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“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind…”

Lk 4:18

Frequently Asked Questions

Discernment:

 

The Priesthood:

 
 
 

What is a vocation?

A vocation is God's invitation or calling to each individual to love and serve Him and His Church in a particular state or way of life. In the simplest terms, “vocation” means a “call.” In general terms your vocation is what God calls you to do with your life. Everyone is called to know, love and serve God in this life, in order to be happy with him forever in heaven. Yet each one does this in a different, individual vocation such as marriage, religious life, or the priesthood. 
 

How do I know what God is calling me to be?

You must pray every day, asking God to reveal His plan for you. Do not ask yourself, "What do I want to do with my life?" This is the wrong question! Rather, you should be thinking and asking: "Jesus what do you want me to be?   How do you want me to love You?" And listen for the answer! Listen with your heart, not just your head. 
 

Can I be happy in my life if I don’t follow the vocation Jesus invites me to embrace?

If someone does not follow the vocation for which Christ made them, they can attain a certain degree of happiness in this world and still attain salvation. However, they will not be as happy or blessed as they might have been had they followed their proper vocation. This is why it is so important that everyone discern their particular vocation prayerfully and responsibly. Of course, there are trials and challenges in every vocation. To become a priest or consecrated religious does not take away all suffering, neither does becoming a husband or wife take away all suffering. But there is great joy in laying down one's life for Christ. Your vocation is Christ's gift to you. How you respond is your gift to Him.
 

How does someone become a priest?

After being accepted as a candidate by a diocese, a man who wants to become a priest will go to the seminary.  In the seminary, he will receive the preparation, both spiritual and academic for priesthood.  If he enters right after graduating high school, he’ll work towards an undergraduate degree in philosophy before continuing in a graduate program in theology.  Seminary training and discernment, ranges from six to nine years depending on one’s educational background, before a man is ordained a priest.  But do not let this discourage you.  God always gives us the grace to do what He ask us to do.
 

How did your family and friends react to your decision?

That depends. Many of us found that our family and friends were supportive and encouraging. But not everyone experiences that same support.
Sometimes, because of misunderstandings or fear, families and friends are less enthusiastic about our decisions. That is when we have to trust the voice of God that we hear in our hearts and the good judgment of the communities and dioceses that think we are right for this and support us in our decision.
 
 

I’m not that “holy.” Can I still be a priest if I’m not very holy?

Holiness (to be like Jesus) is a lifetime endeavor for every person in every vocation.  Don’t worry if you don’t see yourself as very holy right now.  God will form you slowly, day by day and week by week, so that you will be ready to be His instrument when the time comes.  But for now, use the sacrament of Penance at least once a month.  Repent of your sins, receive the sacraments, and pray every day.  You will be surprised at how Christ-like you can become!
 

Is it a good idea to talk to my pastor or another priest before making contact with a vocations director?

While a person does not have to talk with their pastor or a priest about their thoughts concerning the priesthood, talking with a priest can help to clarify those thoughts. Talking with a priest about God's call should help in the initial discernment process and help to guide a person into a deeper relationship with Christ. A priest can also respond to a variety of questions as well as share his own personal story.
 

What are the qualities that the Church looks for in a candidate for the Priesthood?

A good candidate is a practicing, believing Catholic.  He attends Mass at least weekly, prays every day, obeys the commandments, and tries to serve others.  He must be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.  He must be open to the will of God and willing to learn and grow.
 

If I decide to go to the seminary to “give it a try,” am I committed for life?

In no way! In fact, most vocation directors will say that the only way to really know that you have a vocation to the priesthood is to go to the seminary and try. It will become more and more clear to you once you are in an environment where everyone is trying to discern that same question. Many men go to the seminary, stay a year or two, and then leave. They are much better Catholics afterwards for the experience!
 

What does the application process entail? 

The application process as a seminarian for the Diocese of Portland is similar to other applications to professional programs and courses of study. It includes a personal autobiography, academic review, a series of interviews, references, psychological testing and a physical examination. It is usually better to begin the application process in the fall or early spring, since it usually takes a number of months to schedule the required appintments and pull together the needed documentation.  All of this is explained by the Director of Seminarians at the beginning of the process.  It can seem daunting at first, but many men have actually found that the application process was also a helpful stage in their discernment.
 
 

How old do you have to be to enter the seminary?

Some men enter the seminary after graduating from high school and some men enter the seminary following college or after working for a number of years. The Diocese of Portland does not accept men as candidates for the priesthood who are over 50, unless there are very unique circumstances.
 

