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What Kind of Priest Do You Want to Be?

Scott Francis Miller Article, Holy Orders, Sacraments Leave a Comment

What kind of priest do you want to be?  It’s not as simple a question to answer as you might think.  During this whole time you have been discerning what potentially is a call to the priesthood and you are certain without a doubt in your heart that this is what God is calling you to do with your life.  That is great! Now…what type priest do you want to be?  Do you want to be a parish priest? A missionary? A cloistered monk?  The options and choices available to you are numerous.

Priests are divided into 2 categories: secular (diocesan) priests and religious priests. Religious communities are divided into 2 categories: societies of apostolic life and communities of consecrated life. 
When I started my discernment journey about 25 years ago…yikes! That’s a long time! It’s been a very long and drawn out journey for me, which many twists and turns and obstacles along the way.  When I started my discernment, I was enrolled in a high school seminary in New Jersey, run by both the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).  I was a candidate for the Redemptorist Fathers, as I came from a Redemptorist parish in Brooklyn, New York.  After two years, the school closed and I returned to NYC and attended the high school seminary for the Diocese of Brooklyn.  After high school I attended the college seminary for the Brooklyn diocese, but left after my first semester.  Diocesan life is not what I wanted for myself, nor did I feel God was calling me to that life.  Is there something wrong with being a diocesan priest? Absolutely not!  Some of the best priests I know are diocesan priests and they are great priests.  So, what is the difference?  Isn’t a priest a priest, no matter what? Not exactly!  Let me explain why…

Priests are divided into 2 categories: secular (diocesan) priests and religious priests.  Secular, or diocesan, priests are incardinated into specific geographical locations known as dioceses, to serve mostly in parishes, possibly as teaching priests or serve in administrative capacities.  They take their direction and orders from the ordinary bishop of the diocese in which they serve.  Religious priests are priests who are members of a religious community, who all work together to serve a particular mission that their community fosters.  Religious communities are divided into 2 categories: societies of apostolic life and communities of consecrated life.

It has always been traditionally known that priests make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  This is not true for all priests.  It is standard when a priest is ordained, that he makes vows to live a life of celibate chastity and to be obedient to his religious superiors and the bishops under which they serve.  Diocesan priests, however, do not make vows of poverty and are therefore allowed to maintain personal property and collect a salary if they so choose.

Societies of apostolic life do not make specific vows, but rather “promises” to their community in which they commit themselves to the specific mission and charisms of the community.  They do not profess vows of poverty, but rather profess to live a life of “gospel simplicity”.  They are allowed to own personal possessions and maintain any financial holdings in their name prior to joining community and after joining, but any salary they earn while as a member of the community goes not to them but to the community.  Like members of communities of consecrated life, they must live with other members of their community.

Communities of consecrated life are much different than societies of apostolic life.  Those in consecrated life live in community with each other and they do profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, even before ordination.  Most do not allow their members to maintain personal, individual property.  Any property belonging to the individual at the time they enter the community becomes communal property and is shared by all within the community.  Some in consecrated life live in cloistered communities, in which they have virtual isolation from the public, with a rare few exceptions.

Diocesan priests do not make vows of poverty and are therefore allowed to maintain personal property and collect a salary if they so choose.
I am currently in discernment with the Paulist Fathers, a society of apostolic life.  I am currently in the application process in hopes of entering their formation program in August of 2016.  My discernment with them has been ongoing for 2 years now and I must say, the journey has been interesting, eye opening but most definitely rewarding.

As I stated in the beginning of this series, this journey is not an easy one to embark on.  It is going to be scary, un-nerving, confusing, stressful but hopefully informative, fun and rewarding.  Just continue to pray, seek counsel, go on discernment retreats, visit some communities and orders.  Find where you think you best fit in. Overall, trust in God.  He knows what he is doing even if you do not think He does.

Keep an eye out for my next 2 articles in which I will report on interviews I gave recently with my vocation director, Fr. Larry Rice of the Paulist Fathers, and the vocation director for the Diocese of Brooklyn, Fr. Sean Suckiel.  These are vastly different men who seemed destined for the positions they are currently holding.  Stay tuned.

About the Author

Scott Francis Miller

My name is Scott and was born and raised in New York City. I am what some may call a "cradle" Catholic, which means the Catholic faith has been a dominant and welcome part of my life, from birth to now. I am currently working towards my undergraduate degree while discerning a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I am currently a member of St. Paul the Apostle parish in NYC, where I serve as a catechist and a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. I, along with Jon, Steven and Colleen, look forward to sharing my Catholic faith with you.