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What does a call from God sound like?

There are many different ways God calls people. You don’t have to wait for a lightning bolt or a supernatural vision. Most often the call from God is found deep within your own heart (planted there by God left to be discovered by you!). It might manifest itself in different ways such as a desire to want to help others or a desire to know God more deeply. If you like being with people especially during some of the bigger moments in their lives... their weddings, the birth of their children, the death of a loved one... the priesthood could be for you. No two callings are the same, just like no two priests are the same. The important thing is, if you think you've been called, check it out. What have you got to lose?

What do you priests do all day (especially during the week)?

Weekends tend to be taken up with many things such as Sunday Mass, weddings, baptisms, or youth ministry. As for the rest of the week, it may be spent working with church groups, such as religious education, future planning, outreach to the poor, financial matters of the parish, or with individuals (preparing for marriage, dealing with loss, the sick, those in need of spiritual counseling). Of course it is always important balance one’s responsibilities with prayer, leisure, and maintaining good health. Sometimes priests or religious have one main occupation, such as teaching, parish ministry, social work, or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and predictable demands. Each has its own rhythm. Obviously a parish setting is different from a high school setting. In some ways, it is hard to answer this question exactly because the focus of a religious vocation is serving the needs of those God brings into your life. This requires certain openness to the unpredictable or the unexpected. One thing for sure, it’s never boring!

Do priests and religious get time off? If so, what do they do?

Priests, brothers, and sisters have approximately the same amount of leisure time as most adults. All priests in our diocese, for instance, are given a weekly day off and vacation times throughout the year. Each individual is then free to pursue one’s favorite leisure activities whether that be reading, sports, travel, or computers. Whether it’s going to a concert or watching one’s favorite teams on TV, priests and religious are free to pursue leisure activities they enjoy. There is no such thing as “priest hobbies.” Priests, brothers, and sisters are unique with different likes and dislikes. Common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, friends, and enjoying the outdoors.

How important is prayer?

Because priests and religious have chosen a way of life which says by its very nature that God is most important, prayer has a central role in their lives. Prayer is communication with the Lord! Just as a marriage cannot survive without communication, it is impossible for a priest or religious to survive without prayer. Communication is essential for any two persons who expect their relationship to continue. Can you imagine having a best friend to whom you never spoke? Since prayer is so important, most priests and religious spend approximately two hours a day in prayer-part of that time with others, at Mass and in common oral prayer; part alone, in reading and quiet attentiveness. Probably the main benefit of prayer is that it makes us more sensitive to God's activity in the people, events, and circumstances of daily life.

Is prayer always easy?

Definitely not! There are lots of times we don't feel like doing things that are basically important to us. For example, an athlete doesn't always feel like practicing, a student doesn't always feel like studying, a wage earner doesn't always feel like working. However, in all these cases, because the activity in which we participate is important, we act on motives deeper than feelings and do what we know needs to be done.

What's the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?

cd4dccc6aa.jpgA diocesan priest ordinarily serves the church within a well-defined geographical area (a diocese). He serves the people within that particular diocese as a parish priest, but may also be involved in other forms of ministry: teaching, chaplaincy in hospitals or prisons, campus ministry, etc. Most diocesan priests live and work in the same diocese for most of their life. Diocesan priests make two promises: obedience to the bishop and celibacy. This means that they promise to work with the Bishop and do what he asks them to do for the needs of the people of the diocese. Celibacy (chastity) is the promise they take that means that they will not get married, so that they can spend most of their time serving the people of God. Being part of a diocese or an order is like being part of a family. The men are like brothers to each other and usually turn out to be some of your best friends.

A religious priest, on the other hand, is a member of a community which goes beyond the geographical limits of any diocese. A religious priest seeks to live a vowed life within a community of men for mutual support and the accomplishment of some work. There is an emphasis in the community on shared ideals, prayer, and commitment to Christ. Religious priests work in a wide variety of ministries. Religious communities were founded at different times in history and often focus on a special ministry. For example, the Jesuits are involved in education and missionary work. As members of a worldwide order or group of men, following the ideals of their founder, like the Franciscans who follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi, they make vows to live their lives in the same manner. The vows that religious priests make are poverty, celibacy (chastity), and obedience. The vow of poverty means that the priest will not own anything of his own. A religious, for instance, would not personally own a car, but more than likely would have the use of one provided by his community. All of his property will be shared by the brothers in his order.

What are the differences between Brothers, Priests and Monks?

A brother commits himself to Christ by vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, lives in religious community, and works in nearly any job: teacher, cook, lawyer, and so on. Brothers are not sacramental ministers; they are not ordained and so do not preside at Mass, reconciliation, or the anointing of the sick. The role and ministry of a brother is as diverse as being a nurse to a teacher to working in the missions to being a CEO of a hospital.

