Most priests are extremely happy in their vocations. The life of a priest is a very rewarding life. The media often give an incorrect impression of priests; that they are largely unhappy, frustrated and angry. This is simply not true. Priests are far happier in their lives than most of the population and well over 90% would do it again if given the chance.
In many ways all Catholic priests are the same. Each priest has gone through years of education and preparation at a seminary before his ordination. All priests are ordained to preach the Gospel and serve God’s people in the person of Christ. Most importantly, they administer the sacraments of the Church and help people get to heaven.
The differences are most easily seen by contrasting the vows made by religious priests and the promises made by diocesan priests. A diocesan priest makes three promises at ordination:
- To pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily
- To obey his bishop
- To live a celibate life
The diocesan priest lives and works in a certain geographical area – the diocese. Most often, a diocesan priest is assigned to a parish by the bishop, and he lives and works in that area. He does not make a promise of poverty, and usually owns a car and other possessions in order to do his work and live independently. His main work is preaching the Gospel, offering Mass, anointing the sick and dying, baptizing, celebrating marriages, burying the dead, and consoling those who need his help. He is focused on the needs of those in his parish.
In contrast, a religious priest will have made three solemn vows, before he is ordained, to live:
These three ways of living are called the Evangelical Counsels because they are recommended to Christians by our Lord as part of His Gospel. Interestingly, the Catechism teaches that every Christian is called to live the Evangelical Counsels according to his state of life, though religious priests live them in a “more intimate” way (CCC #916).
The religious priest chooses a religious community based on its lifestyle and mission. Some communities live very austerely while others do not. Some have missions with the elderly, youth, or the poor. Some serve as teachers in schools or evangelists in other countries. Most often they live in community with each other instead of among people in a parish.
Is one “better” or “holier” than another? Absolutely not. A vocation director is familiar with both types of priesthood and can be very helpful in guiding a man as he discerns what life God is calling him to.
A priest is a Catholic man called by God to proclaim the “Good News” of salvation to the world and to lead God’s people in worship, especially in making present the saving sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in the Eucharist. He is also privileged to bring Christ to people in the Sacraments: he gives the life of Christ to people in Baptism; he forgives their sins in Reconciliation; he anoints the sick; he officiates at weddings. In general, the priest brings Jesus Christ to people in their spiritual needs.
Just as Jesus Christ is fully and really present in the Eucharist; so too through the Sacrament of Holy Orders is Jesus Christ fully and really present in the priest, above and beyond what we all can claim as Christians; the priest when He acts in the person of Christ – is in fact, in the person of Christ.
This post is a Q & A interview I did with Sergio Vareiro, Youth Ministry Coordinator at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham. He had some excellent questions which he’s posting on his Blog, and so I’ve also placed it on the Vocations Blog here:
Father, can you tell us a little bit about what a Vocations Director does? The Vocation Director for the archdiocese promotes, supports and assists men and women to begin discerning vocations to the priesthood and religious life. My responsibility is primarily to journey with, promote and present men discerning vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Toronto to our seminary; St. Augustine’s in Scarborough. I work closely with the archbishop who is the primary vocation animator for the archdiocese and the clergy, university chaplains, youth ministers and so many others as they encourage good Catholic people to think of vocations to priesthood and religious life.
What’s your favorite part about the job, besides being interviewed by me? 🙂 Being interviewed by you, Sergio is my favorite part of my role! Second to that, I love meeting people in the parishes, the events, the youth groups and places throughout the archdiocese. I travel a lot, and every day is new and exciting. I love working with the priests on the Vocations Council and staff in the Vocations Office who are so dedicated to their role in this ministry. I enjoy staying connected with the seminarians whom I look upon as brothers [often much younger brothers] and I’m edified at the ways the Lord is working in their hearts and minds. I love celebrating Mass and visiting parishes, and I come back super-charged after a weekend away in one of our 225 parishes.
If someone comes and talks to you about vocations, does that mean they are signing their life away and will be ordained as soon as possible? Absolutely not!! Freedom to choose is most important and what I encourage all the seminarians and men discerning priesthood to think about. The world needs good, holy people who live as disciples and followers of the Master, Jesus. That comes before anything! We need and want priests, but joyful ones who know this is what the Lord is calling them to do. The seminary formation is a time they figure it all out with the help of many of us [myself included]. The formation is long, and sometimes for old guys like me (I was 35 when I entered seminary) it seems like it might be too long – but my time was great, I made many great friends who are priests with me now, and I enjoyed the time. We want to make sure all men at St. Augustine’s Seminary have the right time to discern or prayerfully figure out whether they are called to priesthood or not.