How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?

Generally it takes four years of undergraduate study in philosophy at a college seminary, followed by four years of graduate study in theology at a major seminary. If a man already has a college degree before entering the seminary, he may spend two years in the Pre-Theology program at the major seminary to obtain the prerequisite number of undergraduate hours in philosophy in order to study graduate-level theology. So, depending on his state in life and level of education when he is accepted as a candidate for the diocese, a seminarian will normally spend between 5 and 8 years preparing for ordination.
 

What is seminary life like?

It is an exciting time for most of us. Of course, we encounter times of struggle, emotionally and/or academically. But we are finally starting to realize our dream of being a priest, and that is exciting. The academics are as challenging as at any college or university. In addition to our studies and meeting with a spiritual adviser, we are encouraged to enjoy friendships with both men and women, but dating is not part of our life because seminarians are preparing for celibacy rather than marriage. Much like a sports team or a military training class, seminarians are able to form special bonds with their classmates as they journey through the challenges of the formation process together.
 

What is a summer assignment?

A summer assignment is a formation experience for a seminarian. While college seminarians are not normally assigned to a parish or pastoral experience during the summer months, seminarians in major seminary are assigned to this type of assignment.
 
A summer assignment can be with a pastor in a parish or with a priest in a special ministry. The summer assignment allows the seminarian to grow in his understanding of the priesthood, diocesan church and various aspects of ministry. Summer assignments help to translate the academic and seminary formation experience into the pastoral and community life in the diocese and in the parish. The placement of these assignments are recommended by the vocations directors and approved by the bishop.

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 Is financial assistance available for seminary studies?

Yes.  College seminarians receive a discounted tuition at Providence College, and the Diocese also helps to cover the cost of room and board at the seminary.  The diocese pays for the full cost of major seminary.  As part of the financial process, the candidate's financial standing is reviewed, to ensure that he is capable of managing his finances and is not overly indebted. Student loans will normally defer during seminary study, just as they would during graduate school.  If you are worried about your student loan debt, please speak with the Vocation Director.  There may be options available to make sure that finances do not prevent you from responding to the Lord's call.
 

What if I have some credits in philosophy and/or theology?

When a seminarian is accepted by the diocese, his academic transcript(s) are reviewed by the Director of Seminarians. Credits of philosophy or theology, which are applicable to the Program of Priestly Formation, can be transferred. The Director of Seminarians, in conjunction with a seminary, would formulate a pre-theology program, which prepares the seminarian for acceptance into major seminary.
 

If I believe God is calling me to be a diocesan priest, must I study for my "home diocese?"

"Home diocese" usually refers to the diocese where a person was born or currently resides. A person is free to contact and inquire into the possibility of becoming a seminarian for any diocese he wishes. However, each diocese is also free to invite or not invite an inquirer to begin the application process to become a seminarian. When a person is invited by a diocese to begin the application process he must adhere to and follow all procedures required by that diocese.  In general, we recommend that a man discerning diocesan priesthood first consider his own diocese, since that is often where his family and friends are living.  But sometimes there are circumstances that might indicate that the Lord is calling him to adopt a new diocese as his home.
 

Why did you become a priest?

We become priests because we recieved a personal call from God. That does not mean we had an experience with thunderbolts and voices. Instead, we had an inner sense as we grew to know ourselves better, recognizing our talents and abilities. That sense of being called kept coming back to us.  Over time and with prayer, we each came to believe this was the right path for us. We decided to at least give it a try by beginning the initial formation process of entering the seminary.  There, with the help of spiritual directors and others entrusted with helping us discern, our vocation was tested and nurtured.  It was only at our ordination, when the bishop laid his hands on our heads, that we were 100% sure that we were called to be priests of Jesus Christ.
 

What kind of work do priests do?

Most diocesan priests are parish priests. They celebrate Mass on Sundays and during the week with their people, hear their confessions, anoint them when they are sick, baptize and marry them, and pray for the dead. Priests preach the Word of God from the pulpit and teach it in classrooms and discussion groups. They listen to their people’s joys and sorrows and promote works of charity. They may work with groups of the elderly, with teen or young adult groups, and with parents. 
 
A diocesan priest may also work full-time with the patients and staff of a hospital or with students in a high school or college as chaplain or teacher. He may be asked to work with inmates and staff in a jail or prison. Some priests are released from service in the diocese in order to be chaplains to our men and women in the armed forces. 
 
