Q & A
Some of the most common questions of those in vocation discernment:
Why did you become a priest?
It might sound corny if you do not believe in God, but we become priests because we felt a personal call from God. That does not mean we had an experience with thunderbolts and voices. Instead, we had an inner feeling and we grew to know ourselves better, recognising our talents and abilities. That sense of being called kept coming back to us.
Over time and with prayer, we each came to believe this was the right path for us. We decided to at least give it a try by beginning the initial formation process to enter priesthood.
How did family and friends react to your decision?
That depends. Many of us found that our family and friends were supportive and encouraging. But not everyone experiences that same support.
Sometimes, because of misunderstandings or fear, families and friends are less enthusiastic about our decisions. That is when we have to trust ourselves, the voice of God that we hear in our hearts, and the good judgement of the communities and dioceses that think we are right for this and support us.
How important is prayer in your life?
Because we have chosen a way of life which says that God is most important, prayer is central to our lives. Think of it as a deep level of communication with God similar to the kind of communication which happens between any two people who love each other. Our relationship with God grows and deepens with prayer.
Since prayer is important, many priests spend about two hours a day in different types of prayer. Part of that time we pray with others at Mass. We also pray other formal prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, or spend time reading and reflecting on readings from the Bible.
Part of the time, we also pray alone, perhaps reading or just being quiet with God. One of the positive effects of prayer, whatever shape it takes, is to keep us aware of God’s activity in the people, events and circumstances of daily life. Many people ask us to pray for them also.
Is prayer always easy for you?
Not always! Even those monks and nuns in contemplative life – whose ministry is prayer – go through ‘dry spells’ when our prayer time seems dull or uneventful. As we grow in our experience of prayer we learn to adjust to these changes. We often depend on the support of our communities or the help of a spiritual director (someone like a coach or trainer) to help us keep praying during difficult times.
Those of us who are parish priests have our parish communities and our fellow priests to lead us towards prayer even when we would rather not be bothered. We try to be faithful even when we do not feel like it.
Our efforts are not always perfect, but we are convinced of our deep need for God. We believe God sees and responds to our attempts to communicate.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves a church community (a parish) within a geographic area called a diocese. He ordinarily serves the people as a parish priest, but he may be involved in many other forms of ministry like teaching, hospital ministry, university or prison chaplaincy.
A religious priest is a member of a religious congregation whose ministry goes beyond the geographic limits of any diocese. A religious priest seeks to live a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience within a community of men. The community shares a common vision and spirituality and often emphasises a particular type of ministry.
How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
Generally it takes five or six years of seminary study. A seminary is a college run by the Catholic Church for educating and preparing men to be priests.
How old do you have to be to enter the seminary?
Today most men enter the seminary after college, university or after working for a number of years. Each diocese has its own selection process so it is advisable you contact your local vocations director for more information. Some people can start as early as 18 or 19 years old and others in their 50’s.
What does a seminarian study?
As part of his formation a seminarian would study the bible, the Church and its teaching, moral questions, the servides that take within the Church, the history of the Church and its Canon Law, and other subjects too. Seminarians meet regularly with a tutor and spiritual director to discuss developments in their prayer life and study of prayer. However seminary isn’t just about academics; there is also a lot of time for personal reflection and growth, and also pastoral opportnuites that mirror some of the things a man would be doing if he was a priest – this is a bit like work experience.
Do you have to be particularly academic to be a seminarian?
Not necessarily. The kinds of grades you earn are only one part of who you are. A generous heart, a prayerful soul and good people skills are as important as anything else when it comes to being a priest. A seminarian needs to be an average or above-average student. He should be able to pass the courses in the seminary and show that he can be an effective minister.
What is seminary life like?
It is an exciting time for most of us. Of course, we encounter times of struggle, emotionally or academically. But we are finally starting to realise our dream of being a priest, and that is exciting. The academics are as challenging as at any college or university. In addition to our studies and meeting with a spiritual adviser, we are encouraged to enjoy friendships with both men and women, but dating is not part of the life because seminarians are preparing for celibacy rather than marriage.
What vows do diocesan priests make?
Strictly speasking, diocesan priests do not make solemn vows likes monks or nuns. They do however promise celibacy and obedience to their bishop. They do not make a vow or promise of poverty, but they do try to live simply so they can be of service to God’s people.
Are you ever attracted to others in a romantic way?
Of course! We still experience normal human needs, feelings and desires. As celibate people, we choose to channel these feelings into other healthy directions. We work at remaining faithful to our vow of celibacy through prayer, closeness to Jesus, and good friendships.
What if you fall in love?
It happens, just as it could happen to someone who was already married! Our responsibility in such a situation is to preserve the commitment we have made which is to live as a priest. We try to develop relationships within the limits and responsibilities of our commitment to celibacy.
Obviously falling in love can be a painful situation for a priest. Yet we know all Christians eventually face pain in their lives. It isn’t always easy to be a faithful spouse, or to be a Christian single person either. Dealing with such a challenge of our vows can make us stronger than ever in our vocations.
Do you ever wonder about marriage and children?
Sure we do. It is only natural that we wonder “what if …” Many of us are surrounded by married people with children and we see the reward and struggles of married life on a daily basis. We also recognise the value and joy of our own lifestyle.
Are you ever lonely?
Of course. Like people in any way of life, priests can be lonely sometimes. We try to nurture significant friendships so that we can fill our human need for closeness to other people and of course we pray to God. There is however a real difference between simply living alone and feeling lonely.
Why has there been a decline in the number of people entering priesthood?
The actually number of men being ordained world-wide is increasing. However, in Britain the situation is more complex. To attribute the lower number of persons entering the priesthood to any single cause would be too simple. The world and the Church have undergone dramatic change in the last 30 or 40 years or so. Furthermore, the high number of people entering religious life in the 1950’s and 1960’s was not typical of most of the Church’s history.
Today’s lower numbers have been attributed, among other things, to the many changes religious congregations have experienced; growing professional opportunities for men and women; the acceptance of Catholicism into mainstream culture; the reluctance of many people to make permanent commitments of any kind; and an increasing attachment to material goods and social status.
Seminary training is meant to help the seminarians and the people who guide them decide whether the seminarians have the skills, gifts and desire to give their lives to this challenging and fulfilling ministry.
VIDEOS HELPFUL FOR DISCERNMENT
Here I am, Lord
Who am I, Lord?