The purpose of a priest is to bring people to Jesus, and Jesus to people. He does this primarily by preaching the Word and offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. His daily life involves administering the sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony (Holy Orders is reserved for bishops to administer)—and caring for the people in their daily needs.
A vocation is a call from God to do something specifically for God and for His kingdom. The primary vocation of every person is to be holy! It is the divine calling to love and serve God, to obey His commandments, and to cooperate with Christ in the work of redemption by loving and serving others. But we are all called to a secondary vocation as well, a “state in life” in which we are to be holy.
Many people are called to the vocation of marriage, but it is an error to automatically assume that this is your vocation. One may also be called to the vocation of the priesthood (or diaconate), to the religious life as a sister or brother. Finally, some follow Christ in the single state. Remember: It is normal to desire marriage and family. Just because you have this desire does not exclude the possibility that you have a vocation to the priesthood.
You must pray every day, asking God to reveal His plan for you. Do not ask yourself, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” This is the wrong question! Rather, you should be thinking and asking: “Jesus, what do You want me to do?” And listen for the answer! The primary locus of revelation is the heart. Listen with your heart! The discernment process in the priesthood must also include the Church. The local bishop is the one who ultimately decides who is and who is not called. He is assisted in this by the vocation office and the seminary. This whole process is called “discerning one’s vocation.”
If you do not follow the vocation for which God made you, you can attain a certain degree of happiness in this world, and still attain salvation (go to heaven), but you will never be as happy as you might have been had you followed your proper vocation. This is why it is so important that you discern correctly. Of course, there are trials and tribulations in every vocation. To become a priest does not take away all suffering. But there is great joy in laying down one’s life for Jesus! Ultimately, the source of happiness for any child of God is his or her relationship with Jesus Christ.
Most priests are extremely happy in their vocations! The life of a priest is a very rewarding life, both in this world and in the next. The media often gives an incorrect impression of priests… that they are largely unhappy, frustrated, and angry, or that most of them are sexual abusers. This is simply not true. Studies consistently show that priests are very happy in their ministry, in far higher percentages than those studied in virtually any other profession.
Yes and no. No sensible person tries to live free of all responsibilities and obligations to others. Why has Christ set us free from sin and death? Certainly not to live a self-centred life. We have to make choices about how we will use the freedom we have.
In addition, because they want to serve God within the Church, diocesan priests make a formal promise of obedience to their bishop. Their personal integrity is on the line in this promise. It binds them to do what needs to be done, as seen through the eyes of the bishop who is responsible for the entire diocese; they renounce the exaggerated freedom to do always and everywhere what they like or want to do.
On the other hand, diocesan priests can testify that there is great freedom to be creative in the priesthood. Bishops rely on priests along with the laity to suggest necessary pastoral initiatives. A bishop also tries to match his priests with the work that needs to be done. Ordinarily, a priests ends up doing work for which he is well enough suited. The bottom line, however, is service, not pleasing oneself.
Priests in the Latin Rite forgo their natural right to marry “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus taught his disciples (Mt 19:12). Celibacy is a gift from God which opens a man’s heart so that he can embrace all of God’s children in a very powerful way. His healthy and holy inclination to be married and have a family is transformed into a supernatural fatherhood that renders his ministry, if he is faithful, fruitful beyond all expectations.
Embracing the gift of celibacy the priest is called to a radical and intimate relationship with Christ which fills his heart with strength and joy and also gives him great consolation and peace.
Imitating the celibacy of Jesus, whose entire earthly life was devoted to His priestly mission, Catholic priests represent Jesus in a unique way while celebrating the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and even in their ordinary pastoral work. Celibacy is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but in union with God in this life and in the next. It is also a statement to the Catholic people that their priest is available to them and at their service in a way that would be precluded by the responsibilities of marriage.
Celibacy does not do away with a priest’s sexuality, but with the help of grace and his own growth in virtue, it can become part of a tremendously joyful and fulfilled human life. Like marriage, it is not always easy to live, but a solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends, and prudent judgment about persons and situations contribute to a beautiful expression of celibate generosity by the priest for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for his brothers and sisters, and for the Church.
There are, in fact, some married priests in the Catholic Church, though this is relatively rare. It is possible that the law of the Church will one day be changed for priests of the Roman Rite. If the Holy Spirit wants this change, He will effect it through the Pope and bishops of the world. However, it would be a grave mistake to go to the seminary “expecting” this change. That would be setting oneself up for a big disappointment, should it not happen.
Perhaps more men would choose the priesthood, but the question is, “Would this be what is best for the Church?” As said above, celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a powerful sign that Jesus is real! And that He is worth living for, sacrificing for, and dying for. Besides, in the world as a whole, vocations to the priesthood and religious life have dramatically increased in the last thirty years. In Africa, they increased by 394%; in S. E. Asia, by 152%; in Central America, by 165%; and in South America, by 253%! In contrast, in Western Europe and in the United States, they decreased significantly. The problem is not the requirement of celibacy. There are clearly more complex social dynamics at work.
Loneliness is a part of every vocation, at one time or another. It is part of the human condition. Married people get very lonely at times, even though they are surrounded by their spouses and children. Priests are always surrounded by people. This is one of the joys of being a priest. We are involved with people at the most profound moments of their lives: birth, Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, Marriage, and death. We don’t have enough time to experience loneliness often! But when we do experience loneliness, Jesus can fill that void, as He does for people in every vocation.
