Reverend Monsignor Charles E. Singler, D.Min.
Director, Diocesan Priestly Vocations
Department of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
Diocese of Toledo
Toledo, OH 43604-5360
All Catholics by their baptism belong to the common priesthood of the faithful. However, some men are called by Christ to an ordained priesthood.
Christ established the common priesthood of the baptized to share in the Spirit’s work of sanctifying the world. Christ established the ordained priesthood to share in the Spirit’s work of sanctifying the faithful.
Because of his sacred responsibility, the ordained priest has a special obligation to deepen his spiritual sensibilities, grow in his union with Christ and inspire people to know, love, and serve God.
PRIESTS ARE FOR REAL
Jesus Christ, the definitive and perfect priest, established the ordained (or ministerial) priesthood with which the Apostles were the first to be invested. Conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the gift and mystery of ordained priesthood is the means by which Christ continuously builds up and leads his Church.
The priesthood is not an occupation but rather a vocation. Priests are men chosen by God to lay down their lives as bridges between heaven and earth. No one has a right to become a priest. Indeed, the priesthood can never be claimed by a man, for a man is called to it by God. Like every grace, the Sacrament of Holy Orders can be received only as an unmerited gift. The man who believes he may have a call to priesthood must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility to determine whether the call is genuinely from Christ.
Priests act in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) as the head of the Church sanctifying, leading, and teaching God’s people. At the same time, priests also act in the name of the Church: offering the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and administering the other Sacraments for the salvation of God’s people and of the world itself.
Priests today continue the work of the priests who, in the preceding millennia, have made Christ present to people. By their lives of service to others, priests seek to procure nothing less than the glory of God the Father in Christ Jesus. As ordained servants of Christ, priests give witness to a life and love other than that of this earth. Configured specially and permanently to Christ by means of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, priests live in the world so that through them people may come to hear the voice of Christ and respond to His call joyfully and obediently.
Priests today continue to live the perfect and permanent priesthood of Jesus, not merely representing Him as an ambassador represents a nation or leader, but to act in His person and truly make Him present. Whether devoting themselves to prayer and adoration, preaching the Word, or offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and administering the other Sacraments for the benefit of all people, priests are contributing at once to the increase of God’s glory and people’s growth in the divine life.
PRIESTS SANCTIFYING GOD’S PEOPLE
Priests pray and inspire people to pray. Priests carry out sacred functions for the benefit of the Christian faithful. In the Sacrament of Baptism, priests initiate people into the Church. In the Sacrament of Penance, (also called Reconciliation and Confession) priests remove the burdens of sin and reconcile people with God and His Church. During the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, priests pray expressly for those people who are seriously ill and in need of healing. In the Sacrament of Marriage, priests celebrate the mutual and permanent exchange of love whose origin is God’s love. The celebration of the Eucharist (also called the Holy Mass) is the center - the heart - of a priest’s life of prayer.
PRIESTS LEADING GOD’S PEOPLE
Priests are leaders. Unlike worldly CEOs, priestly leadership is shaped and seen in their love for people. Priestly leadership is aimed always toward leading people to God. As priests lead people to God they also bring people together, gathering many into one flock, and forming one family of God. Priestly leadership is born of faith, formed by love, and empowered by hope. Unlike hirelings who work for pay, priests are like shepherds willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.
PRIESTS TEACHING GOD’S PEOPLE
Priests are teachers. The task of proclaiming, preaching, and teaching the Word of God is fundamental to the life and ministry of priests. Priests are servants of God’s Word, seeking always to make the Bible meaningful and instructive in the daily lives of people. Committing themselves to becoming increasingly conformed to the Word of God, priests meditate daily on God’s Word, allowing it to transform their lives so that their words and actions will build up God’s Church.
