Be not afraid of psychology

- Fr. Roy Cimagala - The Freeman

I was happy to learn that the Vatican released some years ago a document, "On the use of psychology in the seminary." It's about time that something of this sort be officially recommended by Church authorities.

Of course, the immediate context of the document was the clerical sexual scandals that oppressed the Church in many parts of the world a few years ago and continue to haunt us today.

But it actually possesses a very objective importance, regardless of circumstances, and a universal coverage that should be highlighted, especially at these times.

In it, the crucial help that psychology as a science can give to seminarians and, I must say, to everybody else is traced. Insofar as seminarians are concerned, the document says that recourse to experts in the psychological sciences can:

"...allow a more sure evaluation of the candidate's psychic state; it can help evaluate his human dispositions for responding to the divine call; and it can provide some extra assistance for the candidate's human growth."

So you see, psychology is not only for handling mental problems and illnesses, already a tremendous task. It also contributes to human growth, which should always be stimulated by every legitimate means available! We have to overcome a certain cultural bias against the use of psychology.

By now, everyone should be convinced that our life always has a psychological dimension. Every virtue or vice has psychological effects and triggers some psychological dynamics. We should try our best to know them and use them with due prudence, of course.

We don't talk about it only when there are problems. We always have to take it into consideration in all our dealings with people. That at least would denote a growth in our sensitivity to others. Yes, the use of psychology can enhance human sensitivity.

Thus, in the seminary some psychological profiling has to be done of every candidate to the priesthood, noting each one's strengths and weaknesses in this aspect, his good and bad potentials, etc. And a close monitoring of this portrait, given its dynamic nature, should be made.

I frankly believe that not only the use of psychology should be promoted but also some serious effort be made to mainstream the skill and expertise on the part of seminary formators and others similarly situated in this vital field of knowledge.

We have to drastically rehabilitate the image of psychology in the minds not only of the Church officials but also of everybody else. We cannot deny that psychology is still treated like a leper in the community or the house fool everyone tries to hide. We have to get out of that antiquated mindset.

At the rate we are developing with all the complicating and insanity-tending elements around, there's no way but for psychology to be duly acknowledged, its need appreciated and its use spread far and wide.

Again, insofar as its use is relevant to seminary formation, the document lists down several factors that undermine the psychological health of seminarians and those asking admission.

"Those who today ask admittance to the seminary," it says, "reflect, in a more or less accentuated way, the unease of an emerging mentality characterized by consumerism, instability in family and social relationships, moral relativism, erroneous visions of sexuality..."

I remember some years ago that the then reigning Pope Pope Benedict said something that today's youth are a "fragile generation," and I could not agree with him more. My everyday experience and contact with people more than abundantly validate this observation.

There are many people with clearly psychological wounds, some very deep and grave, springing even from their own family environment, not to mention, the usual problem areas: pressures from work, social relations, politics, business, showbiz, etc.

I am no psychologist but that does not prevent me from recognizing obvious irregularities in the mental, affective and sexual aspects of many people. These concerns have to be given more effective attention.

Of course, the use of psychology should not replace the spiritual and supernatural means that are always indispensable in the formation of seminarians as well as of everybody else. The practice of spiritual direction should blend both the psychological and spiritual aspects of a person.

Psychology should be the constant accompaniment of these spiritual means, a tool to express and fathom the spiritual developments, since these always have some psychological manifestations. Naturally, it should also be an instrument to enhance the seminarians' personalities and temperaments.

Thus, a sound psychology should be learned, since there are many schools of thought in this regard, and not all are good.

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