How do I know if I am called to the diocesan priesthood or the religious priesthood?

Peter asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

I have been considering the priesthood as my vocation for some time. I am 15. Sometimes I have felt that it is, and other times that it isn’t my vocation. When I think of what service I could be others as a priest it makes me happier. So, here is my question. How do I know if I am called to the diocesan priesthood or the religious priesthood? I understand vocation is a gift from God, but how do I respond to it as a priest. Let me explain. When I look at my particular diocese I see the need for many good priests assisting these people. When I see my school I see many who do not know Christ and need spiritual guidance. I see all these problems in my own diocese and I want to fix them.

On the other hand, maybe I can serve Christ as a priest of an order I like a lot. Maybe I just would like to be a part of a religious order whose mission is to actively evangelize the Church. It is this order that really got me excited about the priesthood. If I were in it I might be able to serve Christ well as well. Can you help me? Thanks.

Dear Peter,

If you become a diocesan priest there will be a lot of work for you to do, you will serve Christ well and you will do much good. If you become a religious priest the same is true.

But when you look around you and see all the needs there are, you will also immediately realize that there is no way you can do everything, respond to every need and solve every problem. It may be frustrating but it is true that in order to do the good that God is calling you to, you will always have to leave much more undone. That is how limited we are as humans! The most we can aspire to do is the little bit (and it really is tiny) that God wants from us, and with our prayer and sacrifice in union with Christ make the effect of our little and poor work infinite through association with him.

So the important question to ask is, “Where does God want me to be?” Start by reflecting on which needs touch your heart the most, for when we have the proper intention and are not thinking just of ourselves, God often lets his voice be heard in the deepest longings of our heart. This is only a first step, because it is very rare to get a clear and definitive answer, but it does give us something to go on and investigate further; it is something to speak with our spiritual director about. A second question will give us more to go on: where do I really feel at home’? You can’t figure this one out in your head, you have to experience in some way both ways of life. So, visit your local diocesan seminary and go on a vocation weekend or retreat there, and then visit the religious order that started you thinking about the priesthood and do a vocation weekend or retreat there too. It is quite probable that one will attract you more than the other, that you will have felt “made” more for one than the other, and what you need to do then is speak about that with your spiritual director so he can help you sort through the reasons and what they mean. Usually, with a vocation to a religious community there is a feeling of strong identification with their goal and community life. In all of this, do not make the mistake of thinking that what God has made you for, your vocation, is going to be easy; no vocation is, whether marriage or consecrated life, diocesan or religious priesthood.

The priesthood is one, and both callings to it, the diocesan and religious, mean you will be identified with Christ the priest-victim who died on the Cross to redeem us, and this is going to ask of you great but beautiful sacrifice and enormous generosity if you are going to live up to the grace that is given you.

God Bless,

Fr. Anthony Signature