Priesthood Frequently Asked Questions

Jump to questions about: Discernment - The Process - The Priesthood


What exactly is a “vocation?”

A vocation is a calling. For Catholics it means the state of life God asks us to live. There is one vocation for every baptized person and that is holiness. Holiness is living constantly in the presence of God and having a living relationship with God. This relationship is cultivated by prayer and the Sacraments. Everyone is also called to a particular vocation in life, beyond living a life of holiness.

What in particular are some of the vocations that I might be called to follow?

Each person is called to live out the universal vocation to holiness in particular ways such as: married life, priesthood, religious life, or as a committed single person. A desire for one over the other is not the telltale sign of what your vocation is, although it can sometimes be an indicator.

Marriage is the primary vocation, given by God to His people so that they might share in the Divine Life. Even though Original Sin has altered the original plan of God it still remains a natural desire for people. The desire for a family is a very good thing, as is the desire to raise a holy family. But as the Holy Father and others before him, a desire for marriage is necessary for any other vocation. Remember, the other vocations are centered on God’s family which includes everyone!

How do I know what God is calling me to do?

You must pray often. Every single day! Finding out God’s will is not an easy thing to do. It is a slow process called discernment. Ultimately you have to cultivate a relationship with God and grow deeper in that relationship. Discernment is a process of learning to make your will that of God’s will. This doesn’t mean giving up marriage for the priesthood; it might be just the opposite.

At some point you have to involve the Church in your discernment, the first step consisting of finding a priest you trust and feel comfortable with to be your confessor or spiritual director. If you believe that you may have a vocation to the priesthood, then you must contact a vocations director who will help you continue in your discernment. Together with the Church you will find out if you have a vocation and then when time comes, if it is God’s will, you may be called to Holy Orders. This ultimate decision is gradual and done in the seminary.

Can I be happy in my life if I don’t follow God’s plan for me?

Yes you can. Many people do not follow God’s plan and still have a happy life. It will not even put Heaven at risk. The question is not really, “Can I be happy?” but “Will I be happier?” God gives us our vocation based on who we are and who we are supposed to be. He knows us better than we know ourselves, a great reason to trust Him and not simply our own desires.

If I am attracted to the priesthood and priestly life, does that mean God is calling me to be a priest?

It is a good and strong sign that you MIGHT be called. However that isn’t always the case. It is a sure sign that you are called to discern the priesthood. If you feel this, some practical things are to go to Mass as often as you can, even daily. Make frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament seeking to know the will of God, go to Confession and seek the counsel of a good priest.

I’m not that “holy.” Can I still be a priest if I’m not very holy?

The question isn’t really “Can I still be a priest if I’m not very holy?” but “Do I desire to grow in holiness?” Holiness, which is living a life which models the life of our Lord and in beginning in constant communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a process which we begin again every day and accomplish with the grace of God. Nobody ever reaches the point where they can say “Phew I am now holy, time to quit growing in holiness.” As long as you desire to grow in holiness then you can still be a priest. Go to Mass, pray, and seek the sacrament of Confession and, you will be amazed at the changes and how much you like the “new” you. It isn’t really a “new” you, but the person who you are supposed to be in the eyes of God.

The Process

How does someone become a priest?

First he must spend time in prayer and growing in relationship with God, and then he must contact a vocations director. The application process for either a diocese of religious order then takes place. If the man is accepted as a candidate for the priesthood then he will undergo a physiological evaluation and lastly be interviewed by the seminary. Once he has been accepted into a seminary he is a full-fledged seminarian and the process begins in earnest.

Every seminarian must have a Bachelor’s degree and study two years of philosophy. If you have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree then you just study philosophy in a program called Pre-Theology. If you need to complete your Bachelor’s degree then you attend a college seminary and earn an undergraduate degree in philosophy. For the undergrad student the two years of philosophy are part of his college years. After the philosophy requirement is done you go on to study theology at the graduate level. This is a four year program and usually in the middle you spend one year as a pastoral intern working in a parish. All told it takes 7-9 years to become a priest.

Is all this education necessary?

Priests are given the responsibility of caring for souls, which has eternal consequences for both the priest and the parishioner. A doctor studies to care for your body and still goes through an equal amount of time to become a doctor. Is it not fitting that a priest should have at least as much training? Also, the seminary is not just a school, but a place where one is formed to have a heart like that of our Lord, the Great High Priest.

