I’m thinking about becoming a priest, but my family and I do not have the financial resources to pay for my seminary education. What should I do?
First I want to let you know that you are already beginning to respond to God's call just by the fact of considering the priesthood and a life of caring and service to God's people.
Money is an issue that needs to be addressed when considering joining the priesthood or another form of consecrated life, as it is in other areas of life. Formation and academic studies for the priesthood cost money and can't be completely absorbed by a diocese or parish community. Likewise, families and individuals can't always afford the total cost either.
Fortunately there are many benefactors who donate directly to seminaries or make funds available through scholarships or grants. Two Catholic organizations that have generously supported vocations are the Knights of Columbus (contact your local council) and the Laboure Society (www.labourefoundation.org).
And consider some fundraising of your own:
• Take a paying job and save the income for your studies
• Network with priests in your diocese and ask for their assistance
• Seek help from your parish (e.g., fundraising events, donations)
• Publish a request for support within your online social networks
And perhaps most importantly, trust in the Holy Spirit who is not only working within you to respond to God's call but within others, too, who have the ability to help you. Providence provides, as my I.H.M. sisters say. Blessings to you, and be sure to discuss your concerns with a vocation director when you are ready.
In the few words you've written, it's clear that God is already beginning to nudge you and call you to a deeper way of relating to and serving God. How to respond and express this sense of call can often be a challenge because there are so many ways of living our vocation.
I encourage you to rethink the possibility that God might be calling you to become a priest. Put aside your fear or inability to speak in front of large groups and focus instead on what you sense God is saying to you and on the kinds of life and ministry that attract you. Trust me, I am not dismissing the "standing-up-in-front-of-large-groups" issue. It's one that I personally struggle with all the time. Even though my ministry is largely online and via writing, it seems I always end up teaching a workshop or leading a retreat. Initially the idea of speaking in front of any group large or small terrified me. But over time I realized that I so loved the stuff I was speaking about and so wanted to help and encourage others that my inability and fear receded to the background (not completely gone, but not stopping me either).
One of my best friends in all of this was and remains the prophet Jeremiah. Read and pray on these words:
"Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, "I am only a boy"; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.' Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth' " (Jeremiah 1:4-9).No matter how you choose to express your call from God, you will be called (more times than any of us care to admit) to move beyond your comfort zone and become an open vessel for God's work to be done. Remember, as Saint Paul often reminds us, our weakness—our inability, our fear—is an opportunity for the grace of God to fill us and be communicated to others.
If all the priest does is "talk" after the readings, we're in big trouble! Regrettably, there will always be clergy who are less gifted or improperly prepared for the task of proclamation. The result is yammering, which leads to boredom, impatience, and questions like this one from the assembly, I'm afraid. So let's get the terms right. The priest (or deacon) is not supposed to talk, give a speech, teach, or even offer a sermon at this time in the Mass. What we're supposed to hear is a homily.
So the question we're really asking is: What's a homily and why do we have one? The word is rooted in the ancient word for "conversation." A homily isn't merely a conversation between the preacher and us but between the scripture we've just heard and the world we live in. Think of it as a call-and-response, like others we hear at Mass. For example, when the priest says, "The Lord be with you!" we reply, "and also with you!" If the Lord isn't with somebody when the call goes out, the conversation stops right there. The call must find its response or there's no real communication.
In the same way the scripture passages proclaimed at Mass (not simply "read," if your local lectors are doing their job) are best understood as a call awaiting our response. God's word is alive, the Bible says. But not alive on the page—it's alive in those who hear the word of God and keep it! It takes some reflection, of course, for us to appreciate how to live out the word we hear proclaimed each week. So that's where the homilist comes in. It's the job of the one who gives the homily to build a bridge between the ancient word of God and the modern world in which we live and move and have our being.
While a sermon can be a moral teaching on any issue of the preacher's choosing, the homilist must remain anchored to the readings, which are preselected for each week of the church year in a book called the lectionary. That can be challenging, but it does ensure that we hear from a wide range of scripture passages each year—not simply the preacher's particular themes of interest or expertise. The homiletic method means both homilist and assembly must grow together as we participate in the conversation God is having with us today.
Nehemiah 8:1-12; Luke 4:16-21; 11:27-28; Acts 17:28; Hebrew 4:12
Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Homily in the Sunday Assembly from the U.S. Catholic bishops
Once Upon a Gospel: Inspiring Homilies and Insightful Reflections by William J. Bausch (Twenty-Third Publications, 2008)
The Practical Preacher: Handy Hints for Hesitant Homilists by Paul Edwards (Liturgical Press, 1994)
I admit, being let loose in a sacristy the first time can be like wandering through a costume department in Hollywood. Vestments can be ornate, fabulous, regal—not to mention incredibly heavy, depending on the period they were designed. But what’s most important to recognize is that when first adopted they were a costlier form of the same basic garb worn by the general population.
Ancient Hebrews wore a tunic, gathered with a sash, and a turban. Wool was the primary fabric, but priestly garments were mostly woven of linen and decorated with gold thread and yarns of violet, purple, and scarlet. In addition, high priests wore an overlying robe, squarish, with a hole in the middle to drape over the head, trimmed at the hem in bells and yarn pomegranates. On his head he wore a miter (pointed hat).
