(Dioceses and religious congregations have their own policies and guidelines about many of the matters dealt with in these questions.)
- What do you do all day?
- How important is prayer?
- Is prayer always easy?
- Do you get time off? If so, what do you do?
- What’s the different between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
- What do Sisters do?
- How do congregations or orders differ?
- Why do some priests and religious wear habits or clerical garb, while other don’t?
- Do I have to agree with all church teachings to be a priest or a member of a religious order?
- What distinguishes a brother from a priest?
- How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
- How old must one be to enter the seminary?
- How does one join a religious community?
- What impact does one’s sexual orientation or lifestyle have on becoming a priest or religious?
- What is a religious vow?
- What vows do diocesan priests make?
What do you do all day?
What a priest, brother or sister does with his or her day is so varied that only a sampling can be given here. Prayer, work and leisure are all necessary for a healthy life. We try to have a balance of all these, but we don’t always succeed.
In the area of work or ministry, many priests, brothers and sisters have one main occupation, such as teaching, parish ministry, social work, or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and predictable demands. Those of us who are contemplatives spend our day at prayer and at some kind of labour to sustain us.
The unpredictable are also interesting and challenging. They centre around meeting the needs of people; the sick, old, angry, hurt, hungry, imprisoned, excited, happy. We share with them our understanding, encouragement and support. We rejoice, cry, feel with them.
How important is prayer?
Because we have chosen a way of life which says by its very nature that God is most important, prayer has a central role in our lives. Prayer is communication with the Lord whom we love – and it is as necessary for us as communication is for any two persons who expect their relationship to continue. Can you imagine having a best friend or spouse to whom you never spoke?
Since prayer is so important, most priests and religious spend approximately two hours a day in prayer – part of that time with others, at Mass and in common oral prayer; part alone, in reading and quiet attentiveness. Probably the main benefit for prayer is that it makes us more sensitive to God’s activity in the people, events and circumstances of daily life.
Is prayer always easy?
Definitely not! There are lots of times we don’t feel like doing things that are basically important to us.
For example, an athlete doesn’t always feel life practising, a student doesn’t always feel like studying, a wage earner doesn’t always feel like working. However, in all these cases, because the activity in which we participate is important, we act on motives deeper than feelings, and do what we know needs to be done.
Do you get time off? If so, what do you do?
Priests, brothers and sisters have approximately the same amount of time of leisure time as most adults. In this time we are free to do whatever is legal, moral and reasonable for adults in our situation.
Obviously, since priests, brothers and sisters are unique individuals, we will not all choose the same types of recreation, and no one chooses the same activity every time. Common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends and enjoying the outdoors.
What’s the different between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves the church within a well-defined area (a diocese). He serves the people as a parish priest, buy may also be involved in other forms of ministry; teaching, chaplaincy in hospitals or prisons, campus ministry, etc.
A religious priest, on the other hand, is a member of a community which goes beyond the geographical limits of any diocese.
A religious priest seeks to live a vowed life within a community of men for mutual support and the accomplishment of some work. There is an emphasis in the community on shared ideals, prayer, and commitment to Christ. Religious priests work in a wide variety of ministries.
What do Sisters do?
The ministry choices for a woman religious arise from the founding purpose for her community, a prayerful discernment of her gifts, and an assessment within her community of the signs of the times. A woman religious and her community look together at the needs of the church and society in order to determine where best to direct their energies.
They way a particular sister spends her day depends, too, on the kind of community to which she belongs. Contemplative nuns often work to sustain their community in food and shelter – doing tasks such as gardening, baking, computer data entry or handiwork.
Active (apostolic) communities are involved in a myriad of ministries – usually with an emphasis on service such as education, social work or parish pastoral work.
How do congregations or orders differ?
Most groups of religious were founded at a time in history when travel and communication were very limited. Many congregations were founded at the same time for the same purpose, but at different places by people who didn’t know each other.
Founders had a specific spirit or charism they wanted to develop in their community (such as hospitality, simplicity or unity). The charism, the community’s specific ministries, and varying emphases on prayer and community life are the basic differences among religious communities. All are alike in their primary concern to spread the Gospel message.
Why do some priests and religious wear habits or clerical garb, while other don’t?
Those who maintain habit or clerical garb do so far various reasons. One is that religious dress is a sign – an instantly recognised symbol of faith in God and commitment to Christianity.
Another frequent rationale is that religious garb is simple dress and therefore a way to live out the vow of poverty. A sister, brother or priest who wears religious garb can own two or three changes of clothing and be free of the expense of a more extensive contemporary wardrobe.
Other communities say the habit is an important sign of penitence.
Some communities have opted to wear ordinary clothes, saying the most valid sing of Christian faith is lifestyle rather than garb. They contend that religious dress creates an undesirable barrier between them and the laity with whom they work. Furthermore, those who have discontinued wearing habits often say the original reason for religious garb was to wear the dress of the common people, and ordinary clothes are the common people’s dress nowadays.
Do I have to agree with all church teachings to be a priest or a member of a religious order?
Church teachings vary in gravity and centrality to the faith. To be a priest, brother or sister is to be a public person in the church. So if you have serious differences with matters essential to the faith, then vowed or ordained life for you might be conflictual.
However, some of the church’s greatest saints dissented on certain matters. Many founders of religious communities met with this very challenge as they sought to bring to birth something new for God’s people.
Consult with a few people – vocation directors, priests, religious, theology teachers – to ascertain what the church actually teaches today.
What distinguishes a brother from a priest?
A brother is a layman who commits himself to Christ by vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, lives in religious community, and works in nearly any job; teacher, cook, lawyer, etc. Brothers are not sacramental ministers.
How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
Generally it takes six to eight years to become a diocesan priest, the same as for many professions. These years are spend in spiritual, personal, intellectual and pastoral formation, which together prepare a man for ministry as a priest. His studies include philosophy, theology, the Scriptures, and liturgy.
How old must one be to enter the seminary?
There is no certain age to start preparing for the priesthood. Some men commence seminary formation within a few years of finishing school, others have studies and worked for a number of years.
How does one join a religious community?
The formation program involves several stages. While these vary form community to community in name, length of time, and format, the following outline gives a general view of formation programs.
What impact does one’s sexual orientation or lifestyle have on becoming a priest or religious?
Religious orders and dioceses are seeking people who are sexually integrated. Being sexually integrated means having a strong sense of self and understanding your own needs for affection and closeness.
Candidates to religious life or the priesthood should also have the gifts and talents to live celibately. They should understand what are appropriate expressions of love in a celibate context.
What is a religious vow?
A vow is a solemn promise made freely as an individual gives his or her life to God. Many communities make vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Some communities have other vows.
What vows do diocesan priests make?
Diocesan priests make no vows. For ordination, they freely make promises of celibacy and of obedience to their bishop.