What is the difference between a diocesan and religious priest?
Religious orders are communities of men and women within the Church who are bound together by their faith and the solemn vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Orders are often distinguished by their respective charisms (i.e. gifts) which are expressed in the different forms of spirituality and types of work connected to that order. Full members of religious orders are known as sisters or brothers. They serve under the superiors of their order and are based in various dioceses with the permission of the local bishop, but are often moved between dioceses over the years. Some brothers are also ordained as priests. In this role they might be engaged in parish work, but are often involved in specialised ministries such as teaching, chaplaincy, spiritual direction, etc.
In contrast, a diocesan priest is more directly committed to a particular diocese, and belongs to the body of priests (called the presbyterate) of his diocese. He normally serves within the boundaries of his diocese under the authority of his bishop (the Archdiocese of Perth comprises the Perth metropolitan area south to Rockingham, north to Jurien Bay, and extends east to the Goldfields). Most diocesan priests work in parishes.
While a diocesan priest does not make the solemn vows that religious priests (and religious brothers and sisters) make, he does make promises of celibacy and obedience, and generally lives a simple lifestyle. Compared with the communal life of religious order priests, most diocesan priests live a life more like that of their people: he buys his own clothes and car, and he may own personal property. His parish is his primary community, and he is committed to serving their spiritual needs on a daily basis.
What if I think I’m being called to religious life or something else?
Though we have been tasked with focusing our promotional efforts on the diocesan priesthood, the team at the Vocations Office are certainly happy to be a first point of contact for anyone discerning any kind of vocation within the Church. There are similarities in the process of discerning for all vocations, and we are happy to meet with anyone wrestling with questions of discernment and to offer whatever help we can. Most religious orders have their own vocations promoters, and so for someone seriously considering religious life we could also help put them in touch with relevant contacts.
Further information about the various religious orders and other forms of consecrated life in Australia can be found here.
Why do priests have to remain celibate?
The primary model of the value of celibacy is Jesus himself, whose entire life was lived with an undivided love for God the Father. Ever since, many Christians have sought to follow Jesus’ example by living a life of celibate chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” as a sign of their undivided devotion to the Lord and their complete willingness to serve.
Priests, who act in the person of Christ, are called to imitate the celibacy of Christ. Though this has the benefit of making the priest more available to serve his people without the responsibilities of marriage, the primary reason for this is not a pragmatic one. Celibacy witnesses to a transcendent form of love, which prefigures the way that we will love in heaven. It is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but rather in union with God, both in this life and in the life to come.
The requirement of celibacy can be a source of anxiety for a man who is discerning the priesthood, particularly given our sex-saturated culture. Yet it is important to remember that God will never call a man where his grace cannot sustain him. Though he foregoes a family of his own, the priest is called to exercise a true spiritual fatherhood. By his generosity and fidelity to Christ, the priest’s ministry bears fruit in the spiritual growth of his flock.
Why aren’t there female priests in the Catholic Church?
Like no one else in antiquity, Jesus provocatively affirmed the value of women, bestowed his friendship on them, and protected them. He had many faithful women among his disciples, and the first witness to the Resurrection was a woman. Jesus was not an ordinary person, and he cannot be accused of simply acquiescing to the cultural norms of his day.
And though many of his female followers were no doubt holier than many of the men—most especially his Blessed Mother—Jesus chose only to ordain men to the ministerial priesthood. We can speculate about his reasons for this, but the end result is that the Church sees herself as bound to this choice of the Lord and thus lacking the authority to ordain women to the priesthood.
Given that priests act in the person of Christ, the Church’s tradition has seen the male priesthood as suitably representing the man Jesus. Many theologians also argue that the role of priest is inherently fatherly in nature. What cannot be accepted is that the male priesthood means that women are somehow less important in God’s plan of salvation. It is worth remembering that, contrary to popular opinion, the priesthood is not primarily about power but about service. Real power within the Church comes from being a saint, and this is something that holy women have been doing for two thousand years.
My son is considering the priesthood. Should I be worried?
All parents want the best for their children. And, while a good career and a healthy family is certainly a wonderful thing, it is not inconceivable that God may have something else in mind for your children. Allowing children to discern their own path as they mature can be difficult for any parent, particularly if they are considering something as counter-cultural as the priesthood or religious life. And yet, no parent would want to find themselves fighting against God if this is truly what he desires for their child.
Some parents worry that their son might be lonely as a priest. It is true that the life of a priest requires periods of solitude for prayer, reflection, homily preparation and rest. And yet, priestly ministry is also filled with constant interaction with others, including parishioners, families, and brother priests. Indeed, priests’ lives can be so filled with people that many seek out periodic alone-time in order to recharge.
It is important to remember that no life follows the Hollywood storyline: all lives will have their share suffering. And yet, while the priesthood is indeed challenging, it is also very fulfilling. If your son truly is being called by God to the priesthood, he will not find ultimate fulfilment doing anything else. Contrary to what some expect, priests are on the whole very happy in their ministry and report a higher rate of vocational satisfaction than most other forms of work.
If your son is considering the priesthood, the best thing you can do is to be understanding and encouraging. Ask him how you can support him. He may want to keep his discernment confidential for the time-being, which is important to respect. The materials on this website may help you learn more about the vocation he is considering. Most of all, we would encourage you to pray for him. Give thanks to God for his life, and ask the Lord to assist your son in discerning God’s will for him.
I’m not going to be a priest myself, but what can I do to help?
The most helpful thing that people can do to assist the work of the Vocations Office is to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Archdiocese of Perth. Pray in particular for those who are currently striving to discern the Lord’s will for their life. A prayer for vocations is included below.
Another way to help is to assist in spreading our promotional efforts. Like our Facebook page to receive regular updates of vocations-related news and events, and share this information with your networks and friends.
Prayer for Vocations
Almighty and eternal God,
in your unfailing love
you never fail to provide
ministers for your Church.
We pray for those whom you call
to serve the Church in Perth
as priests and religious.
Grant them courage,
and inspire in them
a generous response
to your call.
Send forth workers into your harvest,
so that the Gospel is preached,
the poor are served with love,
the suffering are comforted,
and your people are strengthened
by the sacraments.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.