Why does the Church need priests?
Christ gave the world the Church to enable people to live in the Kingdom of God. One of the best ways we have to take part in that Kingdom is by the sacraments—those outwards signs instituted by Christ to give us grace. It is the priest that celebrates those sacraments in persona Christi—in the person of Christ. Ordained priests share the Word, the Life of Christ, even His very Body and Blood with the world. And don’t we need all the help we can get?
Are most priests happy in their vocations in their lives and in their work for Christ?
In study after study, clergy in general and priests in particular have some of the highest rates of “job satisfaction.” We love what we do. Contrary to what the press will tell us and despite the challenges to the Church today, priests are happy. We are not happy because of these challenges, but we are happy right in the midst of them. Jesus said, If you wish to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me. Is the cross a challenge?—of course! But it is also the way to the fullness of life.
But why can’t priests get married? That must be difficult.
Priests don’t marry in order to give themselves entirely to their bride, the Church. They strive to live as Christ and His first priests, the apostles—leaving all for the Kingdom of God. And isn’t it a great gift to the Church and world? Think about it: when people see a priest walking down the street without a wedding ring on his finger, but with a collar around his neck, they are reminded of the Greatest of all possible Loves—God Himself cf. 1John 4:8. And doesn’t our world need more reminders of that love?
Will I be lonely if I become a priest?
Probably. There will almost definitely be times when you are lonely in your life regardless of the call you receive: priest, religious, married or single. No one person, job, or life will completely fulfill each of our longings and desires—the only thing that completely completes us is the life of Christ. We will only perfectly experience that life in heaven. But we can experience it on this side of eternity by doing God’s will for us. The great St. Augustine (who had looked for love and fulfillment many other ways before finding Christ) famously explained this reality when he said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord.” Though there are experiences of loneliness, there are far more experiences of great satisfaction.
Do priests get paid?
We do get paid. Diocesan priests (unlike religious priests, sisters and brothers) do not make a vow of poverty. Therefore we have to take care of our own finances and personal budgets. We don’t get paid a lot, but it is certainly enough to pay for a car, clothes, books and recreation. (Housing and food are covered for us by the church/parish.) And it goes without saying that just like everyone else priests are called by God to be generous with those in need. So a good portion of many priests’ paychecks goes to the poor and to good charities.
Can priests do anything they want for recreation and fun?
Within reason, absolutely. Many priests choose to hike, fish, ski, run, play golf or basketball. Some even SCUBA dive in their free time. We also enjoy visiting with our family members, going to movies, listening and playing music and visiting friends.
How do I know if God is calling me to the priesthood?
God rarely smacks us over the head to let us know that He’s talking to us. He gives us many little signs to help us know that we are on the right path. We hear God’s call through the words of faithful people that talk to us, through the reading of the Scriptures, during quiet times of prayer, and most especially through the celebration of the Sacraments. But the only way to really know if the priesthood is for you is to apply to the seminary.
What is the seminary like?
Seminary is a time of great education, formation, spiritual development, and fraternity. For many priests, the best friends of your entire life will be those men you got to know in seminary. In Henry V, William Shakespeare wrote of the soldiers being a “band of brothers.” Many seminarians feel the same sort of bond with those in the seminary. That being said, in many ways, seminary is similar to other colleges. There are classes, dining halls, and sports facilities. But there are also chapels, spiritual directors, and formation sessions. And the biggest difference between seminary and a “normal” college is that at seminary all the students are striving to follow the will that God has for them in their lives. They are open to the possibility that Jesus might be calling them to serve Him and His Church as a priest.
What age to you have to be to become a priest?
The minimum age for ordination is 25 (although a bishop can give a dispensation to allow for ordination at 24, if he judges that to be appropriate). The usual age of a man who is applying to the seminary is between eighteen and 35. Men older than this are not excluded, of course, but we do need to establish that they continue to have the flexibility and the energy that are necessary to begin what is not just a new career, but a whole new way of life.
I’m not all that “holy.” Can I still be a priest if I’m not very holy?
Men who enter the seminary want to grow in their relationship with Christ. They want to follow His call for them—even though they normally don’t fully understand it. One of the best ways for us to grow in holiness and turning from sin is taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is something that we should take advantage of on a regular basis. We also need to have regular periods of prayer—most especially attendance at Mass. And finally there must be a practice of doing good works for others. But all this being said, we’ve never accepted a perfect candidate into the seminary. (Jesus Christ was a priest long before the Diocese of Ogdensburg was around!)
How does someone become a priest?
There are as many vocation stories as there are priests. No two priests’ stories are exactly the same. Check out our four sample stories “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But the basic route is having a sense that the Lord is calling, speaking to his pastor, contacting the vocations director, going through the application process, getting an undergraduate degree from College Seminary (or two years of pre-Theology if someone already has his undergraduate), and then going to Major Seminary for four more years. Generally before the last academic year, the man is ordained a deacon. And God-willing, the year after that, he is ordained a priest.
Is all this education necessary?
Yes. Contrary to the thoughts of some, priests don’t just have to “learn how to ‘say’ Mass.” St. Paul spoke of becoming all things to all people (1Cor 9:22). There is the basic liberal arts education of the college years (English, history, math, science, etc.) as well as all the courses in philosophy—this gives us a solid foundation for our study of theology. Then there is the study of God, religion, morality, counseling, and other pastoral skills that are studied in the last four years. This helps a priest be all things to all people, though without question he is still very human.
What are the qualities that the Church looks for in a candidate for the priesthood?
The very same qualities that a woman should look for in a candidate for a good husband—is there any wonder that the tradition has developed to call priests “Father”? A priest must be loving, wise, kind, strong, prayerful, attentive, and joyful. Someone wisely suggested that priests need two essential bones: a backbone and a funny bone. Besides these basic natural qualities, he must also have a great love for Christ and His Church.
If I decide to go to the seminary to “give it a try,” am I committed for life?
Applying to the seminary is not something that should be taken lightly. However, it is not only for those who are “sure” that Jesus is calling them to the priesthood. Instead it is the place for a man to go if he feels that that God may be calling him to the priesthood. If that sense is there, then applying to the seminary only makes sense. Some well intentioned people will say that a young man who is considering the priesthood should first go to college and then see what happens. In some cases this works well, but in other cases, men lose their vocations in this way. The best place to discern if God is calling you to the priesthood is the seminary. If God isn’t calling, He and the Church will make it clear. But if He is calling, are you sure that you’ll hear the call over all the noise of college and the workplace?
How much does seminary cost and who is responsible for the expense?
For the Diocese of Ogdensburg, each College Seminarian and Pre-Theologian are required to pay $10,000 for their annual tuition. Major seminarians (those in the last four years) are not required to pay. That $10,000 can be paid through grants, student aid, loans, or obviously from the seminarian and/or his family. The remainder of the cost is paid for by the Diocese.
Is the daily life of a priest interesting?
As a young seminarian, one of my biggest fears was that I would be bored as a priest. I remember thinking that if I am ever ordained, I should tell the bishop that I will be willing to do anything, just please assign me somewhere where there is a lot to do. Now as I look back, I laugh at my naiveté. I have never had two days that were exactly the same, and there is always something more to do. There’s another homily to prepare, another sick person to anoint, another confession to hear, another classroom to visit, another couple to prepare for marriage, another baby to baptize, another trip to plan. There are quiet moments, times when we let it all sink in. But if I’m completely honest, I don’t remember ever being bored. I can’t imagine a more exciting, or more fulfilling life than my life as a Catholic Priest.
–Fr. Bryan Stitt, Vocations Director