Who can apply? Some thoughts on discernment


I have been vocation director for almost thirty years now in the Diocese of Down and Connor.It has been an immense privilege as I have ‘walked’ with hundreds of young men in their journey of discernment and fidelity to the Lord. Most of these have chosen to remain on in lay life and serve God in this way but many have taken the path which leads to ordination. Some of these men are now my colleagues in the diocese.

It would be invidious of me to even suggest a ‘blueprint’ for the ideal priest. If I started to do that someone reading this might well rule themselves out. Indeed when I think back to my own profile many years ago I might have ruled myself out ! Yet at the risk of perhaps annoying someone here is my checklist of basic criteria for a young man who wants to become a priest.

  1. You must love Jesus or at least try to – not just ‘God’ in a vague sort of way . Jesus is the reason you get up in the morning. He is the One you want to serve. He is the One you bring your needs and problems to at the beginning and the end of the day. You must be a person who prays !
  2. You want to tell others about Jesus because you believe. He will make a difference in their lives as He has in yours. If you have found the ‘Bread of Life’ you want to give it to others. If you believe you have found the ‘Way,Truth and Life’ you want to tell others about it.
  3. You want to help others make sense of life and you know God has a plan for their lives too. I am not asking you to be a social worker or a teacher or a counsellor though you could do a bit of all those wonderful vocations in your life as a priest. I would like you to be  someone who believes deeply that only God can satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. A wise bishop called Augustine wrote that thought on the first page of his autobiography 1600 years ago.
  4. You are prepared to give up everything for Jesus – a wife, a family, possessions, property,fame – because he is for you ‘the Pearl of Great Price’,the ‘Treasure in the Field’. You know that in giving up everything Jesus will give you back it all a hundred fold !
  5. You are ready to be obedient to the Bishop or your superior to send you wherever he wants because you trust he has the bigger picture and knows where best you can make a difference.

Yes, you need to have reasonable health but we are not looking for Olympic athletes. You need to have reasonable intelligence but we are not looking for an Einstein. The priesthood needs men who are comfortable running a parish and meeting people in their homes as well as men who could teach in a university. Indeed it would be good if even now you are involved in some way in your parish or local community.

The Church above all needs saints – men and women who are passionate about the Gospel and who believe it has the answer for our day and age. Don’t be overawed. Bring your little bit – the few loaves and fish like the boy in the Gospel – and let Jesus do the rest.

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