Dear Fr Anthony,
I’m almost positive that I want to be a priest as a career choice. At the moment I am a senior in High School and since it’s a pretty pivotal point I would like to know if you have any advice on colleges, areas of study or seminaries that I should look into. I live in Kansas and have a pretty strong academic record with an ACT score of 30 so I can get some scholarship money for college but not enough for a full ride. I really don’t know how the whole process of getting into a seminary works but I think I would like to get at least a little bit more of a general college education before committing to the priesthood. Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks.
What you are saying makes perfect sense humanly speaking, and it would be an impeccable approach if we were talking about a career like any other. However, when speaking about the vocation to the priesthood the approach you describe falls short.
In a career choice there isn’t usually much more at stake than the greater or lesser satisfaction you will get from the eventual job you land, and the size of your future paycheck on which to build your family. Of course there are some careers that some young people approach as a true calling, such as teaching and medicine, and they hope to make a difference in the world by exercising them, but the total consecration of yourself to God in the priesthood is in a whole different league by itself even in comparison with these.
When dealing with a career choice, the emphasis is going to be on my qualities, my abilities, my likes, what gives me satisfaction, my possibilities and the opportunities I have, plus a certain hedging of bets in case things don’t turn out exactly as I anticipate or there is a shift in my inclinations and opportunities.
When dealing with a vocation the focus is totally different, it has to always be: What does God want me to do? All the other considerations are secondary, and only in relation to this central question. It could well be that God is calling you to be a priest, but in order to find out it is not enough to approach it as you would a career. It has to be approached from the angle of your faith. What does God want, why did he give me life, what has he been telling me through his example and the gifts and opportunities he gave me, why did priesthood come into my mind at all, and above all: What is central to the priesthood, why is it that to be a priest he asks me to sacrifice the possibility of having a family, what does it mean to serve and to give your life for others. Reflecting on these questions draws us into prayer, so we cannot approach the vocation without praying, speaking with God, getting his take on things.
You can figure out your career by taking aptitude tests and leafing through a few brochures. Your vocation has to be figured out on your knees. You cannot even figure it out by examining what a priest does, you have to examine and discover what a priest is.
If you feel almost positive that you want to be a priest I think that your most immediate task is not to decide on what subjects to take in college, but first to find out if God really wants you to be a priest, and then take it from there. So, if you think you should be a diocesan priest go speak to the vocation director for your diocese or to your bishop; if you think that you should be in a religious community go speak to the vocation director of a community you know and feel drawn to, or start looking into communities until you find one that does attract you.
Once you pray and reflect, and take this step things will probably begin to get much clearer.