What is a priest?
A priest is called by God to proclaim the “Good News” of salvation to the world and to lead God’s
Eucharist. He is also privileged to bring Christ to people at other key moments in their lives: he gives
the life of Christ to people in Baptism; he forgives their sins in Reconciliation; he anoints the sick; he
serves as the Church’s witness at weddings. The priest serves in the person of Christ, the great
Mediator between God and His people.
What exactly is a vocation?
Through the sacrament of Baptism, each Christian receives a “call” or “vocation.” All of the baptized
are called to live lives of holiness. Some are called to married life; others live out their holiness as
single people. Some are called to live in community with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
And some are called to serve as priests. One of the most important things a person can do is to learn
how to listen for God’s voice so that he can discover how God wants him to life out his vocation! Each
of us has talents and desires, all gifts from God. Our job is to figure out how God wants us to use those
talents and mold those desires for His Kingdom.
How can I know what God is calling me to do?
In St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). And so we ask, we seek, we knock – every day!
But it’s important that we ask the right question, seek the right treasure, knock on the right door. We
want to ask God every day to reveal His plan for us. “What do I want to do with my life?” is the wrong
question! And the right question? “Dear Jesus, what do You want me to do with my life?” But we
have to do more thank ask and seek and knock. We also have to listen for the answer! A good spiritual
director can help here. The Director of Vocations can help. Any priest – in fact, any Catholic friend or
relative who takes his or her faith seriously – can be of some help.
Can I be happy in my life if I don’t follow God’s plan for me?
It stands to reason that if God has a plan for me, then I would find the greatest happiness – the
greatest fulfillment – in finding out what that plan entails and carrying it out. Suppose God’s plan for
me is to become a doctor – maybe a doctor who will help find the cure for a terrible disease. Now
suppose I become an actor instead. I might find fame and fortune; I might make many people’s lives
happier; I might even make a real contribution to culture! And while I might be happy, I would still be
missing the boat. My happiness would only be a fraction of the happiness I’d experience if I were
doing what I was created for. This is why it is so important to discern correctly. The discernment of
your vocation is the most important decision you will make in your entire life!
Are most priests happy in their vocations in their lives and in their work for Christ?
Most priests are extremely happy in their vocations! Many cite administering the Sacraments,
preaching the Word, and helping people and their families in their daily lives as great sources of
satisfaction. Ultimately, the source of any Christian’s satisfaction is his or her relationship with Jesus
Christ; the priest is given the privilege of acting in the person of Christ himself at key moments in the
life of the Church.
But why can’t priests get married? That must be difficult.
Historically, many factors went into the Roman Catholic Church’s decision to require her priests to live
as celibates. Today, the sacrifice of celibacy is a sign to the world that only Jesus can give us the
happiness that we all crave. Giving up something as important as marriage and a family of one’s own is
a powerful sign to the world that Jesus Christ is real, that he is worth living for and sacrificing for. Not
being married also allows the priest to dedicate himself completely to God’s people. Celibacy is not
easy, but neither is marriage. In fact, every vocation requires that person make some kind of sacrifice,
but there is great joy in sacrifice when it is done for the Lord Jesus and for others!
Will I be lonely if I become a priest?
Loneliness can be a part of every vocation at one time or another. It is part of the human condition.
Married people get lonely at times, even though their spouses and children surround them. 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. Loneliness can be part of the life of a priest too, but when
we do experience loneliness, Jesus can fill that void, as He can for all who call upon him.
Is there a shortage of priests throughout the world?
While the total number of priests worldwide increased slightly from 1975 through the year 2000, in the
United States the total number of priests has decreased by 22% during the same period. In the year
2003, over three thousand of the 19,081 Catholic parishes in the United States did not have a resident
priest. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be
saved. But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him
of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can
people preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10: 13-15) And how can they be sent unless they’re
open to listening for God’s voice in their hearts? What factors exist in our culture that makes it
difficult for people to listen for and respond to God’s invitation?
Do priests get paid?
A diocesan priest receives a salary, which enables him to buy necessities, maintain a car, take a
vacation and engage in normal recreational activities. In the Diocese of Wilmington, priests are
provided room and board, health insurance and a retirement plan.
Can priests do anything they want for recreation and fun?
