I am a high school sophomore, soon to be junior. For a while now, I have been more and more interested in the idea of becoming a priest but I have not done much to “dive deeper”. Not until recently when I got to talk to a priest. He advised me to pray, read “Church of Mercy” by Pope Francis and reach out to other priests. I finished the book within one week and I am currently in the process of reaching out to priests.
Some of the priests that I talked to suggest that I wait until I am done with high school before, and wait. However, I really wish to do something more to either learn more about priesthood or the vocation of a priest. I feel like I am wasting precious time by sitting around and focus on just school work.
Do you have any suggestion of what I could do?
Dang Nguyen from the Archdiocese of Boston
I would assume that your diocese has a vocations director? I would reach out to them to schedule a meeting if I were you. Maybe they can give you some light reading and more info/advice than we can. They may even be able to take you on a tour of one of the local seminaries.
Also, don’t look at it as wasting time in school. We need our future priests to be intelligent and experienced.
I have been present at the ordination of men in their 50s, so there is no emergency here. You do not want to rush this. Discernment of a vocation to the priesthood, done properly, can take years and be spiritually agonizing. Study hard now, as studies will only increase if you are accepted into seminary. Spend your free time in prayer before the Tabernacle, as He is Whom you will be serving.
Increase your prayer life, particularly as regards the liturgical prayer of the Church. Serving Mass or being a Lector…involvment with the liturgical ministry. Your priests and deacons would be able to help you begin to know about the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a beautiful way of praying with the Church, even if your circumstances might not allow you to do it daily or only to do even one part. It’s the core of our life as priests. A weekly holy hour hour before the Blessed Sacrament is an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord. The Way of the Cross and reading of Scripture will help you to grow in knowledge of the Lord and in love for the Lord…and that’s at the heart of our vocation. A Person who calls us and to Whom we respond, with love. Without that interpersonal relationship…well, we would be very poor priests indeed. Ultimately our whole lives are spent for Him. What brings you closer now is a benefit and not time wasted
Increase your involvement in your parish, as you are able and interested. There are many ways, from service at the altar to other ministries, in which a young man can become engaged in his parish. There are opportunities to work alongside the priests and deacons and the pastoral care team, even if only volunteering to help in the office. In addition to relationship building, these experiences can help with your discernment. Too many people will contemplate what they think is the life of a diocesan priest when the reality is quite different, day to day and hour to hour. Spending time in parish ministry, with those who do it, can be a very helpful and insightful experience. I first had insight into my future because I so much loved the things I was doing, as a volunteer, to help the priests in the parish of my youth. Fond memories
Become involved in your archdiocese. You’ve an extraordinarily rich and diverse archdiocese – one of the five oldest in the United States. There is, within its boundaries, the opportunity to get to know, for example, different institutes of consecrated life. You may discover that your vocation to the priesthood is not directed to the diocesan priesthood but as a friar or a monk or one of the newer forms of consecrated life. These are all waiting to enrich you and to be explored
Investigate aspects of the Church that are in need of volunteers. I am not suggesting that you become a full time volunteer…but spending some time in these areas can provide you invaluable insight and also friendships for the future. Catholic hospitals give you the opportunity to do volunteer work – and to experience pastoral care for the sick. There are often things someone can do to help in the pastoral care department’s offices. The same is true with pastoral care for the elderly in nursing homes/homes for those in pension. The same can be true for student settings, where the students are involved with the music ministry or peer outreach. These can all give you the opportunity to work with priests, deacons, and pastoral care teams who devote themselves to this aspect of ministry. All of this gives increased insight into what a life in ministry means and can entail – and the forms it can take
By all means, be in touch with the vocations program, tour seminaries, and visit houses of formation…but at your age, I would not overemphasise those aspects. There is much to be said for having interaction fundamentally and foundationally with the priests and deacons in your parish, in your school and such other institutions as I have articulated. If you go forward relative to the archdiocese, either at the time of college or after, these clerics will be there then and for decades to come…they will be a part of your life. Knowing you in the present moment, they will have concrete suggestions of things to read, things to be involved with, suggestions that all can be helpful and tailored to where you are in the present moment and the possibilities actually available. When I was your age, and younger, I had the benefit of extraordinary priests who helped me in the years before I entered seminary. They are long dead of course, as it was decades ago and I find myself arriving at the end of my own pilgrimage of priesthood. But they remain a cherished and even loved part of my memory across all these years. They were true fathers and elder brothers. Their example. Their fidelity. I simply cannot overstate the role that one’s own parish and one’s own priests and deacons can have
This is a time of growth for you. It should not be overdone or over-regimented. Spirituality, though, is an area that serves us well all of our life, and whatever our vocation. One can be greatly enriched for the present and inspired for the future, for example, by reading the lives and the writings of the saints. One can draw great benefit from their example and their witness…and accustom oneself thereby to the study of sacred things, which will mark the years before, during, and after seminary. One can also learn about the various schools of spirituality…the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, the Trappists…best from members of these Orders. Even if we are not called to those Religious families, aspects of their spirituality can greatly enrich and enhance our lives. As a diocesan priest, I am always renewed by time I spend in monastic retreat. I owe much to the patrimony of various orders which have, across the years and in many ways, shaped my own spiritual life. Time getting to know them is never time lost…even when our vocation, as such, lies elsewhere. You can draw on these whether as a priest, deacon or layman
It is a great adventure that lies ahead of you. My work relative to priestly formation and helping our young clergy are among the things I look back upon the deepest satisfaction and sense of fulfillment. I assure you of my prayers
I am not familiar with US educational terms but it sounds like you are 16-17 yrs old?