Basic to the ministry of any priest is preaching the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and being available to God’s people. It's a busy, rewarding life that demands stamina and spiritual maturity. 
 

What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious order priest?

A religious order priest belongs to a community of men bound together by faith and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty means that they do not own things individually but rather as a group; chastity means that they refrain from sexual activity and do not marry; obedience means that, after appropriate consultation, they do what their superiors ask them to do. It is not necessary to be a priest to be a member of a religious order; those who are not priests are called brothers. The priests and brothers of a religious community may engage in any kind of work for the Church and the good of humanity; they often specialize in certain kinds of work such as education, work with the sick or poor, and service in the foreign missions. 
 
A diocesan priest does not make the solemn vows that religious priests (and religious brothers and sisters) make but he does makes promises: the promise of obedience to his bishop, of celibacy, and of living a prayerful ilfe. Perhaps the most striking difference between him and a religious order priest is that the diocesan priest lives a life more like that of his people: he buys his own clothes and car, he pays taxes, he may own personal property. That is why a diocesan priest is sometimes called a secular priest (from the Latin saeculum, a word that means roughly “this world of time and space in which we live”). 
 
A diocesan priest belongs to the body of priests (called the presbyterate) of a local diocese, which is a particular territory within a state or country. The Diocese of Portland covers the entire state of Maine. A diocesan priest normally serves within the boundaries of his diocese under the authority of his bishop. 
 

Are priests happy?

The overwhelming majority of priests are extremely happy in their vocations! Why? Because they are doing what the Lord intended for their lives…for their vocation. Most priests will cite administering the Sacraments, preaching the Word, and helping people and their families as great sources of satisfaction. Ultimately, the source of happiness for any child of God is his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and the priest is given the privilege of acting in the person of Christ at key moments in the life of the Church. Studies consistently show that priests are very happy in their ministry, in far higher percentages than those studied in virtually any other life work. One recent and exhaustive study of the priesthood was done by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, who published his findings in the very readable Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests. 
 
The Holy Father, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, spoke about finding true happiness to a group of young people on pilgrimage. “Our 'yes' to God makes the font of true happiness gush forth,” the Pope observed. “It frees the 'I' from everything that closes it in on itself. It brings the poverty of our lives into the richness and power of God’s plan, without restricting our freedom and our responsibility. [...] It conforms our lives to Christ’s own life.” 
 
This pilgrimage, the Pontiff concluded, “is also a good time to allow yourselves to be asked by Christ: ‘What do you want to do with your lives?’ May those among you who feel the call to follow him in the priesthood or in consecrated life – as have so many young participants in these pilgrimages – reply to the Lord’s call and put yourselves totally at the service of the Church, with a life completely dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven. You will never be disappointed.” 
 

Will I be lonely if I become a priest?

Loneliness is a part of every vocation, at one time or another.  It is part of the human condition.  Married people get lonely at times, even though their spouses and children surround them.  Priests are always surrounded by people.  This is one of the joys of being a priest.  They are involved with people at the most profound moments of their lives.  Loneliness can be part of the life of a priest too, but when we do experience loneliness, Jesus can fill the void, as He does for people in every vocation.
 

What if you fall in love?

This happens, just as it could happen to a married person. Our responsibility in such a situation is to preserve the commitment we have made, which is to live as a priest. We try to develop relationships within the limits and responsibilities of our commitment to celibacy. Solid friendships with our brother priests encourage us and help us to live our commitment faithfully.  Obviously falling in love can be a painful situation for a priest. Yet we know all Christians eventually face pain in their lives. It isn’t always easy to be a faithful spouse, or to be a Christian single person either. Dealing maturely with such a challenge of our vows can make us stronger than ever in our vocations.
 

What does a priest do all day?

Ask ten different priests about their schedule, and you will receive ten different answers! Like most professionals, how a priest spends his day ‘at work’ is not necessarily a standard answer. Because priests are individuals with distinct talents and interests, a day can look different for any priest, even those who live in the same rectory! 
 
That being said, there are also some similarities and a ‘typical’ schedule to a parish priest's day. For most priests ministering in a parish, the average day might look something like this:
 
Monday - Friday (a priest will have a day off during the week):
 
6-8am: Rise and prepare for the celebration of morning Mass. Many priests will include in their morning preparation their time of personal prayer, which becomes the foundation for their day.
 
8-10am: Typically a priest will celebrate Mass between these morning hours. There are also some parishes that celebrate an evening daily Mass one or two days of the week.
 
