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, marry and bury them. They 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 often take the initiative to promote works of charity and justice. 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 even 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.
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 vacations 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 life of simplicity and to be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typical of priests are an outward sign of this modest life.
You cannot be a faithful priest 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.
A diocesan priest 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. If you are discerning priesthood, start making prayer a priority in your life now!
The Lord took his apostles apart 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. Most priests take one day off each week and have up to a month off each year for vacation. It is also wise for them to have hobbies and special interests to turn to for relaxation in the course of a normal day of priestly work, just as they should make time for prayer.
Just as importantly, diocesan priests are asked to make an annual retreat alone or with fellow priests to experience, in the calm and quiet of the retreat atmosphere, the loving touch of their Lord. These times of retreat are blessed times of spiritual renewal for the priest, just as they are for other believers.
The short answer is NO. Christians do not try to live free of all responsibilities and obligations to others. Otherwise, for what 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.
Because they want to serve God within the Church, diocesan priests make a formal promise of obedience to their bishop. 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 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 priest ends up doing work for which he is well enough suited.
It is not because they despise marriage or family life. Rather, they are so attracted to serving Christ and His people as priests that they are willing to be celibate (that is, willing to forego their natural right to marry and have a family) in order to enter the priesthood. And so they make a promise of celibacy before they are ordained to the transitional diaconate.
But why is celibacy asked of Catholic priests while it is not asked of Protestant ministers and Jewish rabbis? Jesus himself lived a celibate life — and a priest, unlike a minister or rabbi, represents Jesus in a unique way in his very person. Celibacy for the sake of God’s Kingdom (rather than because one is simply not attracted to marriage or in fact looks down on it) shows the priest’s total dedication to serving God and God’s people, just as Jesus’ celibacy spoke of his total dedication to doing the will of His Father. Celibacy tells the Catholic people that their priest is available to them to a degree other leaders cannot be because of their legitimate family responsibilities.
There are additional reasons for asking a celibate commitment of a priest. In a world caught up in what it can see, hear and touch, the priest’s celibacy witnesses to the priority of God and the spiritual life even in the midst of the wonderful creation God has given us to live in.
In no way does celibacy do away with a priest’s sexuality. But God’s grace is sufficient for him. Celibacy is not easy to live at times, any more than obedience is. A solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends and prudent judgment about persons and situations are all necessary to live a celibate life well.
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