Every Christian has a vocation, a calling from God to live his or her life in a certain manner. Some are called to the vocation of marriage, some to consecrated life, and others to the priesthood and/or religious life. The call to priesthood is an invitation to take part more fully in the life and ministry of Jesus. This call is discovered in a variety of ways, including prayer, participation in the life of the Church, and involvement with the People of God. All of these are important. While there’s no one right or wrong way to proceed, if you believe you are being called to the priesthood, here are some steps to consider:
Reflection: This may take months, or even years. Some know when they are very young that they want to become a priest. Others realize it later in life, sometimes after getting a college education or starting a career. Some who hear God’s call to the priesthood act on it right away. Others, like Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1-10) and Andrew (John 1:31-40), need a little encouragement. If you believe you have heard God calling you to become a priest, don’t ignore it. Help to bring it into focus by reflecting on what this special invitation means. Pray about it, and listen for God’s response. As you think about whether or not you should be a priest, questions you might ask yourself include:
Preparation: Once you believe you are called to more actively discern and pursue a vocation to the priesthood, it’s a good idea to become involved in your parish, attend Mass frequently, receive the Sacraments, read the Bible and other spiritual resources regularly, learn about Church history and the teachings of the faith, and try to live a good, moral Christian life. A key question to spend time praying about is what kind of priest you think you might like to be. There are two primary options. You could choose to become a diocesan priest. In this case, you apply to be a seminarian for a specific diocese and enter formation under the bishop of the diocese. A second option is to be a religious priest. Examples of religious priests include Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and many, many more. Diocesan priests usually live in parishes and take care of the spiritual needs of the people in the parish. Religious priests often do not live in parishes, but are frequently involved in specialized ministries such as preaching, education, feeding the poor, and so on. Religious priests take a vow of poverty as well as vows of celibacy and obedience. Often, they live with a number of other priests or brothers of their particular religious community.
Discussion: If you believe you have a call to the priesthood, it’s okay to keep it confidential as you pray and reflect on its meaning. However, it is important to know that God has called you not so much because you are worthy, but because of His love for you and His confidence in your ability to serve Him as a priest. When you are ready to tell others of this special invitation from God, it can be very helpful to talk to your parents, parish priest, teacher, school counselor, a friend or a family member. Eventually, you may want to arrange a personal meeting with your diocese’s vocation director to learn more about the priesthood and what is involved in becoming a priest. When speaking with a priest, ask specifically about his experiences and what made him want to become a priest. Also, it’s a good idea to find someone who can be your spiritual director, and for the two of you to meet on a regular basis. The purpose of a spiritual director is to help you better understand where God is leading you in your life. A vocation director may also put you in touch with seminarians who are already preparing to become priests. You may also be invited to attend discussion groups, retreats, and other activities sponsored by your diocese’s Office of Vocations. A visit to a seminary to see what life is like for those preparing for the priesthood is strongly encouraged.
Application: Once you decide you want to continue your discernment as a seminarian, you will need to apply to become affiliated with a diocese or a religious order. The application process is very thorough, and once completed will be used to determine whether you will be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood. Once accepted, you will need to apply to a seminary. Most dioceses and religious orders have a list of seminaries they typically send their candidates to. Depending on your age and educational background, you will be directed to apply to a college seminary program, a program of pre-theology, or a program of theology. Most candidates for the priesthood are required to obtain a background in philosophy before studying theology.
Formation: Once you enter the seminary you will begin the formation process, taking part in programs that will nourish you and help you grow in the areas of human, spiritual, academic and pastoral development. This process also prepares you to effectively fulfill the duties and responsibilities required of a priest. In terms of your studies, you will need to be an average or above average student and have the ability to pass the graduate-level courses the seminary will require in order to serve the Christian community well. Friendships are encouraged with both men and women, but dating is not part of a seminarian’s life, since he is preparing for a life of celibacy, not marriage. Usually, about a year before ordination to the priesthood, a seminarian is ordained to the Transitional Diaconate (so named because the seminarian is in transition to the priesthood, and to differentiate this from the Permanent Diaconate). At this point you will be asked to make a promise of celibacy and obedience to your bishop or religious superior. After much study, work, and prayer – not to mention an amazing journey – God-willing, you will be recommended to receive holy orders and become a priest of Jesus Christ!