10am-12pm: If there is a funeral, this would be the usual time to celebrate the Mass for the deceased and their grieving family. A priest might also utilize this time for office work or preparation for his bulletin article, homily preparation, staff development, building issues, visiting the parish school, visit parishioners or perform other ministries within the parish.
 
12-1pm: Everyone needs to eat, so this also true for the parish priest! A little fuel for the body will give him the energy he needs for the remainder of his day. This might also be a time for rest, exercise, or prayer.
1-4pm Many people look to their parish priest for assistance and spiritual guidance. During this time, a priest may have several appointments from members of his parish, for reasons ranging from spiritual direction, staff issues, building issues, school issues, diocesan issues, marriage counseling…if you can think of a need, a priest will be called upon to offer his help.
 
4-7pm: It can be rather difficult to work on a homily while in the office, so many priests will take advantage of this time to return to his rectory to work on those areas of his ministry which require more privacy and fewer interruptions. He may also use this as a time for prayer, meetings, exercise, or rest. Dinner will be on his agenda as well! 

7-10pm: Depending on the day, this is the time when a priest in a parish meets with his parishioners for the many scheduled meetings which take place. Examples of a parishes monthly meetings would be Parish Council, Worship/Education/Christian Service/Administration Commissions, School Committee, and any variety of parish organization meetings as well. This would also be a very busy time for a priest to again meet with parishioners, engaged couples, and others. 
 
10pm-?: After a long day of working ‘in the vineyard’, a priest will find his way back to his rectory for some personal time and then to bed for a night of hopefully restful sleep.
 
One of his last prayers before his evening comes to a close, comes from Night Prayer in the Liturgy of Hours: “Protect us Lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace.” Amen! 
 

Do you have to pray a lot as a priest?

You’d better or your well will run dry! You cannot be a faithful priest, useful to the Lord, if you try to go it alone. You need the help and support of brother priests and other people but most of all you need God’s grace. You dispose yourself to receive his help by turning to him frequently in prayer. The priests who are truly happy and effective among God’s people are the priests who are faithful to prayer. 
 
Surprisingly, a diocesan priest must often fight for the time for personal prayer. He is often called upon to lead others in public prayer, especially the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church. These are genuine times of prayer for him as well as them — but like every Christian, the priest needs some time each day to spend alone with the Lord. His busy ministry sometimes makes this very difficult but it is something he must strive to keep fresh in his life, lest he lose sight of the One who called him to be a priest in the first place and the One who alone can sustain him.
 
Because we have chosen a way of life that says that God is most important, prayer is central to our lives. Think of it as a deep level of communication with God similar to the kind of communication that happens between any two people who love each other. Our relationship with God grows and deepens with prayer.
 
Since prayer is important, many priests spend about two hours a day in different types of prayer. Part of that time we pray with others at Mass. We also pray other formal prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, or spend time reading and reflecting on readings from the Bible.
 
Part of the time we also pray alone in the presence of the Eucharist, perhaps reading or just being quiet with God. One of the positive effects of prayer, whatever shape it takes, is to keep us aware of God’s activity through people, events and circumstances of daily life. Many people ask us to pray for them also.
 

Do you lose your freedom as a priest?

Yes and no. No sensible person tries to live free of all responsibilities and obligations to others. Why has Christ set us free from sin and death? Certainly not to live a self-centered life. We have to make choices about how we will use the freedom we have. 
 
In addition, because they want to serve God within the Church, diocesan priests make a formal promise of obedience to their bishop. Their personal integrity is on the line in this promise. It binds them to do what needs to be done, as seen through the eyes of the bishop who is responsible for the entire diocese; they renounce the exaggerated freedom to do always and everywhere what they like or want to do. 
 
On the other hand, diocesan priests can testify that there is great freedom to be creative in the priesthood. Bishops rely on priests along with the laity to suggest necessary pastoral initiatives. A bishop also tries to match his priests with the work that needs to be done. Ordinarily, a priests ends up doing work for which he is well enough suited. The bottom line, however, is service, not pleasing oneself. 
 

Do you earn any money as a diocesan priest?

Yes, diocesan priests receive a modest salary from the parish or other institution they serve. Since priests are ordinarily provided with room and board and a limited expense account as well, their salary (which is taxable) is sufficient for their personal expenses. Out of it they buy their clothes, automobile, pay for personal expenses and contribute to the charities of their choice. While diocesan priests do not take the vow of poverty that religious order priests take, they are encouraged to live a simple lifestyle and to be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typical of priests constitute an outward sign of this modest life.
 