So if someone discerns for a while and then discovers that they aren’t called to a religious/Priest vocation, would that be okay? Absolutely okay! I have many friends who figured out along the way that the Lord was calling them to another vocation, and it was great because we will find peace and joy discovering that. (We both know someone like that don’t we?) Cardinal Collins puts it very well when he tells the men at the seminary “there are two great ways to leave the seminary. One is as a priest, one is knowing after prayer and discernment that you are not called to be a priest. Both are good and desirable.”
How does being a Vocation Director help, build up, and/or challenge your own vocation? Being Vocation Director helps me because I am edified in my faith and commitment by being with seminarians at the various stages of formation. They are sincere, they are growing in relationship with Jesus Christ and you can see this actually happening. They ask advice, and when every once in a while you can help them, you (I) know God has put me here doing His will! At the end of each day, in my own personal prayer time, I know that I have helped the Lord and that builds me up. It’s a challenge, because there are many things within our society and culture which lead people in the opposite direction so to help men and women open their hearts to religious vocations can be difficult. This is why I talk with the Vocations Council, with other Vocation Directors in Canada and the US and our former Vocation Directors here in the Archdiocese of Toronto. We support each other, and know what the challenges can be. Now, you weren’t always planning to be a priest.
How do those experiences help you as a Vocations Director? These experiences help me a lot. I know what it’s like to be opposed to religious ideas and especially vocations. I know what it’s like to be a man of the world and be more interested in status, fame, money, power and becoming what everyone else wanted me to be. I know what it’s like to have had to work at jobs and places I didn’t want to as well. As I tell the seminarians who find going to work in jobs at restaurants, coffee shops, factories, hard labour jobs in the summer – all of this is personal and spiritual formation. St. John Paul II said many times, the best formation he ever got was as a labourer in the quarries when he was forced to be there as a kid. He saw what the regular, everyday man; husband, father, brother went through and he grew in love for God’s people there. I can relate to that. That’s what I found my many jobs before and my life before brought me to discover.
Do you have any words of advice for a young person discerning their future vocation? Yes, simply be open to God’s will. Try your best to pray quietly and regularly, and be open to what God has in store for you. I say at the high schools I visit, ask the question in prayer: “Lord, what is it that you want me to do with my life?” and then be quiet and let Him answer you. He will. Also, be open and aware of God’s messengers! They might be your parents, youth minister, people in your parish, friends…if they mention a vocation to priesthood or religious life, then God is using them for that purpose. Then talk to one of your priests or a minister in the parish you trust and respect OR – give me a call: 416-968-0997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a couple of really good things this story makes us think about. First, to answer your question; right from the beginning if we think of God like a puppet master controlling humans like puppets, controlling our actions – that would be a wrong way to look at God. He gives each one of us personal freedom, and that is a gift. We’ve always had it; that’s why some of us choose to do good and some of us don’t. That’s why some of us choose to believe in God, and some of us don’t. God doesn’t make us love Him. Could He? Yeah, He’s all powerful so I guess He could. Just like He could make Pharaoh release the slaves – but that would be an abuse of His power because it would be taking away Pharaoh’s freedom. Even if Pharaoh doesn’t know or love God, God still created Him and so God uses Moses as His instrument to show Pharaoh that Moses who could have been really powerful like Pharaoh with worldly power chose to give His life for God and God’s people. Pharaoh hated Moses and was spiteful, but eventually He let go of the slaves but not really because read on in that story and see how it ends.
Another good thing to think about here is how we see God and how we pray. If we pray for God to make us a better person, or make someone like us – these prayers aren’t going to help us a lot and really we’re going to get frustrated and think God isn’t helping us. We have to work at being better people, and God will help us with many parts of that. If we ask God to open our hearts to love more, He will. If we ask God to show us the way to live a better life, He will. But all the same, we shouldn’t pray that God should make someone like us, because He would have to take away the freedom of that person and control them like a robot. God won’t do that because it’s an abuse of His power. What we do, is we continue to love as much as we can, we continue to try to be the best people we can be, and then others will be drawn to us, and like us and others won’t.
When I became a Christian and then a priest, I changed my ways and had many, many more really good friends who would do a lot for me and me for them. There were and are people who don’t bother with me too, because they feel I am going to judge them for not living a good and holy life. The point I’m making is God gives us all freedom – it’s up to us what we do with it. He gave Pharaoh freedom, he chose evil. He gave Moses freedom, he chose good.