Fr Matthew d’Hereaux , Vocations Director answers
Q: The Archdiocese of Port of Spain has a thriving permanent diaconate ministry. Should I just become a permanent deacon and serve the Lord in the same way while having a wife and children?
The ministerial priesthood and the permanent diaconate are two distinct ministries that the Lord has raised up in the Church to serve the people of God. God calls specific men to specific ministries. If God is calling you to the priesthood, I suggest you be open to it and embrace it with both hands because it is there you will be at peace with yourself.
Although the permanent diaconate is attractive to many young men today, if they apply to the diaconate and be ordained, I don’t think they would be truly happy if they were called in the first place to the ministerial priesthood. In short, they would have missed their call in life.
Q: How can I know God is really calling me to the priesthood?
The Church helps a young man to discern if God is really calling him to the priesthood through discernment programmes and seminary formation. The young man is never left alone to act on this most significant journey. Over a period of time, with the help of formators and spiritual directors, and the lay community, the seminarian will come to the point when he will know whether or not he is being called by God to the priesthood.
Some of the signs of a call to the priesthood include an attraction to service and priestly ministry. Other signs are a restlessness with social and romantic relationships and or a sense that something is missing in life.
A clear sign is a desire to leave behind family, money, and job even if one isn’t absolutely sure about the priesthood. Always remember this: A call is a movement from a secure now into an insecure future.
Q: I heard about the Aspirancy House in St Joseph parish. What is this about? Do I have to be part of this programme before going to the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs (SJVUM)?
The Aspirancy is a year-long programme that helps men transition from family and jobs to more structured and serious discernment during the course of one year. It is meant to provide a space for prayer, reflection, spiritual direction, human formation, and exploration of the meaning of priesthood and service. Yes, it is the policy of the Archdiocese to complete this year before applying to the Seminary. It’s a preparation period for more spiritual, intellectual, pastoral, and human formation that the seminarian is called to freely embrace on his journey to ordination.
Q: Do I have to pay my way through the Aspirancy or seminary?
Applicants to the St Joseph Aspirancy House or seminarian at SJVUM are not obligated to pay their way through discernment and formation. They are expected to assist in all fundraising activities as well as in our garden and animal husbandry programmes which are partly designed to supplement the food bill at these two communities.
Q: I am a 30-year-old man and want to serve the Lord, but I hear that celibacy is hard. Why must the Church insist on this discipline?
I agree that celibacy is hard, but it is not impossible. It is a gift that every seminarian and priest must pray for daily. It is something that grows on us through grace and healthy friendships with appropriate boundaries.
The Church has the discipline of celibacy for two major reasons: one, in imitation of Christ who was celibate Himself and secondly, as a sign of the Kingdom of God. Celibate living does not deprive one of love; it allows the priest to love everyone in a non-exclusive way.
Q: Does obedience mean giving up my voice, personality, and freedom?
Obedience to the bishop allows for the development of the virtues of humility and big-picture thinking. The bishop many times has the big picture and as priests we are called to cooperate with the big picture.
Obedience is like a chisel that chips away our egos and individualism. When a priest obeys the bishop, he is enhanced spiritually and morally because it calls for a big-heartedness and self-confidence to be obedient even if you don’t agree with some decisions.
Obedience is an adventure of trust in God. Self-expression, personality celebration and personal freedom are actually encouraged in the priesthood through creative ministry, ongoing formation, and self-care.
Q: I am a professional. Do I have to leave this profession behind for the priesthood?
Well, it depends on the profession. If your profession is pro social and pro person, there is room for you in the priesthood. If your profession protects human dignity, of course it is welcomed in the Church.
The religious priesthood and some dioceses will find ministries complementary to the profession the seminarian or priest has. The basic principle is twofold: judge each person and profession on its own merit and secondly, how can the said profession complement the work of the local Church.
Q: I would like to be a diocesan priest, but I am concerned about financial independence. Can you tell me a little more about this touchy topic?
Diocesan priests do not take vows of poverty as religious priests do but are expected to live simple lives. The basic principle of simple living is based on the biblical principle – the love of money is the root of all evil and secondly, the notion of solidarity. That is, sharing with others, especially the poor.
Gustavo Gutierrez once said, “Live simply that others may simply live.” This profound statement summarises how a diocesan priest should live. You do not lose your financial independence but as a diocesan priest you are expected to be responsible in spending.
Q: There is a perception that the priesthood isn’t challenging, and that priests just say Mass and have nothing really to do during the rest of the day especially during the week. Can you throw light on this?
This is one of the great misconceptions of the diocesan priesthood, especially the parish priest. I can tell you there is so much to do every day! Trust me, there are not enough hours in the day to do what a priest is called to do.
The priest has schools to visit and sick to anoint. The priest prepares men and women for marriage. The priest comforts people in grief. This is just part of the day.
The priest is peacemaker, administrator. He is friend and pastor. It is a very fulfilling and active life. The parish priesthood really challenges us to be creative, to read more, to update ourselves theologically and socially with new trends in the world.
Q: If I enter the Aspirancy House in St Joseph, do I have to cut ties with friends and family for the duration of the programme?
Aspirants are encouraged to balance family, friendships, and personal reflection. It is not accurate to say ties must be cut. In fact, the aspirants are encouraged to maintain ties with family and positive friendships that can support him in his journey.
Please join Generation S on Instagram (IG) Live every fourth Thursday of the month at 8 p.m. Here you get to ask many more questions about the priesthood and religious life.
Next IG Live is Thursday, May 25. The topic of discussion is: ‘Why be afraid of celibacy?’.