Frequently Asked Questions
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, leisure, and exercise 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 focus, such as teaching, parish ministry, social work, prison ministry, or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and somewhat predictable demands. The unpredictable's are also interesting and challenging. They center on accommodating the needs of people: the sick, dying, old, angry, hurt, hungry, fearful, lonely, imprisoned, excited, and joyful. We share with them our understanding, encouragement, and support. We rejoice, cry, empathize with them. Such events are both painful and rewarding, fatiguing and spiritually 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 worship; part alone, in reading and quiet contemplation. Probably the main benefit of prayer is that it makes us more sensitive to God's grace 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 priests get time off & 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 chooses the same activity every time. Some of the more common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends, enjoying the outdoors.
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 life style, but this does occur at times.
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. He makes the promises of obedience and celibacy. The bishop of the diocese is the head of the local diocese. A religious priest, on the other hand, is a member of a community that covers a larger geographic area. They take vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. Their provincials oversees their ministry.
What's the difference between a brother and a priest?
A brother is a layman who commits himself to Christ by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, who lives in religious community, and who works in nearly any job: teacher, electrician, cook, lawyer, mechanic, artist, etc. A priest's distinctive role is as minister of the sacraments: celebrating Eucharist, Baptism, Penance, proclaiming the Word of God and serving the people.
What is a deacon?
A deacon is a man 35 years of age or older, married or single, who desires to serve the Church in a variety of ways in ministry of the liturgy, the Word, and service. He has a one year of aspirancy discerning his call to the diaconate. He then engages in a rigorous three-year theological, pastoral, and spiritual formation period prior to his diaconate ordination. This training is done while he continues his usual life style and work.
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.
What is the age limit for entering the seminary?
The age of seminarians ranges from 18 - 60. With more mature candidates, each case is reviewed individually to determine if his health, energy, abilities, spiritual and intellectual astuteness are appropriate to his age for effective ministry for a number of years.
What does a seminarian study?
There are four main areas of study and development in preparing for the priesthood: human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral. 1) Human formation helps the Seminarian integrate the many elements of his life in growing to be a whole person. 2) Intellectually if a man goes to a college seminary, he has the same classes as a regular liberal arts college with the addition of classes on Scripture, spirituality, philosophy, and the Church. After college, he enters theology, where his time is spent studying the Bible, the teachings of the Church, history of the Church, spirituality, moral, Sacramental, and systematic theology and the skills he will need to be a priest. 3) Spirituality, the study of prayer and the development of one's relationship with God, is covered mostly on an individual basis, with each man meeting with a priest-advisor. 4) The ability to minister pastorally is developed in supervised programs of ministry.
Do you have to be an "A" student in the seminary?
A seminarian should be an average or above average student. A priest need not be a "brain," but on the other hand a priest must have the ability to pass the courses the seminary requires in order to serve the Catholic community well.
Is seminary life hard?
Seminary life is not any harder than college or graduate work at another university but it is different. Seminarians have the added responsibilities of developing as men of prayer, and as a bearer of the Good News. Friendships are encouraged with both men and women, but dating is not part of the seminarian's life since he is preparing for celibacy, not marriage. They have the responsibility like any student, to fulfill the responsibilities that are part of their preparation for the life they've chosen.
Are you taught to write homilies?
Seminarians are required to take courses on writing and giving homilies. Once a seminarian is ordained a deacon (about 6 months to a year before ordination to priesthood), he will preach periodically at Mass in the Seminary and in parishes. During this diaconate period, he will receive constructive criticism on his homilies from the people at Mass and the priests in the parish.
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:
INQUIRER: 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 Discernment page) Usually, he may speak to his pastor or contact the Vocation Director. 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.
APPLICANT: 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 office under the direction of the Vocation Director. An application is given to the person to fill out.
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.
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 this 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 is a religious vow?
A vow is a solemn promise by which an individual freely gives his life as gift to God in poverty, celibacy and obedience.
What vows to diocesan priests make?
Diocesan priests do not make vows. For ordination, they freely make promises of celibacy and obedience to their Bishop.
Do permanent deacons make vows?
Permanent Deacons do not make vows. They promise obedience to their Bishop. If single, they promise celibacy and will not to marry. If married, they promise not to remarry should their spouse die.
What happens to the money a diocesan priest makes?
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, clothes, 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 freely
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 your 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 maintain one's spiritual life. The priest must decide to develop the relationship within the bounds and responsibilities of his commitment to celibacy, or break off an unhealthy relationship. 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 ever get lonely?
As in any walk of life, there are times of loneliness for priests.
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 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 for 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.
Why did you become a priest?
I chose my life style as a 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 and see what it was like.
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 last, 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."
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 from your work?
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 from your job?
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 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 lure of making a lot of money as success, 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.
Perhaps another reason is that God's call is seldom a roar but is more often a whisper. Our lives today are often busy and noisy, perhaps too noisy to readily hear God when he calls us. This is why if you have any feeling that the priesthood might be what God wants for you, contact us. Together we might be able to cut through the noise and discern God's plan for you.
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 awesome 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.