Overworked and not always appreciated, the church's shepherds need understanding too
Often priests are no different to lay people in not telling others that they're suffering from depression. (ucanews.com photo)
Many years ago, I went to study in Manila and took along a new book titled When Priests Also Get Depression, which was a Chinese version of Emerging From Depression by William E. Rabior, published by Taiwan Wisdom Press.
A young priest from Sichuan province in southwest Chinese borrowed my book but never returned it. I wondered if it was possible that the priest had depression. Anyway, I hoped that the book would offer him some help.
Studying is actually the simplest and happiest time in a priest's life, certainly compared with facing all kinds of parishioners, which is a real challenge.
I remember that one Easter I visited Hebei province in central China with a Hong Kong Catholic. After Mass, parishioners took out their own bottles and rushed to a tank to fill them with holy water. It was a mad scramble.
The priest asked them to line up, saying there was no need to rush, but a female Catholic scolded him for interfering. My Hong Kong friend was stunned. I was overwhelmed and pulled her out of the church at once.
The gentle priest did not say a word, but I felt very uncomfortable and wondered why the priest should face that kind of unkindness.
There was a newly ordained priest who preferred to preside Mass in a seniors' nursing home instead of serving in the parish because he felt that parishioners were too garrulous.
The bishop knew that the priest had a phobia about parishioners, so he was allowed to stay in the nursing home. Since then, he has not stepped out of the home and he once praised the seniors for being more gentle, generous and cute than the parishioners.
An elderly priest who was sick received a call on a cold winter night from a Catholic who asked him to go to a hospital as soon as possible to anoint a patient.
When the cleric urged him to find a young priest, the caller scolded him and cursed him to hell. "The Catholic really hurt my feelings," the priest said.
Not long ago, I met an old parish priest whom I had not seen for many years. He had become thinner and I asked him what had happened.
"I have depression," he replied. He said the bishop was giving him too much work and he was so exhausted. He had repeatedly asked for permission to resign but the bishop disagreed.
There is no way out for some priests when a diocese faces a shortage of vocation and the bishop finds no one available. Moreover, if a priest has a good knowledge of his job and performs very well, the bishop assigns him all the important work.
I told the priest that I could not offer any help but would pray for him.
I have sat on the stairs of a Chinese shrine listening to an elderly nun explaining how to help priests in her diocese resolve their problems.
The nun said there were many priests "dumping garbage [pouring out grievances]" to her. Some of them would do so for more than six hours and then give her food as a thank you.
Some things in the church are really hard to say and cannot be said. An old priest who led a spiritual class joked that priests often gathered to say "little red hat" bad words.
A bishop once told me he was so busy with administrative work but still needed to listen to so many complaints, leaving his ears tired and less time for spiritual practice.
Every family has to go through its own problems, and more often we may think that God is not there.
A depressed priest once told me that he wanted to jump from the third floor due to political interference from the Chinese authorities.
Ordinary people who get depression are unwilling to let others know, as are our shepherds who lead the flock.
In recent years, more attention has been paid to training laypeople in the hope that they will understand that if there is no priest, there is no sacrament, so perhaps they will respect and cherish the priest.
An elderly priest who is in charge of the church tribunal always maintains a happy face. It seems nothing can trouble him. He told me his secret was that before attending the morning Mass he would recite the standard 15 mysteries of the Rosary at the entrance of the church. His practice has been continued for decades.
I sometimes think: "Do we often forget to bring all sorrow to the altar of the Lord and to entrust it to the Lord Jesus?"
Christ calls, Asians respond is a new series of features that explore the life of individuals who discovered Christ in the face of misunderstandings and even opposition from those around them. Responding to Christ’s call these men and women have become beacons of inspiration for those around them. Read more about them here.
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