What are the qualities that the Church looks for in a candidate for the Priesthood?

A man who loves God and the Church, goes to Mass regularly, spends time in prayer and wishes to grow in holiness. He should be physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. He should be willing to grow, learn, and to be formed. Formation, the process of becoming a priest, is basically learning to “decrease so that He may increase”.

If I decided to go to the seminary to “give it a try” am I committed for life?

No, you are not committed until you are ordained. In the seminary you get a small taste of priestly life and are in an environment which is conducive to discerning. Men who enter the seminary and then leave have not wasted their time. Rather they are able to be better Catholic men, husbands, and fathers. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.

The Priesthood

What is a priest?

A priest aside, from being the spiritual leader of a Catholic community, has many varied roles. He is understood primarily to be an Alter Christus, another Christ. This term doesn’t mean that he is Christ, but rather is an instrument through which Our Lord can work to bring God to man and man to God. This great task is accomplished in primarily three ways: 1) the Sacraments 2) Prayer 3) Spiritual Fatherhood. When celebrating the Sacraments the priest, as an Alter Christus, opens the channels of grace enabling people to experience the love and compassion of God. As a man of prayer the priest intercedes for the whole world through the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Moreover, in offering Mass he unites himself to Our Lord who is both priest and victim.

The priest makes himself, his entire life and ministry, an offering to God for the salvation of souls. He must also cultivate his own growth in holiness and virtue through private prayer, fidelity to the Sacraments, especially Confession. His spiritual fatherhood is really the first two items put into action; just as a good father is present in the life of his family, he must be present in the life of his parish.  The sum of these three things is what a priest is: a living witness to the goodness, love, and mercy of God. He in turn shares what he has experienced: the joy of a living relationship with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Are most priests happy in their vocations in their lives and in their work for Christ?

Most priests are very happy as priests. This is especially true for those who give all of themselves without reserve to the work of the Father and maintain a life of prayer and thus stay connected to the source of their vocation, God. Sure, there are some unhappy priests but there are people who are married and equally unhappy.  One priest of our diocese of Sacramento once said, “It’s a great life; a wonderful life”. There are a countless number of aged priests who fight ill health and physical weakness to continue their priestly ministry because of the joy they find in living their priesthood.

Will priests ever be allowed to get married?

Let us consider what the implications this might have on the Church. Our Lord said “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24)

Fatherhood is a vocation just as is the priesthood, the question then comes up: Who comes first, the children I beget as a man or the children I beget as a priest of Jesus Christ, one who participates in the eternal priesthood of Christ? Celibacy is not a dogma of the Church but a discipline and as such can change, but the great witness of celibacy is lost. Celibacy points to the mystical union that awaits us all in heaven. Priestly celibacy is also a sign of the union of Christ and His Church; Our Lord is considered the groom of the Church and the Church is his Bride.  The priesthood is a supernatural gift which points to supernatural realities and hence requires strong witness in every day.

Will I be lonely as a priest?

Loneliness accompanies every person in every state of life at some point. Many priests have support groups and great friends in their fellow priests with whom they travel, recreate, and do many other things. Priestly retreats, convocations, Confirmation celebrations and other spiritual events allow priests to gather and celebrate the great joys and wonder of the ministerial priesthood. Every person will feel lonely when the desires of his heart are not properly ordered and focused toward our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we have learned to always be in union with God then we know we are never alone and rejoice in having His presence among us always.

Do priests get paid?

A priest receives a monthly income which allows him to take care of his needs and to save; this is a modest but adequate sum. A priest also receives room and board so he has a place to live and a means for buying food and necessities.  One will never be a millionaire as a priest but our treasure isn’t measurable in dollars and cents. As the poem “Thou Art a Priest Forever” says a priest is a member of every family and belongs to none. Another poem “The Beautiful Hands of a Priest” also sum up the unique role a priest plays in the life of people. That grace, that gift of belonging to everybody, that joy in sharing life with so many people, this is where our earthly “reward” rests. Finally, when we hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master’s house,” we have our eternal “reward”

Can priests do anything they want for recreation and fun?

The only limitation a priest has is that his hobbies must be in accord with the Gospel and his position as a priest.  Priests enjoy the same hobbies as everybody else: sports, music, theatre, opera, plays, outdoor activities, the list goes on and on. A priest from the Diocese of Oakland once sang the National Anthem at a major league baseball game!