May I ask if you attend a Catholic School and if so is it run by a religious Order?
What is it about the priesthood that attracts you?
What practices does your spiritual life consist in at the moment?
Thank you, sir, for taking your time to write such a thoughtful reply.
I was wondering how I can learn more about the orders that you mentioned: Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, the Trappists and more. I did once try to research about these orders but I came out with little useful information. Is there a book that outlines such topic?
I would love to know more about your personal experience of becoming a priest. From the time you figured that that want to be a priest to when you are ordained. At what age did you enter seminary? Were there any adversities holding you back?
I do attend a youth program at my parish where we learn about work of God and Catholic cultures. I do not know if it is run by a religious order but it is a part of the church.
What do you mean by practices?
Just like other priests, I want to spread the teaching of God by ways of talking to people personally or during mass. The homily given priests from my parish inspired me so much and I want to be able to do the same thing to the community. I like to listen to someone, understand their problem and be able to help them move on. I want to help people: strengthen their faith and pulling them back to God. I want to create an atmosphere that will drown out the cacophony of the fast paced world and make all their worries disappear. Even if it is just for a few hours.
I once talked to my aunt about life. she said:“You are selfish if you wish to be alone. You will not live a full life until you live for others”. This was a response to my wish not to have a family in the future: no wife nor kid. This was the first push that I had towards priesthood. This and because my family is very religious, I would make them very happy as well.
After the talk with my aunt, I feel more comfortable being in church, I became more involved in my parish: joining the choir and eventually had the chance to talk to a priest about priesthood. The more that I live, the more priesthood appeals to me. It really hard to explain using words but I want to be just like the priests: I want to serve people, live for them and live for God.
There are several ways to learn about the Orders. One is by reading. One does well to look for and focus upon texts focused on the Order’s spirituality. Here, for example, is a wonderful book on Dominican spirituality. The priest who wrote it died and his brothers mounted it on the web so that it can be freely available
The Dominican concept of contemplation is going to be more focused on the intellect than, say, the Carmelite which would be focused on the affective aspects of the human person…the heart, as it were. Both are valid but dealing with different aspects of human person
Speaking with a Dominican or a Carmelite, one can ask how to learn about their spirituality and spiritual practices…and I have not met one yet who was not happy to tell you and to help you know and understand their charism
The best way to do it is to read in concert with a contact with a member of the Order. That is, embarking on a path of reading about the spirituality of the Order while in dialogue/correspondence with a member of that Order
Many Orders or communities already have programs designed for lay people who wish to participate in their spirituality, so the explanations and the literature is readily available to explain how an Order’s spiritual life and practices can be an enrichment to a lay person,or a cleric.
