We have witnessed, in the recent past, a few instances of priests and nuns taking their life, a consecrated life started with a lot of passion and fervour. At another level, there are cases of those requiring psychiatric or counselling support as their life starts vacillating between frustration and calling it a day. It is apparent that something is going awry as consecrated people traverse along a path set for them. Various reasons are cited as catalysts in changing the course of their lives.
Humiliating experiences seem to play a major role. It could be due to several reasons – discrimination; lack of understanding and healthy relationship, dearth of freedom and liberty; abandonment; sexual abuse and so on. Faced with such a situation, some suffer in isolation; some run away; and some commit suicide. In the face of unacceptable behaviour from others, nuns and priests look for support from their superiors. Unfortunately, instead of providing a shoulder to rest, the victims become subjects of ridicule. The role of superior is not to scold, control and dictate; rather to identify the struggling members and help them find solutions to their problems. The superiors are called upon to impart a sense of belongingness to them.
At a time when people feel isolated in the midst of crowd, priests and nuns could be deeply hit by the same as their life has loneliness inbuilt in it. Making more opportunities for sharing in the community could be a way out. Life cannot be insulated from loneliness, but its impact can be mitigated. Healthy relationship with families through holidays and participation in family events can go a long way in creating a feeling of camaraderie. It is in family that one gets more empathy and compassion. Family is also the bedrock of human formation which can be replicated in formation houses. But it requires mature, loving and inspiring formators who create a joyful and caring atmosphere.
Work load and lack of leisure are trouble spots which lead to heartburns and despair among many religious men and women. Daily community spiritual exercises along with slogging at work place leave little space for personal life. Add to this the competition among various congregations to enlarge their community number-wise and institution-wise. This leaves very little time for relaxation and holidays. Superiors and authorities have to accept these problems and look for remedial measures to save the struggling souls.
Priests have long years of training; nuns too have many years of formation before they take the final vows. However, they do not have many opportunities for ‘ongoing formation’ after they enter religious life. Refresher courses, unlike yearly retreats, have much wider application and utility in the life of the consecrated. Setting up of internal forums, wherein members can express themselves, can go a long way in making the troubled souls at ease; it may stop them from saying goodbye to life in a huff.
The image of priests and nuns is taking a dent because of the tragedies hitting them. It would be unrealistic to turn a blind eye to it. The Church and the congregations should find out some ways to help out those feeling lost, abandoned, confused and lonely before they commit any fatal act.
(Published on 23rd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 52)