MANILA, April 19, 2014 — How do priests counter occasional bouts of loneliness, isolation, and frustration in their ministry? According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ president, the answer is nothing but a “healthy prayer life.”
“There is no happy celibate without a healthy prayer life. You want to be happy priests, keep your spiritual life intact. We must pray not only during the annual retreat or when we are in difficulty. We must pray daily as we eat daily and bathe daily,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said on Holy Thursday.
‘Touched by fire’
Villegas underlined the importance of a having “mystical experience of God.”
“Every priest must allow himself to be touched by the fire of God. Every priest must have had a mystical experience of God in his younger years in the seminary; that mystical experience must be kept at heart at all costs, all the time,” Villegas said, explaining how priests can overcome negative feelings associated with the priestly ministry.
Despite his high stature in the Church, Villegas admitted he himself is not spared the occasional feelings of isolation and loneliness of living as a “man of the cloth”.
“Today, I say to you my brothers: your archbishop is not alien to these feelings. I get lonely too. I have known isolation and frustration. I have battled with the temptation to give up, to lower down my ideals, to take it more leisurely and to join the flow of mediocrity and convenience,” he said.
He expressed empathy with regular priests who have battled, not just with plain loneliness, but with “repeated rejections and tasteless ministry” and “the feeling of swimming against the current—to be tired, to be bruised and to be alone.”
‘Spiritual supernatural reality’
Villegas reminded priests that celibacy is a “spiritual, supernatural reality” that requires “an intimate and deep relationship with God.”
The prelate noted that a health prayer life turns priests into “happy celibates,” which downplays their tendency to become “bitter, angry and cynical, materialistic and vain, lukewarm and lifeless” as they cross over to old age.
Villegas encouraged priests to be vocal about their encounters with the Lord, paving the way to inspire others with their healthy spiritual lifestyle.
“We priests tend to be shy and private about our personal life with God. I hope you can choose to be brave and make a bold step to share with one another your personal conversations with God, not just to prepare a homily or a seminar talk, but to share your faith, share your vulnerabilities, share your encounters with God,” he added. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)