Priests have probably always suffered from the demands of trying to do too much. Priests are mandated through the ordination rite to act ‘in persona Christi.’The priest today continues this mission of Jesus in the midst of a very difficult and demanding time. There are various adjustments that priests must make in the course of living, some of which may be applicable to others. Health embraces all areas of life, and is a gift.
The priest is an ordinary man. Priests must learn to respond and to make adjustments like any ordinary person. Priests are called to perform an extraordinary role in our society. They are keepers of meaning and the glue that keeps society and civilization integrated; they are bearers of mystery and serve as icons of interpretation.
However, four basic wants are encoded in the human person.
First, we all want to live and be healthy. Second, we all want a feeling of importance and to be recognized. People will go to great lengths to accomplish and to achieve goals and objectives in order to be seen in a strong and positive light. Some will even obtain recognition at the price of losing their health. Third, we all want someone to love us. The desire to love and to be loved is so basic to our nature because we are made out of love and for loving. Fourth, we all want variety and change. Developmental psychologists tell us that we change drastically every seven years. We all realize that life invites us to change continually.
The following questions have been designed to give priests – and others – an index of their health and well being.
Are you happy? A byproduct of a healthy life, happiness does not consist in doing what you like, but liking what you do. Happiness is not the result of having everything you want, but wanting everything you have.
Are you socially adjusted? Are you sincerely liked and loved by people in your life? How we relate to one another says a great deal about how we are loving and being loved.
Do you experience unity and balance? What is the thread that is woven through our lives and ministry?
Are you able to worry effectively? A recent survey shows that 40 percent of what people worry about never happens and 30 percent has already happened.
Are you able to live with your problems? We have the responsibility to set limits on the expectations we place on ourselves so that our problems can reach healthy resolution.
Are you satisfied in your work? Recent studies indicate that priests are overwhelmingly satisfied. At the same time, there are difficulties associated with doing ministry in this present climate.
Do you have a sense of humor? Having a sense of humor gives us the perspective that can only come with distance. Humor enables us to see the incongruous in life.
After answering these questions, I would hope that we have come to an understanding of how we are responding to the gift of life and health. Some practical suggestions might help us to enhance our lives and to reduce stress.
Take time to pray and to meditate. If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy! Similarly, we need a deep affective relationship with Jesus Christ. We will never find our source of strength unless we develop this relationship with Christ.
Priests must make regular exercise a part of our lives. Physical exercise has always provided relief from stress. Studies have shown that exercise may also be a means to prevent depression. We must watch our habits, such as eating and the use of alcohol.
I am firmly convinced that sabbaticals are necessary, preventive medicine, rather than a luxury for priests active in ministry today. The ancient Jews had an axiom: More than the Jews kept Sabbath, the Sabbath kept them. Likewise, the priest could with profit look to a sabbatical to preserve his health.
Sulpician Father Blanchette is the rector of the Theological College of the Catholic University of America.