For example, some twenty miles outside of Boston is Glastonbury Abbey, which is a monastery of Benedictine monks. The Rule of Saint Benedict is freely available on line
In addition to reading it – prayerfully, not as something to read through quickly but read thoughtfully – one can find books on Benedictine spirituality. One can also be in dialogue with the Director of Secular Oblates, who works with laity wanting to be schooled in Benedictine spirituality. The oblate director would advise on literature – online and in print – and give advice on how Benedictine spirituality can be lived in the world, in whatever state of life
All of this might be of great interest and attraction – or it might not. You might find it useful or you may find it has no attraction to you. You might find things you would like to be part of your spirituality and your prayer life or you might not. In any event, you will have experienced a special aspect of the Church – the monastic charism – as you grow in your knowledge of the Church
Now, I am not suggesting that you become an oblate but merely to explore what do these different Orders have, in their spirituality and in their prayer life, that might enrich you. What I have written about Benedictines is true of other Orders, which are also a short distance from where you live. They each have a rich heritage and much that they can share
This program, the oblates, provides one way to learn what Benedictines are – they are 1500 years old – and what about the Benedictines could enrich one’s life. One’s prayer. Could their many saints inspire you and help you? What can be drawn from this heritage?
There are similar programs with many of the Religious families in the Church. Knowing about them not only enriches you personally but gives you something with which you can enrich others who may profit from it even more than you
Perhaps, at some point, you could go for a visit…experience Mass in a different way from your parish…experience the divine office that is chanted in monastic choir…experience the monastic grounds…meet and visit with the monks
Personally, I did not become a monk but I always make my retreat in an abbey and go there for times of prayer and days of recollection. For years, my spiritual director was a monk. I draw much from the Rule of Saint Benedict and from monastic writers. I readily incorporate aspects of Benedictine spirituality into my own life…such as lectio divina, which you can Google
It was through reading but also through relationships, correspondence, friendships with monks as well as study and research that I grew in this aspect of my spiritual life
It is one way to put this time of your life to growing in your relationship with the Lord and your knowledge of the Church, in all its multifaceted aspects and richness
In the old days (like before the 1970s) a lot of vocations were accepted straight from finishing High School. These days most Seminaries and Religious Orders will not accept vocations straight from school in OECD countries as it is usually considered healthier for young men to experience the rough and tumble of life with their peers and gain some understanding and maturity outside the somewhat sheltered walls of the cloister or Seminary.
It is also considered useful to learn a trade or aquire an employable degree before joining a Seminary. You like many before you are on a path of discernment. One has more interior freedom when one knows one can survive in the world should you and the community you join eventually discern that God is not in fact calling you to the priesthood.
At this stage, as Fr. Ruggero also advises, it may be worthwhile to begin experiencing the different ways of being a Priest in the Catholic Church.
Perhaps the first discernment is whether you wish to be a member of a dedicated community of brothers - ie a Religious Order. Each RO has its own charism or specialisation. If you wish to evangelise that would seem to rule out the Contemplative Orders which emphasise prayer, solitude, staying in their monastery.
However if you are attracted to prayer and solitude at the same time then the “semi Contemplative” Orders may be what God is calling you to. Popular examples in increasing levels of involvement in the world are the Carmelites, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits.
If you are academically oriented and feel called to preach that suggests Dominicans or Jesuits. If you are more a person of the people re preaching that suggests Franciscans.
If you feel called to be more involved in the life of a Diocese or Parish and less to a priestly communal way of life then you may be called to be a Diocesan priest (Secular Priests). These are the usual priests who run parishes under a bishop (though some Relgious Orders run parishes just as they do schools etc). Due to shortages of priests these days secular priests tend to live less communally than their counterparts in Religious Orders (sometimes alone but usually two or three together). Of course secular priests do meet regularly with their peers in a Diocese.
Such communities often allow young men to live in for a weekend or short period of time.
It is simply a matter of making contact with their vocations director and seeing what he has to say. I did so myself after I left school.
By spiritual practices we just mean the activities you regularly do to foster your relationship with God and His People. Such things as daily mass, saying the rosary or praying every day, Sunday mass, prayer groups, working for St Vincent de Paul, Altar Serving, running a Catechism class for children,becoming a lector, regular Confession, visiting prisons, old peoples homes, shut-ins, meals on wheels, voluntary work for the disadvantaged etc.
When I was a little younger than yourself for example I got into the habit of going to lunchtime masses three days a week (my secondary school was run by Priests which made it convenient), praying in the Chapel for 5 mins whenever I was free and joined the School St Vincent de Paul Chapter. Such things nourish the life of grace. I have been faithful to attending daily mass ever since - I am now 60 or so.
I wish you God’s wisdom as you discern what he wants you to do with your life.