us that "All great spirituality is about letting go. God takes care of filling us up." How has God filled you with the gift of Friends in the Lord. “I thank my God each time I think of you.” Philippians 1:3-11

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ





(Photo Source: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain)



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