When the first Jewish Christians gathered for worship, they assembled in homes and wore no distinguishing clothing. But after the legalization of Christianity in the late 3rd century, formal public worship raised the visibility of the presider and so, too, his vesture. Still, the clothing worn by the presider resembled secular apparel.
First came the alb, a white tunic worn as an undergarment in all social classes. A ropelike cincture held the alb in place around the hips. Next was the chasuble, a more colorful poncho-like covering. Over that was the scarf known as the stole, which may have been a symbol of authoritative office. Then came the dalmatic, a more formal alb worn in the imperial court and reserved for the use of bishops and the deacons who served with them. To the bishop was also reserved the wearing of the miter.
After the 7th century secular fashions advanced, strangely enough, as a result of barbarian invasions which brought down the Empire in the West. But church vesture remained the same, now oddly out of step with what everyone else was wearing. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s inaugurated a return to simplicity in vestments, recommending that their beauty derive from “material and design” rather than “lavish ornamentation” (say good-bye to bells and pomegranates!). The continued use of vestments links our celebrations with those of previous generations and enhances the dignity of our assembly—as dressing in “our Sunday best” always has.
• Exodus 28, 29, and 39; Leviticus 8; Ezekiel 44:15-19
• General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 335-347
• The Symbols of the Church by Maurice Dilasser (Liturgical Press, 1999)
• The Mass and Vestments of the Catholic Church, Liturgical, Doctrinal, Historical, and Archaeological by John Walsh (General Books LLC, 2010; pay-to-download site)
Some of us know and respond instantly to a calling from God. Others, like you and me, hear God’s call gradually and sometimes over the course of many years. These “in between” times are always worthwhile as God’s call deepens within us and we grow in our understanding of ourselves and God.
You seem to be at a crossroads and ready to explore God’s call more intentionally. A first step is to get to know priests and brothers and their way of life. That can be done casually or formally, whatever works best for you at first. See how it feels to imagine yourself in their way of life and involved in their mission. It may help to learn more about the particular vocations to become a diocesan priest, a religious priest, or a religious brother. You’ll find more information about these vocations on the FAQ page of this website.
While you actively explore what it’s like to be a brother or priest, be sure to take all of these experiences to prayer. Check in with God daily, telling God of your desires, feelings, and thoughts. And don’t forget to listen! Spend time in silence, opening your heart to God. For some guidance, read through the article ”Four steps to hearing your call” by Benedictine Sister Anita Louise Lowe. You might also consider working with a spiritual director, someone who is skilled in helping people discern God’s calling in their lives.
Another avenue for discerning God’s call is to engage in some form of ministry. Become a catechist at your parish, volunteer as at a hospice, advocate for those in need as a board member or in your job, spend your vacation time on a service trip.
And if you are doing these things, and still feel drawn to become a priest or brother, then get in touch with the vocation director of your local diocese (for diocesan priesthood) or in the religious community with whom you feel most at home. It may simply be time to go for it!
My prayers are with you as you move more deeply into God’s calling to you.
I’m happy to count among my friends Franciscans, Jesuits, Oblates, Paulists, Marists, and even the rare Camaldolese monk. I also know and love a small army of diocesan priests. I’ve often wondered why each one entered the ministry and, in particular, wound up in the “lifestyle” he currently enjoys. Because I’m curious and also pretty bold, I always ask.
Their candid replies have helped me appreciate the process of discernment, the power of the Spirit, and the beauty of personal testimony. Diocesan priests are characterized primarily by their priestly call to serve a specific community of faith. Their avenue of service is literally a geographic region—a diocese—and within that patch of land they pledge to pastor, preach, teach, and lead. Most diocesan priests talk about feeling called to serve in parishes, to lead the assembly at Mass, to share in the whole cycle of people’s lives from birth to death. They hope to minister in seasons of sorrow and joy to the love of God and the hope we bear in Jesus.
Priests who belong to a religious order may also feel the profound call to lead worship, preach, and teach. But they also speak of being powerfully drawn to a special charism or spiritual gift a particular religious community embodies. For example, Franciscans are noted for their commitment to poverty; Jesuits for their academic excellence; Paulists for their pioneering media-savvy; and monks to a life defined by prayer and silence.
Although diocesan priests may or may not share a residence with other priests, religious order priests are usually dedicated to a communal lifestyle by design. If you spiritually yearn for communal life or to serve in parish ministry, those promptings might be trusted as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But nearly every priest I know begins the story of his call with the story of another vocation: the priest he knew whose generous ministry first compelled him to draw more closely to a life of service. So priests of every variety and charism continue to give birth to the next generation of leaders.
Psalm 110:4; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 1:6-14; 4:1-5
Look no further! You have arrived! See the many resources on the Vocation Network website for descriptions of religious communities of men and to take advantage of the Vocation Match.
Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation According to Aquinas, Ignatius, and Pope John Paul II by Joseph Bolin (CreateSpace)
Diversity of Vocations by Marie Dennis (Orbis Books)