Priestly formation actually begins in the family, continues through the discernment process, is solidified during seminary years of study and pastoral experience, and is confirmed at ordination, where it becomes a lifetime of collaboration with God’s grace and human effort.
Becoming a priest means taking one’s mere human, mortal, sinful state, uniting it with God’s grace and one’s own effort, and witnessing the transformation into an alter Christus, which is Latin for “other Christ.”
Who is the priest?
As an “alter Christus,” the priest is called to be a witness of Christ to the flock that has been entrusted to him as their shepherd. He is a minister of the sacraments, proclaimer of the word, teacher of the faith, and steward of the Church. The priest is meant to accompany and lead the flock entrusted to his care through this world in such a way as they are able to reach the eternal kingdom of heaven. A parish priest in particular has as his primary concern the spiritual needs of his people, to aid their growth and develop a sense of community among them. His aim is to build up the local Church within the context of the wider Church and to inspire his people to respond each to their own particular call to holiness.
Diocesan Priesthood vs. Religious Priests
All Catholic priests are ordained to serve, preach, teach, minister the sacraments and shepherd the people of God. They all go through long seminary formation and are trained according to Canon Law to fulfill this mission, though the level and scope of the formation may vary. There are many similarities among them, but not all Catholic priests are the same. Some belong to a religious order, and others are diocesan priests.
Priests who are members of a religious order (for example, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Jesuits and the Trappists, among many, many others) live in community, have a rule of life and take vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. They are called Religious Priests, and dedicate their lives to the service of the Gospel as a member of a religious community and to the people and apostolates that the community serves.
Diocesan priests, in contrast, belong to a diocese or a territory rather than a particular religious community or order. They may live with other priests, but don’t live in community, don’t have a rule of life, and take promises of Obedience, Celibacy, and to live a life of priestly simplicity. Diocesan priests tend to be parish priests, serving in one diocese their entire lives, going from parish to parish helping the people of that diocese to get to heaven.
Diocesan Life vs. Religious Life
As a general rule of thumb, if you find yourself attracted to family life (living, working, praying, relaxing, eating and even vacationing together), then it is very likely you should first explore a vocation to the religious life. On the other hand, if you find yourself more attracted to keeping your own schedule, working independently, living with others more in fraternity as roommates, than in community as a family, then you should probably first explore the diocesan Priesthood.
General Qualifications for Acceptance to the Priesthood
Baptized, confirmed and practicing Roman Catholic men with a desire to serve God and His people as a priest must possess the following general qualifications:
- Faith in, and love for, Christ and His Church.
- Good moral character.
- A high school diploma with favorable academic abilities.
- Emotional balance and maturity.
- Good physical health.
- Psychological readiness and capacity to pursue a sustaining, life-long commitment.
- A deepening habit of prayer and a balanced devotional life.
- Maturity to recognize and the willingness to respond to the needs of others.
- Readiness to serve in the manner to which he is called by God, through his Bishop.
- A developing spirit of detachment that helps him be in the world but not of the world.
- Freedom to enter this state in life.
Additional Specific Criteria for Acceptance to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Arlington
In addition to the general qualifications above, a candidate must also meet the following:
- Be between the ages of 17-55. (Rare exceptions are considered on a case by case basis)
- Does not have personal financial liability, i.e. car or personal loans, credit card(s), etc. versus personal assets that exceeds $3,000; nor have total outstanding college student loan debt that exceeds $60,000.
- Have a connection and familiarity with the Diocese of Arlington and the people with whom the candidate feels called to serve here as a future priest, i.e. by living (past or present), working or studying within the diocese. (in circumstances of military families exception can be made.)
- Not suffer from a disordered sexual orientation, i.e. not consider oneself to be homosexual.
- If the candidate has previously been dismissed from another priestly formation program or from an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life, he must wait at least two years prior to being considered for the priestly formation program in the Diocese of Arlington.
- If the candidate is a recent convert to the faith or has recently returned to the regular practice of the faith, he must wait at least two years prior to acceptance into the priestly formation program in the Diocese of Arlington.