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Avoid at all Cost the Contradiction of
Being a Priest and Being Depressed

Former Dominican head urges priests to watch for signs of depression
From Catholic News Service

Depression and priesthood do not mix, said a former master general for the Dominicans, who urged priests to look out for each other's happiness.

Father Timothy Radcliffe, who served as head of the order for 10 years until earlier this year, said he had been told that many priests felt depressed or demoralized.

"How widespread this demoralization is I do not know. But regardless of how many priests are actually demoralized, there are many good reasons why we might be: the shortage of vocations, the lack of a clear priestly identity, the loss of respect for our vocation, the scandals of sexual abuse, the disappearance of the young from many parishes, disagreements with some statements by the church and so on," he said Sept. 3 in London in an address to the annual meeting of the National Conference of Priests of England and Wales.

But there was, he said, a deep contradiction between priesthood and depression.

"You can be a good and depressed banker or taxi driver, a gloomy but effective accountant or lawyer. But one cannot be a preacher of the Gospel and be plunged in gloom. It makes no sense," he said.

Father Radcliffe said priests should be deeply concerned about other priests' happiness.

"If we see that another priest is miserable, then it is not good enough to assume that he must deal with this alone," he said.

"The joy of the priest is not just his private concern, because it is an intrinsic part of the preaching of the Gospel and the manifestation of God's holiness. We must dare to seek it for each other," he said.

Priests could be credible bearers of the Gospel only if they were fundamentally joyful, he said.

"I am not referring to a happy-clappy jollity, going around slapping people on the back and telling them to be happy because Jesus loves them," he told delegates. "That sort of thing does make me feel deeply depressed."

Priestly vocation means sharing in the passion of Christ, but also his joy, sorrow and anger.

"The priest is the bearer of the Good News. That is why demoralization so deeply undermines our vocation. Nobody will believe us if we look miserable," he said.

"It is not enough just to survive now. We need to flourish. We each need to make a way of life that really offers us life, alive with the foretaste of eternal life. Otherwise we will be overwhelmed with the sorrow of this age or succumb to its culture of trivialization," he said.

Father Radcliffe urged priests to reflect on how they could shape their own lives so that people would be able to see in them "freedom, peace and joy."

"We need to have a way of life that lets us rest sometimes, rest with God and also just rest with ourselves. We need to have moments when we can disappear and do nothing, weekly or monthly and also annually," he said.

Father Radcliffe cautioned priests against being compulsively busy.

"If we are to be credible preachers, we must not be afraid to be seen to be lazy sometimes," he said.

He told the conference that Christ provides the priestly model. Priests, he said, must participate in the "joy of the kingdom."

"When Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, it was not a duty. It was utter delight in their company, in their very being. When he touched the untouchable, it was not a clinical gesture, but the hug of joy," he said.

"So it belongs to our priesthood that we rejoice in the very existence of people, with all their fumbling attempts to live and love, whether they are married or divorced or single, whether they are straight or gay, whether their lives are lived in accordance with church teaching or not," he said.

"The holiness of the priesthood is radiant with this joy. The church should be a community in which people discover God's delight in them. This is our ministry," Father Radcliffe said.