IN THE DIOCESE OF TOLEDO
Of the 227 total priests who live and serve in the Diocese of Toledo, the vast majority are commonly called Diocesan Priests as they have made their permanent home here among us in Northwest Ohio. Some of the priests ministering in our diocese belong to religious orders. There are a few priests working in our diocese who belong to Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. Here is the breakdown:
• Diocesan Priests (188) 83%
• Religious Order Priests (36) 16%
• Eastern Rite Priests (3) 1%
Religious Order Priests Serving in the Diocese of Toledo
Eastern Rite Priests Serving in the Diocese of Toledo
The call of priesthood is a call to configure one’s whole being to the person of Jesus Christ. All that a priest is and does is embraced with this end in mind. His whole life is focused on God's glorification and humanity's sanctification.
A diocesan priest responds to this call to sanctity in the context of his priestly promises. In imitation of Christ who chose the celibate way of life, the priest chooses to “keep for ever this commitment as a sign of [his] dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of God and man” (Rite of Ordination). A life of celibacy frees the priest to be available to love all people with the love of Christ himself.
Recognizing that his call to priesthood is much bigger than his personal relationship to God, the priest lives out this call through a life in Christ’s Church. He acknowledges the authority and leadership of his bishop and promises respect and obedience to him. The relationship between a priest and his bishop is to enable him to best serve the members of the local Church.
As the priest accepts the call to spiritual leadership, he promises God and all God’s people that he will “exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely”; “celebrate faithfully and reverently the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation”; “observe the command to pray without ceasing”; and “resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest,…and with him to consecrate [himself] to God for the salvation of all” (Rite of Ordination).
Each man’s journey to priesthood is rooted in a unique call from God. The discovery of this call and the journey of response are marked by discernment. A man’s relationship with God, his own self-knowledge, and his relationships with others are critical in this discernment process.
Some seminarians and priests find their consideration of priesthood begins at a very young age, while some are older when they look at this type of life of service. For many, the role of parents and families in nurturing their faith is foundational to hearing God’s call. The witness of priests who faithfully embrace this life and ministry often fans the flame of vocation. Individuals who affirm a man’s gifts and invite him to consider priesthood can provide the necessary encouragement. Vocation programs and events that nurture one’s prayer life as well as provide information about priesthood become especially important as a man matures and grows closer to a vocational response.
SUGGESTIONS AT THIS STAGE OF DISCERNMENT
- a life of prayer that includes daily reflection on the Scriptures, weekly Mass (more often if possible), regular confession, and spiritual reading
- service and involvement in one’s parish in areas of liturgy, education, and service
- contact with priests and/or seminarians, both on a formal and informal level
- participation in vocation awareness activities and retreats
One of the common misunderstandings about any call to a priestly vocation is that it is solely one’s personal decision. While one may have an inner inclination toward a vocation, discernment cannot happen on one’s own. Rather, discernment requires potential candidates to be in prayerful dialogue with God and with the Church. This dialogue is especially important because today “there is…a certain tendency to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic and self-centered way, as if God’s call reached the individual by a direct route, without in any way passing through the community” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 37). Before applying to a seminary, a man first works with a vocation director to help him seek personal clarity through a number of conversations, reflections, and experiences offered to him. The director and the discerner may embark on this path for several months or even years. As the man addresses significant questions and concerns for himself, the vocation director assists him by equipping him with healthy tools for discernment. The director would also serve him by identifying traits and qualities that suggest the possibility of priesthood or may raise significant concerns that suggest otherwise. The relationship between the man and the director is built on trust and openness to God’s divine will.
SUGGESTIONS AT THIS STAGE OF DISCERNMENT:
- continued development of a life of regular prayer
- regular meetings with a spiritual director who can assist in the discernment
- participation in discernment weekends sponsored by seminaries used by the Diocese of Toledo
- participation in Andrew dinners with the Bishop and/or other priests of the diocese
- individual seminary visits (arranged between prospective candidate, the Vocation Director and the seminary)
With the satisfaction of the vocation director, a man who is convinced he is ready to continue discerning God’s call in a formal setting is encouraged to apply to be a seminarian affiliated with the diocese. An honest and transparent approach to the application process enables one to grow as a man, Christian, and potential seminarian/priest. Once a man has completed the thorough application process, his materials are reviewed and presented to the Bishop. The Bishop makes the decision whether or not the man will be accepted as a seminarian. After being accepted, the candidate then needs to apply to a particular seminary according to the directives of the Bishop and vocation director. Depending on age and educational background, a man will apply for a college seminary program or a program of pre-theology/theology.
