Frequently Asked Questions about the Preisthood
What does a priest 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 (ministry), many of us have one main occupation, such as teaching, parish ministry, social work, or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and somewhat predictable demands.
The unpredictables are also interesting and challenging. They center around meeting the needs of people: the sick, dying, old, angry, hurt, hungry, imprisoned, excited, happy. We share with them our understanding, encouragement, and support. We rejoice, cry, feel with them. Such events are both painful and rewarding, fatiguing and moving.
How important is prayer in the life of a priest?
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 wife) to whom you never spoke?
Since prayer is so important, most priests 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 contemplation. Probably 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 praying just as there are times 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 prayer, game, grade, or job is important, we act on motives deeper than feeling, and do what we know needs to be done out of our commitment to God and His people.
Our efforts aren't always perfect, but we are so convinced of our deep need for God that we keep trying to pray, no matter how we feel. We believe that God sees and responds to our attempts to communicate.
Do people act differently when they know you're a priest?
Some people do treat us differently because we are priests. We do not want to be respected or rejected just for our lifestyle, but this does occur at times.
Do priests get time off and, if so, what do you 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 recreational activity, and no one of us choose the same activity every time. Some of the more common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends, enjoying the outdoors.
Do priests get paid?
Since a diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty, he receives a personal salary. Priests receive a salary commensurate with the local standard of living enabling him to pay for expenses he has: medical, car, books, entertainment, vacation and charitable contributions. Basic necessities are provided by the parish where he serves.
The amount of money made by a priest is not really important. We have chosen to live simply, without accumulating a lot of material possessions, in order to enable us to focus our lives more easily on Jesus, and to serve His people.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves the Church within a rather well defined area (a diocese). He ordinarily serves the people as a parish priest, but he may also be involved in many other forms of ministry: teaching, Chaplain in hospitals, prisons, 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.
Why did you become a priest?
I chose my life style as priest because I felt this was what God was calling me to do. As I grew to know myself, to recognize the talents and abilities He gave me, and to see the needs of the world, I came to believe that his was the way I could best respond to His love for me. I've always wanted to help people, and the desire to help in this way kept getting stronger, so I decided at least to give it a try.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to become a priest?
Most of us are fortunate in having families who encouraged us to do whatever would make us happy in life. They supported our choice without pushing us -- and in supporting us, asked probing questions that made us think more deeply about what we were choosing.
Friends' reactions varied a lot, from ridicule, to laying odds on how long we'd stay, to refusal to talk about our choice, to quiet support, to high enthusiasm. Obviously, some of those reactions are hard to take from good friends whose opinion you value. Sometimes we were pretty discouraged about our choice because of the reaction of our friends, and were grateful for the ones who said, "Do what's best for you."
How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
It takes about the same amount of preparation to be a priest as any professional person, four years after college or eight years after high school.
How does a man become a priest?
Becoming a priest involves several stages. While these vary slightly from diocese to diocese in length of time and format, the following outline is offered as a general view of formation programs:
CONTACT: A man who is interested in the priesthood but still searching for the answer to the question "What does God want of me?" could join a program of "contact" with the diocese. (See Associates page) Usually through his pastor or by contacting the Vocation Recruiter. This is usually a very flexible program whereby the man meets with a priest and or a group of others interested in the priesthood on a regular basis and shares in experiences of prayer and community.
CANDIDATE: A more formal relationship with the diocese occurs when the man becomes a candidate. At this time he begins the process of interviews and meetings with the members of the diocesan vocations team under the direction of the Vocation Director.
SEMINARIAN: The candidate, sponsored by a diocese, now enters a seminary to begin his priestly formation and theological studies. At this point he is called a seminarian. (click here for FAQ's on seminary life)
TRANSITIONAL DIACONATE: About 6 months to a year before ordination to the priesthood, the seminarian is ordained to the Transitional Diaconate (so named because the seminarian is in transition to the priesthood, and to differentiate from the Permanent Diaconate). The man makes promises of celibacy and obedience to his Bishop .
PRIESTHOOD: After much work, and a lot of prayers, the man is ordained to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ by receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders
What vows do diocesan priests make?
Diocesan priests make no vows. For ordination, they freely make promises of celibacy and obedience to their Bishop.
Can priests date?
No, because dating is meant to lead one to marriage, and as celibates we plan not to marry. However, we can and do have friends of the opposite sex.
Are you ever attracted to someone of the opposite sex?
Yes, we are. Nothing happens to us at the time of entering the seminary that eliminates normal human needs, feelings, or desires. As celibate people, we choose to channel these feelings and express our love for others in the wide range of means other than those physical expressions restricted to and proper to marriage.
What do you do if you fall in love?
The basic responsibility in such a situation is to preserve the original, existing commitment (to continue to live as a priest) and to do whatever is necessary to do that. The priest must decide to develop the relationship within the bounds and responsibilities of his commitment to celibacy, or to drop the other person out of his life all together. While such decisions are not always easy to make, they are by no means impossible and often leave the priest stronger than before in his vocation.
Do you ever wonder about marriage and children?
Yes, it's only natural that at times priests consider the beauty of family life. However, we recognize also the beauty and happiness of our own life style, and make a free choice to remain celibate for the Kingdom of God.
Do you have to be a virgin to become a priest?
No. A person's past life is not the main concern. The question is: Am I willing and able now to live and love as a celibate person in the service of others?
Do you ever get lonely?
As in any way of life, there are times of loneliness for priests.
Do you ever fight with other priests?
Hopefully, "fight" is too strong a word; perhaps disagreement would be more accurate. This is natural, expected, and healthy when people are living together. Presuming the maturity of the people involved, most disagreements can be worked out to the benefit and satisfaction of all. Priests work at growing in the art of communication, and this demands trust, openness, and willingness to live in the tension involved in talking out differences.
Do you think you are superior to lay people?
No. Priests are not superior to lay people. All vocations are a gift from God and are equally valuable.
Can you retire?
A retirement age applies to priests. We can retire from active ministry, but many will get involved in part time ministry or volunteer service. We can not retire from the priesthood. We do not retire from our love for people nor from working for the salvation of others.
Can you be fired?
If our work is incompetent, we can be removed from our assignment. We could not be fired from the priesthood.
Why has there been a decline in the number of persons entering the priesthood?
To attribute the lessening numbers of persons entering priesthood to a single cause would be simplistic and unrealistic. The reasons are many and complex. Some factors are the rapid pace of change in our world, the unwillingness of many to make a permanent commitment to any person or cause, the misunderstanding about the changes in priesthood over the past several years, and the many opportunities for ministry now available to married persons.
Do you honestly enjoy your life?
I do! It brings me immense satisfaction and deep happiness to work with people in the many ways I do. As a minister of the Gospel. I touch the very center of others' lives. Trying to communicate the fantastic love Jesus has for us, seeing others grab onto that love and live it -- that really keeps me going. Sure, there are times of discouragement, frustration, and fatigue -- everyone has those. But if I had my life to live over again, I'd choose the same life.