Discerning the Priesthood
Could God be calling you to be a priest?
God made you for a unique purpose. Even before you were born, he knew your vocation, your mission in life. And if you are a faithful Catholic man, God may be calling you for a higher purpose—to become a Catholic priest.
Priests have a critical mission: to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people. They are spiritual fathers to thousands of Catholics. They preach the Gospel and offer the sacrifice of the Mass. In short, priests are living witnesses of Christ in the world—men of strong character who stand out in our secular culture.
A good priest is a spiritual hero, a man who sacrifices himself for the people of God. Is Jesus calling you to be his priest?
What is the Priesthood?
A sacred ministry to God’s people
“The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life.” – Pope Benedict XVI
The priesthood is a calling.
Christ asks of some men the sacrifice of their lives in following him as his more intimate companions. From all eternity, certain men are called to the priesthood. It is a call inscribed in their nature and because of this, is a call that will bring them fulfillment.
A priest acts In Persona Christi.
Priests act in persona Christi capitas, which means “in the person of Christ, head of the Church.” That’s why the priest speaks in the first person at Mass, “This is my body, given up for you.” As Pope John Paul II wrote: “The priest offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation, making him as it were into another Christ.”
A priest wields a Sacred Power.
When a priest makes the sacraments present, he wields a sacred power from God, in Latin, sacra potestas.
A priest’s soul changes forever.
At ordination, a man’s soul undergoes an ontological change—a change of being—which indelibly marks his soul forever. Once a priest, always a priest.
What Do Priests Do?
Priests do far more than celebrate Mass and pray all day. The life of a priest is busy, demanding, challenging—and incredibly rewarding. The vast majority of priests live happy, fulfilling lives. They love the people they serve, and in turn, are loved by their parishioners.
Priests Teach: Priests instruct others about the faith.
Shepherd: Priests guide, unite, and encourage their parishioners.
Sanctify: Priests administer the sacraments and encourage holiness.
Individual priests have a huge variety of tasks within the Church. There are many specialized ministries such as being a chaplain, working at the diocesan offices, or teaching in a seminary. But the majority of priests serve in parishes:
Celebrate Mass and preach the Gospel
Lead a parish in living the Faith
Bring new members into the Church through Baptism
Hear Confessions and provide spiritual direction
Work with teens and young adults
Prepare couples for marriage and counsel married couples
Teach people how to pray
Feed the poor, visit prisons, and advocate for justice
Counsel people going through difficult times
Visit the sick in hospitals and anoint them for healing
Perform funerals and bury the dead
Pray daily for the People of God
Signs of a Priestly Vocation
How do I know God is calling me?
If you have ever thought about being a priest, these qualities may be clues to a future priestly vocation:
1. God has placed in your heart a desire to be a priest.
Surveys of recently ordained priests have found an interesting trend: most priests say they first started thinking about the priesthood at eleven years old or in eleventh grade. It has become known as the 11-11 rule. If Jesus has placed a desire in your heart for priesthood, no matter what your age, don’t ignore it. Talk to a priest you admire about how you feel.
2. You have a deep love for Christ and His Church.
A priest functions in persona Christi capitas—in the person of Christ, head of the Church. Thus a man who wants to be a priest must love Jesus Christ above all else. And like Jesus, he should have a deep love for the Church, the Bride of Christ. In general, a man who wants to be a priest will find himself drawn to Church teachings and “all things Catholic.”
3. Other people have mentioned that you would be a good priest.
Often other people will notice a “priest’s heart” in a young man and say to him, “Have you ever thought about being a priest? I think you’d make a good one.” In fact, many men report that they grew tired of people making such comments—but that the encouragement eventually led them to seminary!
4. You desire to live a life of virtue and prayer.
Pope Benedict recently spoke about what people expect of their priests. To paraphrase, he said that people do not expect priests to be experts in anything but the spiritual life. Thus, a good candidate for priesthood attends Mass, prays frequently, receives the sacrament of Confession, serves others, and strives to grow spiritually.
5. You want to help others grow closer to Christ.
A priest brings Jesus to people and people to Jesus. For this reason, a man who wants to be a priest must have a deep concern for the people of God. He wants to help them grow in holiness; he wants to teach them the truths of the faith; he wants to minster to them during the trials of life. The vocation of priesthood is about leading others to heaven.
If you’ve thought about the possibility of priesthood, but don’t yet have all these signs and qualities, don’t despair! All people must strive for holiness. And future priests go through a long and intensive formation period, precisely to help them grow in virtue and be effective in their ministry.
If you’re interested in priesthood, talk to the Vocation Director about the signs above. He can help you further discern your vocation. And remember—true happiness and peace depend on following God’s perfect will for your life. If God wants you to be a priest, trust in his grace to lead you.
A tool for evaluating yourself
Examining yourself using the 20 qualities or signs below is a good way to begin discernment of the priesthood. On each item, rate yourself on a scale of 0 – 5. A rating of 0 means you do not possess the sign at all. A 5 indicates that the sign is very evident in your life. The highest possible score is 100. Be completely honest with yourself and rate yourself fairly.
____ I love Jesus Christ and I have a thirst to bring Jesus and his teachings to the world.
____ I am endeavoring to be a believing, practicing Catholic Christian.
____ I am trying to live a life of prayer and I desire a life of prayer.
____ I am trying to serve others and I desire a life of service to others.
____ I feel a desire to be a priest, though it is sometimes stronger than at other times.
____ I have had others tell me that I should be a priest or that I would make a good priest.
____ Prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture leads me to believe I might be called to be a priest.
____ I am endeavoring to live virtuously.
____ I like to be around people and I have sufficient social skills to engage others.
____ I have enough intelligence to complete graduate-level coursework and function as a priest
____ I think that I have the physical, emotional and psychological stability to become a priest
____ I am joyful and I have a good sense of humor
____ I think that I have a “priest’s heart,” as described in this chapter
____ I believe that I have the self-mastery to be a good priest
____ Generally speaking, I have demonstrated stability in life style.
____ People who know me would say I am a Christian gentleman.
____ I have had events happen in my life that seem to be signs pointing towards priesthood
____ I am usually able to accept both success and failure without losing my peace
____ I believe that I have a healthy psycho-sexual development and orientation
____ I am trying to be truly open to the will of God for my life.
Tally your score and contact Fr. John Sullivan, pastor (put his e-mail & phone number links) or Fr. Jay Mello, Asst. Vocation Director/Recruiter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-496-6350 if you’d like to discuss your results. In the meantime, try to develop the qualities that need strengthening. This will make you a much better Catholic man, even if you are not called to become a priest.
Diocesan Vocation Website
Free book on discernment