SUGGESTIONS AT THIS STAGE OF DISCERNMENT:
- continued development of a life of regular prayer that may include praying the Liturgy of the Hours
- regular meetings with a spiritual director
- participation in discernment opportunities offered by the diocese and seminaries
- honest reflection and disclosure related to various elements of the application process
Far from being completed, the discernment process continues once one enters a seminary. Seminary officials help each candidate grow in the areas of human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral formation as he continues to discern God’s call for his life. The seminary journey is a process of experiences over a number of years before the candidate and the bishop reach the conclusion that he is being called to the priesthood. Equally important is the man’s freedom to leave the seminary at anytime during the process without feelings of shame or disappointment. Should a man during his seminary years discern that God is not calling him to the priesthood, he takes the formation he has received as he moves forward to serve God in other ways.
SUGGESTIONS AT THIS STAGE OF DISCERNMENT:
- a life of regular prayer that includes daily Mass and praying of the Liturgy of the Hours
- regular meetings with a spiritual director and formation director
- academic formation that prepares one for life as a priest
- pastoral formation in a variety of settings that prepares one for ministry
Are priests happy in their vocations - in their lives and in their work for Christ?
Do priests get paid?
Do you have to be a virgin to enter the priesthood or consecrated life?
Do you lose your freedom as a priest?
How do I know what God wants of me?
How does one become a diocesan priest?
How often does a priest have to pray?
What about personal debt; do I have to pay off all my bills before I decide to enter into the priesthood?
What do priests do for fun?
What does a priest do all day?
What exactly is a vocation?
What if I am not holy enough to be a priest?
What is the difference between a brother and a priest?
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
What qualities does the church look for in a candidate for priesthood?
Most priests are extremely happy in their vocation and fulfilled by their ministry. The life of a priest is a very rewarding life, both in this world and in the next. The media often gives an incorrect impression of priests, that they are largely unhappy, frustrated and angry. This is simply not true. In fact, research shows that priests are much happier in their jobs than the general population. A recent independent survey taken of diocesan priests in the Diocese of Toledo found the following results:
The priesthood is life-giving to me 96.7 % ("strongly agree" or "agree")
I am fulfilled as a priest 96.7 %
I would recommend the priesthood to a young man 90 %
I have a great assignment 91.8 %
I feel close to my brother priests 77.3 %
I have intimate friendships 91.1 %
I want to help foster vocations in my diocese 94.4 %
In a day and age when roughly 50 % of couples who enter into marriage wind up choosing divorce, the recent data regarding the state of priestly happiness and fulfillment is nothing short of astonishing.
Diocesan priests receive a modest salary, which enables them to buy their necessities, to buy and maintain a car, to take a vacation, and to do normal recreational activities. Also, priests receive room and board from the parish for which they work, so their expenses are minimal.
Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty like religious order priests. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to live a simple lifestyle and be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typically worn by a priest are an outward sign of the modest standard of living that is proper to priestly life and ministry.
While it is not an absolute requirement for a person to be virgin, if a person has fallen, it is necessary that the person now be living chastely. He should properly order his passions and demonstrate by his actions his ability to live celibately.
A diocesan priest makes a formal promise of obedience to his bishop. This pledge of loyalty binds the priest to his bishop in a manner that ensures that the needs of God's people will be met. Freedom in priestly life and ministry changes in a way that is not unlike children becoming a part of parents' lives. The best parents always take their children into account. So, too, a priest considers others first when making decisions: namely, the people entrusted to his care, and his bishop who is responsible for the entire diocese.
