FAQs About the Priesthood
What does 'vocation'mean?
Vocation is the individual expression of one's relationship with God. In Baptism, all Christians are initiated into the universal vocation: to love one another as Christ has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34). Within this universal Christian vocation, many are further called to the vocation of marriage, to express their love for God by loving their spouse. Others are called to religious life, to live out their Baptismal call in communities with particular charisms such as: Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.... Still others are called to the priesthood, ordained for the sake of preaching and administering the Sacraments.
Why does the Church continue to focus on encouraging vocations to priesthood when lay ministers can do so much of what was formerly done by parish priests?
In the Church today, lay men and women often serve the Church in roles that have historically been filled by priests and religious, such as: parish administrator, youth minister, campus minister, Catholic school teacher or missionary. This change has been necessitated by the decrease in the number of priests and religious and has been fostered by the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on the complementarity of the laity and the clergy. This close collaboration has helped to strengthen the Church's awareness that the ordained priesthood exists to serve the priesthood of all believers. Priests are transformed by the Sacrament of Ordination into another Christ, ipse Christus. In the Sacramental life of the Church, for which priests are indispensable, the priest acts in the place of Christ. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest speaks the words of absolution with the authority of Christ. At Mass, the priest speaks the words of institution in the voice of Christ. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and without the priesthood, the Eucharist cannot be celebrated. Without the Eucharist, the Church would cease to be. Additionally, the priest has a unique participation in the headship of Christ and is Sacramentally ordained to participate in the governance of the Church.
As Catholics, we do not believe in the authority of the Magisterium because the pope and bishops are always the wisest or most intelligent men. Rather, we believe that they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Through His power, they are protected from teaching error. In part, the Holy Spirit carries out this guidance through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through this Sacrament, priests share in the bishop's role of representing Christ, the Shepherd. Further, the priest is a representative of Christ in his being, not only in his actions. This is true of the laity as well, but in today's society, the priest especially stands as a living witness to the Truth and acts as a lightning rod for questions of morality and conscience.
In the recent movie, Calvary, Father James' presence alone offers his parishioners a living testimony to the eternal significance of their lives. He also confronts the suffering of his people head on. He conquers evil by letting it consume him without destroying him. In this way, the priest takes on the sufferings of all of society in the same way a married man takes on the suffering of his family. He is a harbor for the suffering and the joy of society.
Can a person who was married become a priest?
Someone who was married can become a priest if the spouse has died or the marriage is annulled (determined to be invalid) by the Church.
Are the promises made by priests binding forever?
Yes, the priest makes public promises to God and the Church. Unless the obligation is suspended by someone having legitimate authority (such as the Pope, a bishop or a religious superior), the promises of celibate chastity, obedience and a simple life-style made by diocesan priests are binding.
Is celibacy avoiding sex and not getting married?
It includes that, but it is much more than that; it is not primarily negative. Celibacy is an intentional expression of love. It is a way of giving oneself to God and His Church without reservation, a renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12). The celibacy of priests and religious serves as a sign of life in heaven, where God will be the satisfaction of all our desires. As St. Paul says, 'An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided' (1 Cor 7:33-34). Celibacy frees a person to unreservedly dedicate his time, thoughts and actions to God. Just as a married man's daily routine should include time spent with his wife, so a celibate man's day must include time intentionally spent in the presence of God. As a married man has story time with his children and 'pillow talk' with his wife, the celibate man should consciously spend his time preparing for bed in communion with God. This is not to say that celibacy consigns the priest to a life of loneliness.
On the contrary, celibacy's purpose is to foster intimate friendship with God, the only true and lasting remedy for loneliness. Furthermore, celibacy thereby opens the priest to intimacy with many people who know him to be an instrument of God's love and mercy. At times, celibacy can be a burden, just as married life can at times be burdensome. However, celibacy is not the elimination of human friendships and relationships. Human friendships, especially with other priests, can be a strong support during the times when celibacy is challenging. Maintaining friendships with both priests and lay people can help a priest remain faithful to his celibacy and can help him to more richly understand that his celibacy serves the Kingdom of God.
Can I become a priest if I have some sexual experience?
Yes, you can. Many great saints such as: St. Augustine, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and many others lived wild lives before they became priests. God used their early lives to draw them to Himself and he does the same today. All men are sinful, and therefore no man is worthy of the priesthood, yet God still calls him. God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
If anyone thinks he is worthy of the priesthood, he is in need of deeper formation and understanding.
Despite even the worst previous behavior, through God's grace a person can decide to live in chastity and celibacy. Most dioceses and religious communities will require two years of celibate chastity before accepting a person into formation because present behavior is a good predictor of future action.