Monks on the other hand can be either priests or brothers. A monk is the term that is used in abbeys as the members of the abbey refer to one another. A monk is a member of a certain monastery or community. Most often the focus of a monk is on the interior life through personal and communal prayer. They may be involved in retreats, spiritual direction, educational endeavors, or simple work.

Do I have to agree with all church teachings to be a priest or a member of a religious order?

Church teachings vary in gravity and centrality to the faith. To be a priest, brother, or sister is to be a public person in the Church. So if you have serious differences with matters essential to the faith, then vowed or ordained life for you might be conflictual. However, some of the church's greatest saints dissented on certain matters. Many founders of religious communities met with this very challenge as they sought to bring something new for God's people. Consult with a few people - vocation directors, priests, religious, theology teachers - to ascertain what the Church actually teaches today. Many times the conflicts we think we might have can be answered and overcome with greater study, reflection, and dialogue.

What is a religious vow? What vows do diocesan priests make?

A vow is a solemn promise made freely as an individual gives his or her life to God. Many religious communities make vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Some communities have other vows. Diocesan priests do not make vows. For ordination, they freely make promises of celibacy and obedience to their bishop.

Do priests get paid?

No one becomes a priest because of the money, that’s for sure. You obviously can't put a price tag on the spiritual rewards of being a priest and dedicating one’s life to God, but diocesan priests are not expected to live in destitution either. Diocesan priests are paid a salary as they are responsible for their own expenses (buying a car, putting gas in it, purchasing clothes, paying taxes). Obviously, priests are not concerned with earning enough for a spouse and children. This combined with the fact that many of the basic necessities are provided (such as housing, food, insurance), I have found that my salary is more than adequate to pay for my expenses, yet also giving me the freedom to be able to explore the leisure activities I enjoy.

Are priests allowed to drink (other than at Mass)?

Yes, priests are over 21 when they're ordained. It's important to remember that priests are human and do what other people do. So yes, priests can drink alcohol and some do. But because we're called to live a holy life, we do it in moderation. Any Christian who chooses to drink alcohol should always do so in moderation. The same moral code applies to priests and lay people alike.  As long as we don't get too carried away, we can celebrate like everyone else.

What if someone goes to the seminary and then decides he doesn’t want to become a priest?

Seminarians are not people who have everything figured out. In fact, what they are doing is seeking God’s will by putting themselves in a setting where they can truly discern God’s will. Spiritual direction and seminary formation are important components of this. If an individual decides priesthood is not for him, he is certainly most free to leave. Seminary is not a prison! The job of seminary is not to try to brainwash people or convince them that they should become priests, but rather to help them to truly discover God’s will and, if that is priesthood, to make them the best possible priests. Sometimes people are afraid to give it a try for fear of failure. There is no way to avoid risks in life. Everyone who goes to medical or law school doesn’t necessarily stay. I guess the old saying is true: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

After someone is ordained to the priesthood, it a little more complicated. After all, the person has made commitment to God and the Church, just like in marriage. Yes, unfortunately divorce does exist in our society and yes some priests do leave the priesthood for various reasons. No one is going to force anyone to stay. This is something which needs to be given consideration and one needs to look at any underlying reasons. Can a priest leave the priesthood? Yes. Should they? That’s another question entirely.

Do priests in a diocese have to be parish priests?

There are a variety of ministries where priests in our diocese serve. Yes, most do serve in parishes, some as pastors, others as parochial vicars. Other priests serve as chaplains in hospitals, or work in schools. Some work in prisons or are involved in the administration of our diocese. Some work with young, others with the elderly. There are many ways to serve God as a priest (some I'm sure have yet to be discovered).

Why do priests and religious have to remain celibate?

Priests and Religious Sisters and Brothers make the choice of celibacy for two principal reasons. It is so they can totally dedicate themselves to God and service of his people. Many people assume that this must be a very difficult, lonely, way of life. If God were not in it, it certainly would be. Prayer is so important to living this way of life. Celibacy frees the individual from immediate responsibilities of a particular family and opens the individual up to the needs and concerns of the larger family of God. It seems to me no coincidence that we use family words (father, sister, and brother) to refer to those in a religious vocation. People don't choose celibacy because they don’t want to get married (quite the contrary). They choose to live this way out of devotion to God.

Are there any support groups in the Diocese of Buffalo for those discerning the priesthood?

Indeed there are! The Vocation Office sponsors the St. Joseph Club and the Response Group.  Contact the Vocation Office for information on where we meet and when.

Can you recommend any good books for one who is thinking about the priesthood?

There are many books I would recommend:

  • To Save A Thousand Souls by Fr. Brett A. Brannen is "A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood."
  • Extraordinary Lives by Francis P. Friedl and Rex Reynolds. In this book 34 different priests tell their stories and reflect on their lives as priests.
  • The Gift of Peace by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. This whole book deals with his life as a priest and Cardinal and the grace of God he experienced through his ministry and illness.
  • Pope John Paul II was a very prolific writer. Many of his reflections may help you in your discernment of God’s will in your life.
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