I Feel Called! What Should I Do Next?
I feel called to be a priest! What should I do next?
When one’s intuition leads him to consider whether God is calling him to priesthood there are many things to be considered. There are many reasons why one might feel that he is meant to be a priest, but the most important question to ask is whether God himself desires this. In other words, has the discerner (This term is used frequently by those who are considering a vocation to the priesthood. The discernment process helps a young man to sort out "God's call for him.") felt deep within his heart a calling to the vocation of priesthood, which may very well come unexpectedly or against one’s own expectations? Nearly all priests will describe priesthood as fascinating, and this can make it very attractive, but each discerner must ask whether Jesus is calling them to priesthood or they are drawn to it by mere fascination.
The call to priesthood may or may not be congruent with one’s family expectations, initial career choice, goals for the future, or sense of qualification. That being said, it takes a humble act of faith to say “yes” to God’s call. A sense of entitlement, a “need” to be a priest for the sake of identity or security, a sense of urgency to be ordained, overconfidence, an overly ambitious desire to “save the world,” or an overly detailed set of expectations for one’s future are not signs of healthy discernment. Priestly service works according to God’s plan and under obedience to the bishop. This requires humility, flexibility, and interior freedom.
A simple way of examining the wellness of one’s discernment is to compare it with Mary’s feelings when she shares with Elizabeth what God has done for her (Luke 1:46-56). Herein what has come to be known as the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary, Mary is humbly and joyfully moved by the way God had afforded her great favor in her lowly state, and had entrusted to her the great privilege of bearing His Son incarnate into the world. This came to fruition not by any ambitious pursuit of Mary, and not by her qualification but by her humble submission to the will of God and by grace. The same should be the case for all with a priestly vocation. While the vocation of priesthood is priceless, and is a tremendous privilege for those who are called to it, it should always be regarded as just that: a privilege! It should never be pursued for the satisfaction of achieving a prestigious honor, but rather with the realization that no one is worthy of this vocation by their own merits, but only by the grace of God who calls men to it. Therefore, humility is essential for both discerners and priests, there is no room for arrogance, careerism, or narcissism in the priestly vocation.
The fact that we are not worthy, but still called by God should amaze the one who is called, just as it did Mary. If then, you are discerning priesthood, and your ambitious feelings are outweighing your amazement, then you must ask yourself if you are experiencing a calling from God or simply a personal ambitious interest. On the other hand, if you do sincerely feel called to this life, you ought not be afraid to answer due to a perceived lack of qualification or any imperfection. You can be sure that if this is indeed God’s will for you, God will provide you with the grace and strength necessary for you to pursue it. Again, saying “yes” takes an act of faith. From the perspective of the Director of Vocations, humility, amazement, and even some uncertainty in a discerner are much more welcome signs than strong willed ambition. With all of this in mind, what thoughts and feelings accompany your discernment of a priestly vocation?
While God speaks to us in a variety of ways it is through personal prayer we make a point of listening to him directly, and it is by our prayer that we can best listen to God as He makes His plan known to us.
For how long have I been thinking about priesthood?
If you have felt called to priesthood some time ago, but did not pursue it because you did not consider yourself to be worthy, qualified, sufficiently knowledgeable, capable, or did not feel that the time was right, but found the tug in your heart to recur consistently, then this is a likely sign that God is calling you to be a priest. Remember that if it be God’s will, God’s grace will make up for whatever is lacking in you.
What do others think of me as a potential priest?
Often God uses those around us to help us understand our own vocation. If anybody has ever approached you and shared that they can envision you as a priest it is wise to discuss this further with the person. When other people make this observation it is often a clear sign that the vocation is fitting. This is because the observation comes from a party that is not subject to the biases of your internal feelings. On the other hand, sometimes one might hope that we become priests, but it might not necessarily be God’s will. Sometimes this is the case if one’s parents or other family members have had great hopes and expectations that you will be “the priest in the family.” If this family expectation exists, it may or may not be an indication that priesthood is your vocation. If such is the expectation of your family, you must carefully consider whether it is God’s will as well.
How is my relationship with my parish family and pastor?
Those in your parish family, especially your pastor, can also be a great source of encouragement and guidance as you ponder your vocation. Among others, be sure to seek out your pastor and share with him that you feel a possibility that priesthood is your vocation. Also consider practical ways of getting involved in your parish community.
Do I appreciate the beauty and dignity of other vocations?
While there are many vocations that God has created His children for, none of them exist in isolation from the others, and all of them rely on each other. Priesthood then, should never be pursued with a dislike of other vocations, but with the understanding that priests are called to love and serve all who are in their care. Feelings of superiority do not lend themselves to this kind of privileged service. While living a life of celibacy, priests also must know in their hearts the beauty and sacredness of the vocation to marriage, and must be able to work whole-heartedly with and support those called to marriage. Though celibate himself, it is critical for priests to have a love and respect for husbandry and fatherhood.
Have I had dating experience?
Having had dating experience can be beneficial to priestly discernment. In every relationship each person learns more about himself. While not a definite requirement for priestly formation, dating can help a man discern whether his vocation is to marriage, priesthood, or the single life. If you have dated in the past, or are dating currently, remain attentive to what insights you can gather about yourself and your vocation. Remember too that only one vocation can be discerned at a time. When one decides to seriously discern priesthood he cannot divide himself between that and dating. In certain cases, a dating relationship is better explored further while priestly discernment is delayed.
