Photo by Jeff Witherow/Catholic Courier

About Priesthood

What does a priest do?

Priests are a witness to the person of Jesus Christ. This is a challenge to many people, including priests, who must demonstrate this commitment publicly, especially in difficult times. It is hard to answer this question exactly, because the focus of a priest’s life is to serve whomever God brings into his life. This requires a certain openness to the unexpected. As representatives of Christ, priests are called to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, care for the souls of the faithful, teach the faith, pray, serve the poor. Priests in our diocese serve in parishes, hospitals, prisons, college campuses and the military, to name a few. One thing is for sure, it’s never boring and often unpredictable!

Are priests happy with their life?

YES! Most priests say that they derive immense happiness and deep satisfaction from their work. They are invited to share in the most important moments of peoples’ lives. Sure, there are times of discouragement, frustration, and fatigue– everyone has those. If you ask a priest if he would do it again, chances are he would say yes!

Yeah, but what does a priest ‘do’?

Oh! Weekends tend to be filled with many things such as Mass, weddings, baptisms, youth ministry, etc. As for the rest of the week, it may be spent working with church groups (e.g. religious education, future planning, outreach to the poor, financial matters of the parish, etc.) or with individuals (preparing for marriage, dealing with loss, the sick, those in need of spiritual counseling, etc.).

How important is prayer to a priest?

Prayer is essential and necessary, since the priesthood reflects a life which places God at the center. Priests set aside regular time for prayer each day with others (at Mass and in common prayer) and in solitude (spiritual reading and quiet contemplation). Just as it is important to communicate with a best friend or a spouse, a priest must communicate intimately and frequently with the center of his life: Jesus Christ. Prayer makes us more sensitive to God’s activity in the people, events, and circumstances of daily life. This frequent intimacy with the Lord allows priests to faithfully serve God’s people and to stay faithful to the commitments he has made.

What’s the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?

A diocesan priest serves the Church within a geographical area of the church, known as a “diocese.” Ordinarily, he serves the people as a parish priest, but he may also be involved in many other forms of ministry (see above). The people of his parish become his primary “faith community.” Diocesan priests do not make vows, but make life-long promises of celibacy and obedience to their bishop. A religious priest is a member of a community that goes beyond the geographical limits of any diocese. For a religious priest, the other members of his order constitute the primary community in which he lives and worships. A religious priest does make vows and promises, but they may differ depending on the order.

Why Celibacy?

Celibacy is about saying yes to a relationship with one person: Jesus Christ. Like a marriage, the priest commits himself to Christ to nourish this special relationship. Some people understand celibacy in a negative sense as being unable to be married, to have marital relations, or to have children. This is an insufficient understanding of celibacy. It would be similar to understanding marriage as the inability to marry many people because you are committing yourself to marrying one. We don’t look at marriage that way. We see marriage in terms of gaining a special relationship. The same is true of celibacy.

Do priests get paid?

Yes, priests do receive a salary and benefits. However, no one becomes a priest because of the money, that’s for sure! You obviously can’t put a price tag on the spiritual rewards of being a priest and dedicating one’s life to God. Diocesan priests are not expected to live in destitution but they are expected to live a life of simplicity. A priest’s salary is expected to cover normal living expenses, such as buying a car and putting gas in it, purchasing clothes, paying taxes, etc. In addition, housing, food, and insurance are covered by the parish. A priest’s salary is more than adequate to pay for his expenses and also gives him the freedom to be able to enjoy leisure activities.

Do priests receive vacation time? What do priests do with their time off?

Yes, priests receive vacation time. Like all people, it is necessary for a healthy life. In our diocese, priests are given a weekly day off and vacation times throughout the year. Priests enjoy the same kinds of things that other adults do – music, sports, travel, visiting friends, watching TV, or just relaxing with a good book. In the Diocese of Rochester, some of our priests do pretty interesting things outside of their ministry. We have volunteer firemen and deputy sheriffs, airplane pilots, National Guards, musicians, lawyers, gourmet cooks, authors, and on and on. Each person is free to and should pursue his favorite leisure activity.

Can you retire from the priesthood?

Priests can retire from active ministry, but not the priesthood. Priests do not retire from loving God’s people or service to the Church. Most senior priests are still very active in the life of our diocese.