By this sacrament of grace men are ordained to serve God and his people as deacons, priests, or bishops. This is a sacrament not chosen, but embraced only if one is called to ordained ministry by God. Jesus Christ is the one, perfect, and eternal priest – the mediator between God and man. Those ordained through Holy Orders share in Christ’s own ministry by offering his sacraments of love to the people of God.
How Do I Know If God Is Calling Me To Be A Priest?
Are you being called by Jesus? The answer is a clear ‘Yes!’ Each of us is being asked to do something a little special for God. He has a project for you, a will of love. He created you with a lot of care, ‘gracing’ you with special gifts and blessings. He looks at you now, loving you as you are but seeing you with an eye to your future. To know his will for you is to discover your potential, your true identity, who you really are!
Jesus is calling you. You are already living your first vocation – to follow him, to be his disciple. But what special task is Jesus asking of you? One thing is very important as you continue your searching: you came to discover your calling on your own! However strong your feelings and convictions, Jesus speaks to you and comes to you through his Church, and you will need the Church to help you discern your vocation and to confirm it in Jesus’ name.
The voice of the Lord
Jesus called his apostles in a very personal way. He went to them where they were, spent time with them and called them by name. He calls people to be priests in the same way today, but his presence and his voice are silent and mysterious. You are unlikely to hear a booming voice from on high saying, ‘Be my priest’! Your experience will probably be much the same as Elijah: he found God not in the mighty wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle breeze (I Kings 19. 9:14). Jesus comes to you and calls you in a way that never forces itself upon you. His voice reaches deep within you but leaves you totally free. You will hear that voice in the silence of your prayer, in the words of the Scriptures and in the words and lives of those around you. So often it is through a simple suggestion by another priest or someone else that the Lord first brings alive his call in a person’s heart.
‘Come and see’ (John 1. 39)
Jesus is with you where you are, at home, at work, college or school. It is there, in your ordinary daily life, that he wil1 come to you. It is there that you must listen for his voice, and open yourself to whatever his call may be. If you ask Jesus, ‘What do you want of me?’ he will say ‘Come and see’. It is vital that you spend time with him in prayer and reflection. Then you are more likely to hear his voice in whatever way he calls to you.
No two people are quite the same, and Jesus approaches different people in different ways. He treats us as individuals. He will come to you in your particular circumstances, to you as God has made you and as you are now, with all your warts and weaknesses. It is always Jesus who makes the first move: ‘You did not choose me; no, I chose you’ (John 15. 16). 11e is the first to love and to trust. He already now puts his trust in you, and wants to entrust you with some special task – perhaps service as a priest.
A strong feeling
The first sign that Jesus may well be calling you to be a priest is a strong feeling deep within you. It is there that the voice of Jesus will reach, stirring you to listen more deeply and to discover his loving will for you in his Church.
You may already have had such feelings in the past. Perhaps at primary school you used to dress up as a priest and play at saying Mass! Perhaps as an altar server you felt you would like to be there where ‘Father’ was. Perhaps you knew a priest who inspired you in a way that made you want to be like him. Your attraction to the priesthood may have been very strong at one time, but it came and went. Perhaps you pushed the idea to one side, embarrassed, anxious and rather afraid. Now it is beginning to return, or perhaps you are having such feelings for the first time.
That feeling within you is very important! You may have had some great moment when you felt deeply called: perhaps on retreat, at Lourdes, at an ordination, watching a film or reading a book about the life of a priest, or as you saw the priest at Mass. What matters more is that your feeling grows into a settled sense that this is the Lord’s will for you. It will need the test of time. You may have to wrestle with the idea over several years. Time will give you the chance to look at your motives, and to explore other options with an open heart. If in the end the persistent and surviving thought is the priesthood that will be a strong indication that Jesus may well be calling you to be a priest.
‘Let your will be done, not mine’ (Luke 22.42)
Certainly Jesus is speaking to you, calling you. We are often not very good at recognizing his call straight away. Like Samuel, we can mistake it for something else (1 Samuel 3.1-10). Sometimes after a deep conversion experience or a new enthusiasm at being received into the Church, we can mistake our strong sense of a call to dedicate ourselves to God, for a call to the priesthood. It may well be a call to serve as a dedicated lay person in some special way. You will need to listen very openly and humbly.
Any true disciple seeks not what ‘I want’ but what God wants. It is a sign of our love for the Lord who loves us. He may well place in your heart a deep desire to be a priest, and wanting to be ordained can be an important sign that the Lord is calling you. But a strong feeling or desire is not necessarily such a sign. We can mistake God’s call, even when we are really committed to him. The apostles themselves were good examples of this. Their enthusiasm for Jesus did not prevent them from misdirecting that enthusiasm!
The priesthood is not something I can pick out for myself or give myself. I cannot push myself forward for ordination, or seek it on my own terms. The Lord’s call cannot be forced by my own desire or choice. It is pure gift. It is always a response to his summons, his call, his choice of me. No matter how strongly I would like to be a priest, it is his will that matters, not mine.
