Going to seminary does not automatically mean becoming a priest
A typical conversation I might have with a young man as he first starts his discernment might go a little something like this:
“I see you have the qualities that would make for a good priest — intelligent, relatable, concern for the well-being of other people and an active prayer life. Are you still interested in discerning if you are called by God to be a priest?” I ask. “Yes,” the young man replies.
“Are you ready to go to seminary where you will be trained to become a priest?” “No.”
“Why not?” “I am really interested in becoming a priest, but I am not 100 percent sure I am called to priesthood. I do not know if I am ready for the commitment.”
“I have a question for you. If you were to go on a date with a girl, do you have to be 100 percent sure you are going to marry her?” “No.”
“So why would you ask her to go on a date?” “If I were to ask a girl on a date, it would be because I like her and I’d want to get to know her and see if we are compatible for marriage someday.”
“So going on a date does not guarantee that you are going to marry her?” “No.”
Discerning a call to the priesthood is like entering into a dating relationship. Going to seminary is an in-depth dating process where you get to know more about how to be a future spouse of the Church, and the Church gets to discern if you are the right man for her. If, at any point, either you or the Church do not think you are being called to priesthood, then you are free to leave.
You do not have to be 100 percent positive you are called to be a priest in order to go to seminary. Seminary formation takes many years to complete. As a man progresses in his studies and formation, he eventually becomes “engaged” to the Church as he gets closer to ordination. Even then, an engagement is not an absolute guarantee of a “marriage” to the Church as a priest. Most men have never thought of seminary that way.
Seminary teaches a man how to listen for the voice of God to discern if they truly have the call to priesthood. Seminary also gives men the training they need to function as priests — to be future spouses of the Church. I do not expect anyone to know how to preach in front of hundreds of people, administer the sacraments, do hospital ministry, etc., before entering seminary. Seminary will teach you how to do those priestly functions. What you need before entering seminary is an attraction to the Church, an attraction to the idea of serving the Church as a priest, an attraction that comes from your relationship with Jesus. As the young man ponders this, I would usually suggest that if he wants to take discerning the priesthood to the next step, then it is time to apply to be a seminarian. Take this to prayer, and talk with close friends, family and a priest who is close to you.
Entering seminary is a major decision, but not a guarantee of priesthood. If a man has felt an attraction toward priesthood, an attraction that does not go away, then it is time for them to start “the dating process” by applying to be a seminarian.
If you, or someone you know, is thinking of the priesthood, please contact Father Billy Dodge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Billy Dodge, Recruiter of Vocations