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What do priests do all day?
What a priest does with his day is so varied and complex that only a sampling can be given here. Prayer, work and leisure are all necessary for a healthy life. We try to make sure we have a balance of all these, but we don't always succeed.
In the area of work or ministry, many of us have one main occupation, such as parish ministry, which has somewhat regular hours and predictable demands. The unpredictables are also interesting and challenging. They center on meeting the needs of people: the sick, old, angry, hurt, hungry, imprisoned, excited, happy. We share with them our understanding, encouragement and support. We rejoice, cry, and feel with them.
How important is prayer in a priest's life?
Because we have chosen a way of life, which says by its very nature that God is most important, prayer has a central role in our lives. Prayer is communication with the Lord whom we love and is as necessary for us as communication is for any two persons who expect their relationship to continue. Can you imagine having a best friend (or husband or wife) to whom you never spoke?
Since prayer is so important, most priests and religious spend approximately two hours a day in prayer; part of that time with others, at Mass and in common oral prayer; part alone, in reading and quiet attentiveness. The main benefit of prayer is that it makes us more sensitive to God's activity in the people, events and circumstances of daily life.
Is prayer always easy for a priest?
Definitely not! There are lots of times when we don't feel like doing other things that are basically important to us; for example, the athlete doesn't always feel like practicing, a student doesn't always feel like studying, the wage earner doesn't always feel like working, etc. However, in all the cases mentioned, because the activity in which we participate is important, we act on motives deeper than feelings, and do what we know needs to be done.
Do priests get time off, and what do they do in that time?
We have approximately the same amount of leisure time as most adults. In this time, we are free to do whatever is legal, moral and reasonable for adults in our situation. Obviously, because priests are unique individuals, we won't all choose the same types of recreation, and none of us chooses the same activity every time. Some common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends and enjoying the outdoors.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves the Church within a well-defined area (a diocese). He serves the people as a parish priest, but may also be involved in other forms of ministry: teaching, chaplain in a hospital or prison, campus ministry, etc.
A religious priest, on the other hand, is a member of a community, which goes beyond the geographical limits of any diocese. A religious priest seeks to live a vowed life within a community of men for mutual support and accomplishment of some work. There is an emphasis in the community on shared ideals, prayer and commitment to Christ. Religious priests work in a wide variety of ministries.
How old do you have to be before you enter the seminary?
There is no certain age to start preparing for the priesthood. Some people go to high school seminaries. Others enter the seminary after high school, after college, or after they have been working for years.
Does my age make a difference?
God can call a person at any age. Many dioceses and religious communities have age limit requirements, however, and not all sponsors will accept candidates who cannot be ordained by age 40, 50 or 55. One must check in each case. Nevertheless, many factors besides one's age are considered and many sponsors judge each case on an individual basis.
The older a person, the more concern a sponsor will have about overall health, ability to support oneself and contribute financially to seminary education, medical/health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, and length of expected ministry. Potential sponsors will address these issues.
Will I be accepted simply because I want to be a priest?
As with any candidate, younger or older, a desire or sense that one is called is only one of many significant factors in accepting a candidate for the seminary. The Church has many requirements, e.g., academic ability, physical health, mental and spiritual health, evidence of an ability to live a celibate life, realistic idea of what is required of a parish priest that is often demonstrated by a candidate's involvement in a parish community.
In many cases, age becomes an important factor, as noted above. One's desire for priesthood must be tested, taking into account these other factors as well as submitting to a process of discernment needed both by the individual and the sponsor. It is important that we provide the best possible priests to serve the needs of the Church.
What kind of education is needed?
The Catholic Church, in various official documents, has established the full program of preparation for priesthood. Requirements include a theological education, as well as an intensive program of spiritual formation, human formation, and pastoral preparation. This comprehensive priesthood program is generally four years in length.
Prerequisite courses in philosophy and undergraduate religious studies are required in order to complete a four-year theology program. If these courses have not been taken previous to entry, this requirement may add two years of pre-theology to the program for a total of six years.
An undergraduate degree (BA or BS) is required to begin a master's level (MDiv) program in a seminary.
What if I have been married?
A previous marriage does not, by itself, present a problem. In fact, in many cases, one's marriage can be a significant factor contributing to a grace-filled priestly ministry.
What if I am a widower?
Generally, it is advisable to wait one or two years after the death of a spouse before entering the seminary. This provides opportunity for grieving, transition and preparing oneself to enter a new, celibate state of life.
What if I am divorced?
In itself, a divorce is not an impediment to priesthood. If the former partner is living, an annulment must be granted before admission to the seminary. Some dioceses and religious communities will not accept divorced candidates, but, after careful examination, many others will.
What if I have children?
It is important that children be at least 18 years of age and financially independent of their father before entrance to a seminary.
What if I have made mistakes in life?
Priesthood is not just for saints. Actually, the ability to regularly seek forgiveness and guidance from God is an asset in one's vocational discernment. It is important to fully disclose one's history in the application process so that those assisting in your discernment can be most helpful. Some actions, however, are impediments to acceptance into a seminary and ordination, for example, voluntary homicide, procuring an effective abortion or positive cooperation in either. The same would be true for one who has been guilty of apostasy, heresy or schism.
There are other crimes or activities that will prompt hesitancy on the part of any potential sponsor. In addition, if one has had some other seriously detrimental behavioral pattern, e.g., alcoholism or sexual activity, a suitable period of probation must be demonstrated to assure than one can successfully live a sober and celibate life. A spiritual director is often of significant help in discerning one's readiness for seminary life.
Who will pay for the seminary education?
The answer to this basically depends on the agreement between the candidate and the sponsor. Each sponsor has policies relative to how much of the cost they will pay and how they will support the candidate. For some, it will be a loan; for others, all room, board and tuition is paid, plus required books. Health insurance is also a factor to be negotiated with the sponsor.
Do I have to sell my house?
In general, it is best not to sell anything initially, particularly a house, until one's vocational decision is established. Diocesan priests are not required to take a vow of poverty, while religious are. Nonetheless, each case is different. Some diocesan candidates have kept their house and used it as a place to go during seminary vacations or for taking a day off, once they are ordained. Some also intend to keep it for retirement purposes.
How important is my work background?
Generally, a sponsor will be looking for some stability or progress in one's work record. Often a person's past experience can become a strong asset after ordination, e.g., experience in a helping or teaching profession, or financial/administrative experience. On the other hand, if a person has not been successful at other jobs, it does not present much promise that one will be able to deal successfully with the challenges of priesthood and parish ministry.
What options in priesthood are available?
The needs of the Church today are many. Depending on one's background, training and previous employment, a great variety of pastoral opportunities are available. Sponsorship implies that one will be serving as a priest in that diocese or religious community. It is important that both the candidate and the sponsor see this as possible. Important factors might be the area of the country (climate, topography, etc.), the particular nature or charism of the sponsor (e.g. rural or urban, ethnic or language needs, unique ministries; and theological orientation).
What's the next step?
Because sponsorship is required for seminary admission, contacting one's diocesan or religious community vocation director is the place to begin. Often, your local pastor can be of help in learning who to contact and how to follow through.
Adapted from materials published by The National Coalition for Church Vocations and National Religious Vocation Conference, 15420 S Cornell Ave., #105, Chicago, IL 60615-5604.