What is my sexual orientation?
Whether heterosexual or homosexual, each applicant must possess the potential for a healthy life of celibacy and be faithful to all of the Church’s teachings on the sacrament of marriage and sexual morality. Applicants are to have no association whatsoever with subcultures that champion homosexuality or convey messages contrary to Church teaching. They must also demonstrate self-awareness and a mature mastery of their sexuality. In some cases, when one is unsure of or uncomfortable with his sexual characteristics, he might pursue priesthood hoping that committing to celibacy will afford him a feeling of stability and wholeness. This kind of thinking, among other things, is a clear indication that one is not meant to pursue priesthood—it is an interest brought about by insecurity rather than a humble submission to the will of God. Furthermore, priesthood must never be regarded as a coping mechanism for one’s personal brokenness. When one’s journey to priesthood begins on such a note, numerous personal and inter-personal problems consequentially surface. If you are, in any way, ill at ease with your sexuality then you ought not to pursue priestly formation at this time. It is rather advisable that you seek professional counseling and spiritual direction to help you to achieve adequate confidence and mastery in this area.
Am I running away from something, or looking for a remedy?
While some discover their priestly vocation after having pursued a different path, priesthood should never be thought of as an alternative plan or last resort in case one’s paramount vision doesn’t materialize. When God calls someone to priesthood, it is because God has given that person a capacity to love that is best manifested through that calling. If somebody’s pride is suffering from things such as rejection during courtship or failure to achieve career related goals, and then wishes to pursue priesthood as an alternative, and possibly with the hope that a need for priests will work in their favor, there is little chance then that one can wholeheartedly live out a priestly vocation since they have designated it as “second best.” Still, breakups, rejection, and failure can be debilitating, especially if they follow high hopes. For this reason it is advisable for people in such a state to seek counseling from qualified professionals to help them explore, with clarity of mind, the plan of God that remains.
Priesthood, while it is tremendously beautiful and rewarding, has its due challenges as do all other vocations. Therefore, pursuing priesthood to avoid challenges, or due to a dislike for other vocations, is a strong indication that priesthood is not God’s intention.
It must also be noted that priesthood must never be regarded as a coping mechanism for a guilty conscience or any other kind of brokenness.
Am I of sound mind and body?
Sound mind and body are characteristic of a priestly vocation. In order to properly discern the will of God, and to respond affirmatively to the call to priesthood through a life of service, mental clarity and good physical health are required. If one is dealing with mental illness, psychological maladies, the influence drugs and/or alcohol, sexual maladies or the effects of sexual abuse, chronic obesity or debilitating physical conditions, then the extent of such conditions must be considered when determining whether they will present impediments to priestly ministry.
Do the following:
Contact the Director of Vocations
It is never too soon to contact the Director of Vocations. Some might feel that that contacting the Director of Vocations should be the final step in pursuing priesthood. Some may also be hesitant because they think that establishing contact would result in them being pressured to enroll in a seminary program. Still, others may feel that their questions are too trivial to be taking the Vocation Director’s time.
Please be assured that the Vocation Director’s job is not to put any undue pressure on discerners to enroll in the seminary. Rather, it is his job to bring clarity and guidance to one’s discernment, and to encourage the pursuit of priestly formation only after a journey of discernment has given reason to believe that such is God’s will. Even still, if one is genuinely called by God to be a priest, their response must be made with full freedom and without pressure. Also, there is no matter too trivial for the Vocation Director’s time and attention. The sooner one contacts the Vocation Director the sooner his discernment can benefit from his guidance, as well as some discernment resources available through the Vocations Office.
The Director of Vocations can be contacted by phone at (716) 847-5535, or by email at email@example.com.
Contact your Parish Pastor
In conjunction with the Director of Vocations, your parish pastor can be of invaluable assistance to you as one who knows you personally, and can relate to your journey of faith in greater detail. He can also give you a closer look at the priestly vocation through the sharing of insights and allowing you to assist him, at his discretion, with some ministerial tasks.
Enhance your Prayer Life
While prayer is always crucial, it is especially so for maintaining spiritual clarity and wellness while discerning a priestly vocation. Developing a relationship with the Blessed Mother, who is Queen of the Clergy, and the practice of Eucharistic Adoration have proven especially beneficial for those discerning a priestly vocation. It must also be considered that there exists a spirit that is not of God, who seeks to discourage, tempt, and distract those with a vocation to priesthood. A consistent prayer life will enable one to identify this spirit and maintain his focus on the spirit that is of God.
Utilize the Resource Is Jesus Calling You to be a Catholic Priest
This brief guide was produced by the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, and contains practical yet profound lessons, resources, and suggestions for directing and enriching your discernment. This is available free of charge and upon request by contacting the Vocation Office.
Join the Response Program or St. Joseph Club
Both of these programs are designed to assist discerners by utilizing resources and fostering camaraderie with others making the same journey. The Response Program is for gentlemen of college age and older, and the Saint Joseph Club is for High School boys. Both are free of charge. See links below for more information.