Clergymen used to be a healthy and long-living bunch. But over the past few years, studies have shown that pastors are in worse health than other Americans. Their rates of obesity, hypertension, and depression are higher, and their life expectancy is lower.
As The New York Times reports, experts don’t agree on any single explanation for this, but one thing everyone’s on the same page about is the need for more time off:
As cellphones and social media expose the clergy to new dimensions of stress, and as health care costs soar, some of the country’s largest religious denominations have begun wellness campaigns that preach the virtues of getting away. It has been described by some health experts as a sort of slow-food movement for the clerical soul.
Catholic canon law requires priests to take a retreat each year as well as four weeks of vacation — unless there’s a serious reason they can’t.
In recent years, I’ve often noted to myself how few priests take care of themselves. Many are overweight, seem depressed, and lack good levels of fitness. Some people think this isn’t important — it’s the soul that matters most, after all. But if our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and the instruments through which we act, we must care for our physical selves to better live our vocations.
It must be extra hard for priests, who are overworked and don’t have wives to encourage good health habits. I’ve never met a rectory cook who makes this a high priority — they work for the priests and tend to cook what they both know best.
I don’t think this was as much of a problem for priests in other times — there were more of them back then — meaning less insane schedules — and life was slower paced. Food was healthier and priests did more walking and physical activity.
Of course, I’m not talking about a priest paying undue attention to his looks, but to his physical health in order to have the energy, clear thinking, stable mood, and wellness required to serve in such demanding times. I would even argue that healthy, fit priests are better role models and inspire more vocations.
Anybody know if there are programs out there that educate and encourage priests to be healthier?