To better understand the affective aspects of priestly life and its integration with the other dimensions of the person, we carried out a qualitative investigation with a survey on challenges, risks, opportunities, what helped and what he missed, in the development of his affective life. 128 priests, deacons and seminarians participated, with 605 open responses and 1039 different ideas that were categorized into themes.
The main challenges were: spiritual life, loneliness, mission, psychological difficulties and giving / receiving affection. The risks: loneliness, psychological limitations, affective dependencies, moral defects and spiritual life. Opportunities: dealing with people, spiritual life and priestly friendship. What helped: spiritual life, priestly friendship, testimony from other priests, and a healthy family of origin. A significant percentage did not miss anything, and others would have liked to receive better training, better attention to spirituality and psychology.
The variety of responses with different nuances, together with the presence of common categories, points to the personal diversity among priests, together with the participation in the same ministry of Christ, and shows the importance of attending both to the essential and central elements of the priesthood, as well as the particular needs according to training, education, social origin, family system and vital experiences.
This will allow: an enriching approach to your real life; develop a personalized program; adapt to the personal evolutionary cycle according to age, previous experiences, motivations or personality; be aware of the needs that arise according to the orders, social changes, age, regulatory crises and the ordinary development of spiritual life, with its deserts and oases.
We appreciated that the areas of greatest interest were spiritual life, solitude, interpersonal relationships and formation. Having self-directed formation, with good spiritual accompaniment and in community, may be one of the conclusions of this study, which shows that they would have wanted more formation, better accompaniment and a more affectionate and less normative development of spiritual life. .
One of the recurring issues is loneliness, although they do not report that they have lacked training in this regard. Are you referring to the original loneliness of every human being, the physical loneliness that a priest can live in a rural environment, the emotional loneliness of someone who is dedicated to caring for people? Could it be that solitude was precisely the place where God waits to meet such a soul? Can it be referred by people who, due to bad experiences, have developed an insecure attachment?
The social loneliness it is a lack of close friendship relationships, which makes it easier for the person to feel empty, not accepted, bored, and to isolate themselves. Emotional loneliness is the absence of meaningful and secure relationships. The latter comes from the inadequate development of our ties in childhood and from how the first relationships are configured in the first years of life, with the main attachment figure, and conditions the experience in adult life in the configuration of interpersonal relationships; it is associated with feelings of emptiness and can only be alleviated through restoration with the primary attachment figure or a ‘surrogate’.
Loneliness is related to insecure attachment styles. If these displays of affection are not perceived, the person is unsatisfied in their emotional needs and presents insecurity, social or emotional loneliness. Confident people have a low level of loneliness, a positive self-view, low anxiety about possible abandonment, comfort with interpersonal intimacy and satisfying personal relationships, and a positive schema of others.
If a priest feels lonely, he will assess whether it is related to childhood deficiencies that have configured an insecure attachment. If so, he will benefit from a specific spiritual accompaniment to heal the attachment or professional psychotherapeutic help. If not, he will have to discern if he suffers social loneliness -remediable with the development of a network of general, priestly and family friends- or if this loneliness is precisely the place where he develops the experience of celibacy and his bond with God with greater intensity.
As a conclusion of the study, eight dimensions of enrichment of the affective life of the priest are appreciated: relationship with God, friendship, accompaniment, priestly fraternity, formation, personal care, psychological knowledge and mission.
Some aspects that can be worked on are: positive and stable sense of masculine identity; maturity to relate to others; strong sense of belonging; freedom to be enthusiastic about great ideals and the consistency and strength to carry them out; decision-making and fidelity to them; own knowledge; ability to correct itself; taste for beauty; confidence; ability to integrate one’s own sexuality with a Christian perspective.