Question & Answer with Fr. Anthony

Lay Therapist or Priest?

Jason asks:

Father Anthony,

I’m a convert to the faith of four years. I have officially been in discernment for two years. I’m studying to be a psychotherapist, I have some experience in youth works and I’m planning on going to the seminary next year for which I have my Archbishops approval. My attraction to the priesthood is mainly to hear confession. That seems to me the most priestly thing a priest does, and by far it seems to me a greater therapy than anything I have learned in four years of university study. Is wanting to be a priest to offer sacramental therapy a bad reason to join? I could serve the church as a lay therapist, which would free me up to marry and raise a family, I love kids and have all the normal attractions to women. I continue to daydream about being a counsellor priest, but sometimes I daydream about being a counsellor family man. My desire is to serve the Christ in others, to bring him to them, and doing this would make me happy. But, aren’t I supposed to desire priesthood for me too, and not just because it enables me to give something I otherwise do not have? Will I be happy doing this for the rest of my days? Father, as you do not know me, yours is an outside opinion. May I please have it?

With thanks and prayers,

Jason, of New Zealand.

Dear Jason,

As you can see, the Holy Spirit is guiding you and, as you correspond he continues to open up new opportunities and depth in your journey to becoming more fully identified with Christ until “it is no longer you, but Christ living in you” as Paul said of himself to the Galatians.

As regards the motivations behind your present desire to be a priest, we have to remember that as long as we are in this life we are in a growth mode—we are by no means perfect and growth is not only a possibility but a continuously open necessity in our Christian vocation. The same goes for your vocation and the motives behind it. Most commonly, our vocation journey starts with an attraction that is a mixture of what we can term “external and internal” motives; taking your description of your own situation we could say that the type of work you would like to do (counseling) is an external motivation, and wanting to serve Christ in them and bring him to them is the internal dimension. (These are not technical terms, I’m just trying to get the idea across.) By mentioning confession you are also underlining the huge difference between counseling and the specifically priestly power of absolving from sin, and your words also show that you know the “price” of being able to do that wonderful service to souls is your own willingness to sacrifice spousal love and family life.

My outside opinion is that you are at a good starting point to follow your vocation because beyond the “external” aspect you have a much deeper spiritual motive and you are aware of the cost—plus, and this is important, you have been accepted by your Archbishop. Over time, by deepening in your prayer-life and through spiritual guidance you can expect to progress from the goal of being a “counselor-priest” to a greater understanding of the essence of the priesthood itself, to the point where simply being a priest overshadows every other consideration and you are willing in imitation of Christ to offer yourself totally to the Father for him to use you as he wants. You may find Bishop Fulton Sheen’s two books, “The Priest is Not His Own” and “Those Mysterious Priests”, of use as you prepare yourself for the next step. Count also on my prayers.

God Bless,

Fr. Anthony Signature