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Priestly vocation? Your questions answered

A new website has been launched by the Vocations Committee of the Irish Jesuit province to help young men discern a vocation to the priesthood. Discern.ie » is simple in design and single-minded in purpose. It is there to give clear and direct answers to questions that are likely to arise in the minds of people who feel a draw to priesthood or religious life.

“Do I have to be very holy to become a priest?,” one question goes. The answer is succinct:

No. But do you need to want to be holy? Yes. You need to have the desire to become, with God’s grace, over time, more and more Christ-like in your dealings with others. Above all else people expect that their priests be ‘men of God’.

Other questions get more elaborate responses. Take the obvious question: “How do I really know that I have a calling to the priesthood?” The answer draws a comparison with feeling called to marriage:

There are many factors: the fact that this particular person, whether by chance or by providence, has come into my life – this may be accompanied by a sense of awe or ‘wow’ (‘how lucky I am’!); a growing attraction and affection and a sense that this, in contrast to other desires and attractions, is ‘special’, that it has a unique quality that suggests that it is ‘the real deal’ and will lead eventually to permanent commitment. Other factors – more in the realm of ‘thought’ and ‘reason’ than feelings – are: compatibility, a ‘fit’ between the life I am contemplating (being married to this person) and my personality, my gifts and talents and the needs of my future spouse, etc.

In short, I can see it working and working well. Weighing all factors up and considering also the counter-indications (e.g. my limitations, the limitations of my partner), I will see that the scales tilt decisively towards a ‘yes’ and this recognition brings inner peace and a sense of gratitude and joy.

Responding then to predictable fears that one has made a wrong call in deciding for the priesthood, the answer continues the analogy of discerning for marriage:

Can I know for certain? No! I have to make a prudential judgement that takes into account all factors in the equation. Over time, the decision I take will either be confirmed – I will feel more and more ‘at ease’ with it – or not, in which case I should review my decision and perhaps change course before entering a permanent arrangement. With time, I may come to see things that were not clear to me earlier but which now indicate that this particular path is not for me.

An important ‘factor’ in coming to a good decision about one’s way in life is to speak to a trusted guide, to be open and candid with him or her about all factors playing on one’s mind and influencing one’s thoughts and feelings and desires in regard to the path one is considering.

Fresh, candid replies such as this abound on this website, both for deep and critical questions (How do I decide which Order would be best for me? Is it a lonely life being a priest? How important is prayer in the daily life of a priest?) and for concrete practical ones (Can widowed or divorced people enter religious life? If I go into training for the priesthood can I still keep my girlfriend in case it becomes clear that I don’t actually have a vocation? Do priests retire?).

At present there are nearly fifty questions answered. If you have a question which does not appear, there is an online form » for submitting new ones.