A priest can do anything he wants for recreation, as long as it is consistent with the Christian life as
understood in the teachings of the Church. Many priests play golf, basketball, softball and engage in
other sports. Others enjoy cinema, the theater, music and reading. Engaging in authentic recreation
is important for all people for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What are the qualities that the Church looks for in a candidate for the Priesthood?
There’s no easy answer to this question. Ultimately, what the Church is trying to do is identify those
men whom God is calling to the priesthood. Some outward signs of that call would be that the person
is living an authentic Catholic lifestyle, including weekly Mass and regular Reconciliation; that he has a
desire to serve other people and to help them encounter Christ; that he prays regularly or at least
wants to learn how to pray better and more regularly.
A good candidate has to be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. He must be open to the will
of God and willing to learn and grow. These are all qualities that help the Church in the attempt to
identify people whom God is calling.
If I am attracted to the priesthood and priestly life, does that mean God is calling me to be a priest?
Maybe. Vocations are never experienced in a vacuum: God calls whom He will. The Church, the Body
of Christ, is tasked with helping people discern just how God is calling them. If a man thinks he is
being called to the priesthood, then, it is important for him to present himself to those in the Church
whose responsibility it is to provide formation and education to those who are called. Usually, this
responsibility is given to the diocesan “director of vocations.” Together, the Director of Vocations
and the person work to discern where God is calling the person. Sometimes a person thinks he is called
but he is not; other times a person is being called by God but is not picking up on it.
I’m not all that “holy.” Why would I think God is calling me to be a priest?
Holiness is part of the call shared by all the baptized. That means we’re all called to make God the
center of our lives; we’re all called to accept Jesus as our Lord. Many times people who are called
think they might not be worthy of the vocation; well, in fact, none of us is worthy of it. The vocation
to the priesthood is a tremendous gift. When God calls us, He asks us to give ourselves over to His
grace, to be willing to do what we’re asked to do. If we cooperate with His grace and truly seek to
find and accomplish His plan for us, He counts us worthy. In the meantime, regular and frequent
reception of the Eucharist and Reconciliation are great tools for us as we try to grow in holiness.
Is the daily life of a priest interesting?
There is never a dull moment for those in the priesthood. It is a great challenge but it is also extremely
rewarding. When each day comes to a close, a priest can say, “Lord, today I spent myself for You.”
What a wonderful thought with which to end one’s day!
How does someone become a priest?
When a bishop (with the help of his vocations staff) discerns that a man seems to have a vocation to
the priesthood, he normally sends him to a seminary to begin or continue to education and formation
that man will need to serve as a good and holy priest. If the man enters right after graduating high
school, he’ll work as a seminarian towards an undergraduate degree in philosophy before moving on to
a graduate program in theology. This “formation” can range from five to eight years, depending on one’
s age and educational background.
If I decide to go to the seminary to “give it a try” am I committed for life?
When a bishop sends a man to the seminary, his purpose is two-fold: to continue to discern the man’s
vocation and to provide the man with the formation and education needed for the priestly life. Being
accepted by a diocese and a seminary is no guarantee that a man will be ordained a priest. During the
time of formation, the man, the bishop, the seminary team and the vocation staff work in an ongoing
manner to make the best discernment possible. Once that discernment is made, the bishop may invite
the seminarian to Holy Orders. The first time a man receives Holy Orders, he is ordained a deacon. It is
at this point that he makes a lifetime commitment to celibacy, to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and
to obeying and respecting his bishop.
The only way to confirm one’s vocation is to test it, and the seminary provides an ideal environment
for doing just that. While most people who go to seminary are eventually ordained to the priesthood,
some discover during their time at seminary that they are being called to a different state of life. What
matters most is finding out what God has planned for you – and then working with Him to make that
plan a reality!
Suppose I think God might be calling me?
If you are living a Christian life in accord with the teachings of the Church and are sincerely and
persistently asking God for the grace of knowing what He wants you to do, He will certainly bless you
with much grace. If you believe He might be calling you to priesthood, talk about it with a priest you
know and trust. Or call the Director of Vocations to set up an appointment. Remember: if God is
calling you to the priesthood, the Church wants nothing more than to help you take advantage of the
graces He is offering.
DIOCESE OF WILMINGTON
"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you" - John 15:16