Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Remaining healthy in ministry 

By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published September 29, 2022  | En Español

When asked which is the most important commandment, Jesus responds with “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”   

Bishop Joel M. Konzen, S.M.

He goes on to add, “And you must love your neighbor as yourself,” but it is worth noting that Jesus gives a response in what we would today call a holistic vein. It is all of the various dimensions that are involved in loving God: mind, heart, soul and physical strength. 

We know that we are not always able to rally these factors in equal degree, just because there are times in our lives—and the saints attest to this—that our spiritual well-being may be in better shape than our emotional well-being, or our rational well-being may be better off than our physical condition. My point here is only to say that Jesus indicates we should attend to our God with the whole package, so to speak, signaling that we do well to maintain our health in each of those areas so that we might approach God fully alive and fully aware. 

Much of the work that goes on with our candidates today for the priesthood has taken this holistic health seriously. That is why we speak today of four dimensions of preparation for the priesthood—human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Again, the idea is to seek to develop a mature and healthy priest, able to serve as shepherd because of the strength he has cultivated and is evidencing in all four of these critical areas. Human formation looks especially at the integration of a candidate’s physical, moral, mental and psychosexual development. A priest or priest candidate who is attending to these multiple areas of initial and ongoing formation is able to be a strong resource as minister and pastor to his people. 

In the recent Archdiocesan Convocation of Priests, the area of human formation was a subject for presentations and discussion, particularly in the ways that mental and physical well-being influence the spiritual and pastoral well-being of the priest. How priests handle stress and ward off anxiety, amid very busy schedules and a wide array of responsibilities, was treated by the presenter. Priests were reminded that anxiety has a tendency to close off alternatives, to prevent one from exploring solutions and resolutions with curiosity and clarity. 

Of course, wellness is not just for priests, but their prominence in the leadership of church life makes it important that they devote sufficient time and attention to what it might take to be healthy in all dimensions for the sake of carrying out their God-given vocation. We bishops are pleased to know that the present-day seminary formation, as well as the screening for entrance into the seminary, is a great deal more thorough than once was the case. Those of you who see our seminarians in parish assignments may notice the result of this multi-faceted approach to formation, one that takes into account how best to care for oneself in order to remain healthy in ministry. You should be able to see also in the priests being ordained from our seminaries that they are keen to attend to the spiritual, mental and physical aspects of their well-being because they understand how this will impact their readiness and effectiveness as shepherds. 

It is important that all of us pray for the men in formation for the priesthood and pray for our priests, who seek to advance and maintain their own wellness so that they might aid those they serve to do the same.  Jesus continues to demonstrate that his recommendations for good living are pertinent for our hearts, our minds, our souls and our bodies—and that we are equipped for worship and service when we are as “well” in all these ways as we can be.