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?" Rather, you should be asking: "Jesus, what do you want me to do?" Listen for the answer. Listen with your heart, not just your head. The Church must also be involved in the discernment process. Listen to what other people see in you. Your bishop is the one who will ultimately decide who is and who is not called to be a diocesan priest in his diocese. He is assisted by the vocations office and the seminary staff.
A man is invited by the Director of Vocations to apply to the diocese. This requires an application form, essays, letters of recommendation, interviews, background checks, and psychological screening. The Bishop ultimately decides whether or not to accept a candidate. After being accepted, the man goes to seminary. There he receives preparation for priesthood, including human, pastoral, spiritual, and academic formation. If he enters before receiving a bachelor's degree, he will earn a degreen in Philosophy before continuing in the graduate program in Theology. Seminary training and discernment ranges from five to nine years, depending on one's educational background, before a man is ordained a priest.
Every day! Prayer occupies a central place in priestly life and ministry. Think for a moment of praying in terms of a close friendship. Can you imagine not speaking to your best friend regularly? A priest discovers that prayer - personal time with Christ Jesus - provides the source of strength, enabling him to be about the business of Heaven on earth. The Church in her wisdom knows how vital it is for the priest to be a man of prayer. One of the promises a priest makes at his ordination is to pray daily for God's people.
Of course it is not always easy to pray! Just like an athlete does not always feel liking practicing or a student doesn't feel like studying, or a wage earner does not feel like working, so too there are times when a priest does not feel like praying. Like parents who must rise in the night to care for their children, so too do priests receive the necessary grace to honor their commitment to pray.
The most common mistake is to hold off making a decision about your vocation until you have paid off all your bills. Although dioceses and religious orders vary in their policies, you need to make a firm commitment in favor of your vocation. Be resolute and passionate about hearing God's voice in our noisy world. You will discover that as soon as you make the decision to clarify God's calling, your needs will change along with your spending and saving habits.
The key is to say "yes!" to God and to yourself. Wish no more than this: to do God's will. Then, make it so in your life.
A priest can do anything he wants for recreation, as long as it is consistent with the Christian life. Many priests play golf, basketball, tennis, and other sports. Many like to watch football, fish, travel, and spend time with friends and family. Some even enjoy riding motorcycles, gardening, gourmet cooking, and playing a musical instrument.
A priest labors each and every day to build bridges between Heaven and earth. He brings God to people and people to God. Every day is different and brings with it new opportunities to make real contributions in lives of people and families and advance God's Kingdom.
In the Diocese of Toledo most priests work in one of our 126 parishes. Priests celebrate Mass daily and administer the Sacraments regularly: hearing confessions, anointing the sick, baptizing the young and old, witnessing marriages, burying the dead and comforting those who mourn. Priests preach God's Word from the pulpit, teach God's ways in the classrooms and extend God's mercy to all whom they encounter. It is a busy, varied, rewarding life that demands physical stamina, mental discipline and spiritual maturity.
A vocation is a call from God to do something specifically for God and for His Kingdom. The primary vocation of every person is to be holy. It is the divine calling to love and serve God, to obey his commandments, and to cooperate with Christ in the work of redemption by loving and serving others. Everyone is called to live the vocation of holiness, but everyone lives it in a special and unique way according to the plan of God.
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 regularly. Read the Bible, receive the Sacraments, and pray every day. You will be surprised at how Christ-like you can become.
A brother is a layman who commits himself to Christ by the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. He lives in a religious community and works in nearly any job: teacher, cook, lawyer, etc. Brothers are not sacramental ministers.
A man is ordained to priesthood through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Together, each man and the Church discern (discover) whether or not he is called to become a priest. Diocesan priests work mostly in parishes. All priests celebrate Mass and the Sacraments. Diocesan priests promise celibate chastity, prayer for the Church, and obedience to their bishop. They also choose to live a simple life.
Priests in religious life belong to a specific congregation or community that is bound together by a common mission or charism. Unlike diocesan priests, religious order priests take a vow of poverty and do not own items individually. Most often, religious order priests specialize in a certain type of ministry, such as education, social services, health care or foreign missions.
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.