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.
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.