Every journey towards priesthood is unique but the following might give some insight into the shape a “typical route” might take:
Called to Baptism
I am not baptised (christened) but deep within me there is a sense that I am being drawn to something beyond myself and my present experience. I would like to explore whether or not this is an invitation from God to share His life with me. In particular, I would like to know more about the Catholic Church.
Living a Christian Life
I know God loves me and has called me by name. I know God wants me to live out my life in response to that call to holiness and my baptism into God’s “chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation”. (1 Pet 2:9) I want to respond generously to that call.
Discerning my Particular Vocation
I want to discern what “definite service” God has planned for me. I pray, asking the Lord what He has in mind for me and opening my heart to Him. I begin to speak to friends and/or family and/or other trusted people. Is God calling me to married life? Or consecrated life? Or priesthood? Or the permanent diaconate? Or single life?
Confirming my Personal Discernment
I want to ask the Church to help me discern my vocation so I speak to a priest or another person of faith whom I know/get on with/trust. They will begin to help me see the Lord’s hand at work in my life and to recognise the way in which He is guiding and calling me. If they think it would be helpful, they might put me in touch with a spiritual director or point me in the direction of resources and gatherings to give me opportunity to explore my vocation further. For particular vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life or permanent diaconate, I will begin to have conversations with the vocations promoter/director or their equivalent.
I’m ready now to offer myself to God through this vocation. In the context of a particular vocation to marriage, this is the “engagement”. In the context of making a commitment to Single Life, we might want to mark this informally in some way. With regard to the other particular vocations, if the vocation director, or other their equivalent, agrees that I am ready, I begin the formal application. This might include writing about my faith journey; a psychological assessment, undergoing safeguarding checks; a selection weekend with interviews looking at my relationship with God and others as well as my academic ability (to check I will be able to cope with the studies). There will also be an interview with the Bishop or Religious Superior, who is responsible for the final decision.
I need to prepare myself to be ready to undertake this commitment. If I am planning to get married, my fiancé(e) and I will need to speak to our parish priest to make bookings and talk through the practicalities as well as find out about what marriage preparation is available. If the Bishop or Religious Superior accepts me I will begin my studies for the diocesan priesthood, consecrated life or permanent diaconate. This is likely to last several years. This time will give me and the diocese or religious community further opportunities to discern my vocation and for me to undergo formation in the following areas: spiritual, human, pastoral and academic. As with each of these stages I will be offered support in lots of different ways and will need to take increasing responsibility for my own formation.
I am ready now to celebrate God’s calling in a formal way. This is usually marked with a sacramental celebration and is a time of great joy for me and for the whole Church. The path is far from complete and it will take me on many ups and downs, leading towards the cross of Christ. But this same Christ is always alongside me, accompanying me on my journey until we encounter the face of Jesus and He leads deeper into the “past-all-graspness of the pathless God”
(Fr Karl Rahner)…