There is no right to the priesthood. One cannot choose it as one chooses this job or that. One can only be chosen for it – by him. To be a priest does not belong to the list of human rights, and no one can sue to obtain it. He calls those whom he desires… For those who have received this call this means: He wants me. There is a will of Jesus concerned with me. I must enter into this will and mature within it. It is the space within which I must live. Our life will become the more fulfilled and free the more we become one with his will in which the most profound truth of our own self is contained. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)
A surprising choice!
What God asks of us is always a surprise! You may think that you lack the gifts needed for priestly service, or that you already have those that are necessary. We are not always the best judges of the ways God has gifted us, and discovering our key gifts often takes time: they may not be what we think they are! You can imagine Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ call to him to be a ‘rock’ for others: ‘What me, a rock?’
You may find the growing feeling of a call to the priesthood very disturbing. You feel unworthy, unsuited, unable to cope. That is perfectly natural. You may have said ‘No’ in the past, or be trying to say ‘No’ now. Others have done the same. Peter’s response was ‘Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5. 8). Moses asked, ‘Who am I to do this?’ (Exodus 3. 11) and suggested that God ask someone else! (Exodus 4. 13). The Lord can cope with our ‘No’, but he never takes back or regrets his choice (Romans 11. 29).
What God asks of us is always too much, left to ourselves. Like Mary, mother of the Lord, it is natural for us to ask, ‘But how can this come about?’ (Luke 1. 34). God’s response to us is the same as to Moses: ‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3. 12). And in our feeling of being unworthy and barren, he says to us as he said to Mary about Elizabeth, ‘Nothing is impossible to God’ (Luke 1. 37).
Into the wilderness
As the Lord’s call reaches deeper within us and begins to call forth a ‘Yes’ in our hearts, we can expect to be tempted. As soon as Jesus was confirmed in his ministry at his baptism in the Jordan, he was led into the wilderness to be tempted away from his vocation (Luke 4. 1-13). The same will happen to you. Such temptation can either lead you to reject or distort God’s call, or it can strengthen your resolve to discover and accept it as your vocation.
Called through the Church
The path to ordination begins with the feeling that you would like to be a priest, that you are being called by the Lord. You explore the idea, pray about it and test it with time.
But you still ask, ‘How can I be sure it is what Jesus wants?’ On you own, you cannot, no matter how strong the feeling inside you. God’s call comes to your heart in a very personal way, but it comes to you as a member of the Church, though the Church and for the service of the Church.
Personal but not private
Some people see the bond between us and God in very individualistic terms, as something rather private. They think of God calling people directly, without the Church. A vocation is something very personal, but it is never private. We need to go back to St Paul’s great vision of the Church as the Body of Christ. We are all vital members, needing and needed by each other. Jesus comes to us through the life of his Body, his community of faith. His gifts are for building up the Body of Christ. That community itself is the ‘fullness of Christ’, the way Jesus reaches the world and the way we ourselves meet him as his disciples. This is a very important point. We should not expect Jesus to call someone to be a leader in the Church in a way which excludes the Church itself.
From within and without
If a calling is truly from God, it will come through your brothers and sisters in the Church as well as within yourself. Your feeling of being called needs confirmation. You cannot really be confident in a vocation if is based purely on your feelings, no matter how strong. When there is a real rapport between your own settled feeling and the settled feeling of others, when they start to ‘click’, then you can begin to be sure. A sure‑safe vocation is found in a marriage between a sense of a call to your heart and a call from ‘outside’ yourself, from the Church community.
You will need other people to help you discover what God is asking of you. These may include your family and friends, those you work with, people at Church, your local priest, school or college chaplain, or a priest friend. You must allow them to be really honest with you. The confirmation you need may come without you even having to ask. If people come to you and say, ‘I think you would make a good priest’ or ask ‘Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?’, then perhaps Jesus is calling you gently through their questions. Ask them why they think you might be suitable. The feelings and ideas of others can be truly blessed, and their thoughts may be the thoughts of the Lord!
Your parish priest
Feel free to discuss the possibility of your being called to ordained ministry with your pastor or another priest of your acquaintance. He will be happy to listen, and to share how he himself felt called by God to service in the Church. He will also help guide you to some of the important questions to ask, and ways to discern God’s plan for your life. Remember – he was once in the same place you are now.
Your bishop and your calling
In the end, it is your bishop who has the task of discerning your gifts and vocation. The call to the priest hood is a very special gift or charism. It is not a private blessing, but a summons to public service, in and for the Church. As the one who speaks in a special way for Jesus and his Church, your bishop will play a vital role in helping you to discover and fulfill the call of Jesus. Only when he lays hands on you at your ordination can you be fully sure that you are called to be a priest.
Through the apostles Jesus called others to share his ministry. He continues this today, through his bishops. We cannot totally separate Jesus’ silent call to our hearts and the bishop’s acceptance of our vocation. The bishop is in the fullest sense the living instrument of the Good Shepherd himself, and the ministry of a priest makes no sense apart from the bishop who calls a man to share his ministry. It is his confirmation above all that you will need before you can be really confident about the feeling you have.
Click here to visit the Vocations webpage of the Archdiocese of Boston. It contains helpful information and links on priesthood, the permanent diaconate, and religious life.
Click here to read about the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.