Do priests get any time off?

The Lord took his apostles aside for some rest after they had worked very hard preaching and healing (Mark 6: 31-32). Diocesan priests work hard, too, and the Lord takes them apart from time to time to rest. In the Diocese of Charleston, priests get one day off each week and have up to a month for an annual vacation. It is also wise for them to have special interests to turn to for relaxation in the course of a normal day of priestly work, just as they should find time for prayer. 
 
Just as importantly, diocesan priests are asked to make an annual retreat in order to experience, in the calm and quiet of the retreat atmosphere, the loving presence of their Lord. These times of retreat are blessed times of spiritual renewal for the priest, just as they are for other believers. 
 

Why don't Catholic priests marry?

Priests in the Latin Rite forgo their natural right to marry “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” as Jesus taught his disciples (Mt 19:12). It is a gift from God which opens a man’s heart so that he can embrace all of God’s children in a very powerful way. His healthy and holy inclination to be married and have a family is transformed into a supernatural fatherhood that renders his ministry, if he is faithful, fruitful beyond all expectations. 
 
Imitating the celibacy of Jesus, whose entire earthly life was devoted to his priestly mission, Catholic priests represent Jesus in a unique way while celebrating the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and even in their ordinary pastoral work. Celibacy is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but in union with God in this life and in the next. It is also a statement to the Catholic people that their priest is available to them and at their service in a way that would be precluded by the responsibilities of marriage. 
 
Celibacy does not do away with a priest’s sexuality, but with the help of grace and his own growth in virtue, it can become part of a tremendously joyful and fulfilled human life. Like marriage, it is not always easy to live, but a solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends, and prudent judgment about persons and situations contribute to a beautiful expression of celibate generosity by the priest for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for his brothers and sisters, and for the Church. 
 

Why can't women be priests?

Catholics believe that Christ was not bound to the limitations of his surrounding culture, and that therefore his commission of the twelve Apostles – all men – was a free and deliberate choice. The Church has therefore taught through the centuries that she has no right to ordain women as priests. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, and the priests who are their cooperators, stand in the place of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church and share in His fatherhood in the order of grace. These are roles of supernatural spousality and fatherhood that are every bit as real as natural male spousality and fatherhood – arguably more so – and therefore in the case of a priest can only be filled by a man. 
 
In no way, however, is this exclusion of the priesthood to men to be understood as a sign of masculine superiority, especially since the greatest human creature, the masterpiece of divine grace, is the Blessed Virgin Mary – who was never a priest. From the beginning of the Church, women have played significant roles in its life: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, the first proclaimer of his resurrection, the women martyrs like Cecilia, Agnes and Edith Stein who witnessed to their faith with their blood, the women like Monica who witnessed to their pagan husbands of their faith in Christ, the innumerable women who raised their children in the faith, the women like Scholastica and Clare who entered or founded monastic communities, the brilliant and holy women like Catherine, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux who taught the Church about following Jesus. Without these women and countless others, the Church would be immeasurably poorer. 
 
The Church’s understanding about the priesthood is not easy for some to accept. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of his disciples – the first priests – and explicitly instructed them to do the same. The authority exercised by priests should never be one of power and domination, but always one of humble service. That is the light in which the male Catholic priesthood should be evaluated
 

Why has there been a decline in the number of people entering priesthood?

Actually, the number of men being ordained worldwide is increasing. In the United States, the situation is more complex. To attribute the lower number of persons entering the priesthood to any single cause would be too simple. The world and the Church have undergone dramatic changes in the last 30 to 40 years. Furthermore, the high number of people entering religious life in the 1950s and 1960s was not typical of most of the Church’s history.
Today’s lower numbers have been attributed, among other things, to increasing discouragement on the part of parents; the reluctance of many people to make permanent commitments of any kind; and an increasing attachment to material goods and social status.  Recent trends in the United States seem to indicate that the number of ordinations may be on the rise again, however.  In 2015, dioceses across the country ordained more men than in any year since 1975.  This is a hopeful sign, although we must certainly keep praying that the Master of the harvest send laborers into his vineyard!
 

The above answers were copied and adapted from a number of vocations-related websites, including: vocations.com and the dioceses of Rockford, St. Louis, Greenburg, Arlington, Bridgeport, Sacramento, and Lincoln.  If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact the Vocation Director: vocations@portlanddiocese.org.