Catholics believe that Christ was not bound to the limitations of His surrounding culture, and that therefore His commission of the twelve Apostles – all men – was a free and deliberate choice. The Church has therefore taught through the centuries that she has no right to ordain women as priests. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, and the priests who are their cooperators, stand in the place of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church and share in His fatherhood in the order of grace. These are roles of supernatural spousality and fatherhood that are every bit as real as natural male spousality and fatherhood – arguably more so – and therefore in the case of a priest can only be filled by a man.
In no way, however, is this restriction of the priesthood to men to be understood as a sign of masculine superiority, especially since the greatest human creature, the masterpiece of divine grace, is the Blessed Virgin Mary – who was never a priest. From the beginning of the Church, women have played significant roles in its life: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, the first proclaimer of His resurrection, the women martyrs like Cecilia, Agnes and Edith Stein who witnessed to their faith with their blood, the women like Monica who witnessed to their pagan husbands of their faith in Christ, the innumerable women who raised their children in the faith, the women like Scholastica and Clare who entered or founded monastic communities, the brilliant and holy women like Catherine, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux who taught the Church about following Jesus. Without these women and countless others, the Church would be immeasurably poorer.
The Church’s understanding about the priesthood is not easy for some to accept. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of His disciples – the first priests – and explicitly instructed them to do the same. The authority exercised by priests should never be one of power and domination, but always one of humble service. That is the light in which the male Catholic priesthood should be evaluated.
Because a priest does not have a family and because he lives a simple life, he does not need a lot of money. However, priests do receive enough money to buy their necessities, to buy and maintain a vehicle, to take a holiday, and to do normal recreational activities. Also, priests are given free board and lodging by the parish where they work, so their expenses are minimal. While diocesan priests do not take the vow of poverty that religious order priests take, they are encouraged to live a simple lifestyle and to be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typical of priests constitute an outward sign of this modest life.
A diocesan priest can do anything he wants for recreation, as long as it is consistent with the Christian life. Many priests play golf, squash, tennis and football while some enjoy hill-walking or mountain climbing. Others prefer more sedate activities such as the cinema or theatre, reading and visiting museums. The interests of priests are as varied as the interests of the general public.
Possibly, but not necessarily. A man must pray a great deal, listening with both heart and soul to know what God wants him to do. But if you feel some attraction at this point, just continue to pray, go to Mass, and live a Christian life. If you are living a Christian life, Jesus will let you know when the time comes. Also, go talk with your parish priest or with the vocation director. Try to come to the diocesan vocation retreats and discernment events. The vocation director can help you determine if God is calling you to the priesthood.
Holiness (to be like Jesus) is a lifetime endeavour for every person in every vocation. Don’t worry if you don’t see yourself as very holy right now. God will form you slowly, day by day and week by week, so that you will be ready to be His instrument when the time comes. But for now, use the sacrament of Penance at least once a month. Repent of your sins, receive the sacraments, and pray every day. You will be surprised at how Christ-like you can become!
You cannot be a faithful priest, useful to the Lord, if you try to go it alone. You need the help and support of brother priests and other people but most of all you need God’s grace. You dispose yourself to receive His help by turning to Him frequently in prayer. The priests who are truly happy and effective among God’s people are the priests who are faithful to prayer.
Surprisingly, a diocesan priest must often fight for the time for personal prayer. He is often called upon to lead others in public prayer, especially the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church. These are genuine times of prayer for him as well as them — but like every Christian, the priest needs some time each day to spend alone with the Lord. His busy ministry sometimes makes this very difficult but it is something he must strive to keep fresh in his life, lest he lose sight of the One who called him to be a priest in the first place and the One who alone can sustain him.
No, it is definitely not easy! A man who wants to become a priest must go to seminary for at least six years to study philosophy and theology and to learn the pastoral skills that will make him most effective in a parish.
It is very important for a priest to have a deep grasp of theology so that he can explain the faith effectively to all manner of people. Seminary formation, however, is much more than simply knowing the faith. It’s purpose is to help them know God and also to know their own strengths and weaknesses. During his time at seminary a young man will grow in human maturity and develop a strong spiritual life as well as study and gain pastoral experience and insight.
A good candidate is a practising, believing Catholic. He attends Mass at least weekly, prays daily, obeys the commandments, and tries to serve others. He must be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy, and demonstrate a capacity for friendship. He must be of at least average intelligence. And finally, he must be open to the will of God. Do you have these qualities?
In no way! In fact, most vocation directors will say that the only way to really know that you have a vocation to the priesthood is to take some concrete steps. In Southwark, before making the commitment to seminary, there is also the possibility for some of spending a discernment year at the Vocations Centre. It will become more and more clear to you once you are in an environment where everyone is trying to discern that same question. Sometimes men who go to the seminary, stay a year or two, and then leave. They are much better Catholics afterwards for the experience!
There is never a dull moment in the priesthood! It is a great challenge but it is also extremely rewarding. When a priest goes to bed each night, he can say, “Lord, today I spent myself for You.” What a wonderful thought with which to end one’s day! The priesthood is both interesting and fulfilling because people are so interesting. But these people need more priests very badly.
Once he is ordained a priest remains a priest forever but that does not mean that he is always on duty. The Lord took his apostles apart for some rest after they had worked very hard preaching and healing (Mark 6: 31-32). Diocesan priests work hard, too, and the Lord takes them apart from time to time to rest. Priests are encouraged to make time for a day of recollection each month and also to make an annual retreat in order to experience, in the calm and quiet of the retreat atmosphere, the loving presence of their Lord. These times of retreat are blessed times of spiritual renewal for the priest, just as they are for other believers.
In the Archdiocese of Southwark, priests usually get one day off each week and can have up to a month for a holiday each year. Priests often spend this time with family or friends and it gives them a great opportunity to develop their cultural interests.