By Fr Mark Impson, Director of Vocations of the Diocese of Aberdeen.
These days it takes a lot of courage to follow a vocation to the priesthood especially because, in our society, it is a lifestyle which is so counter-cultural. For men who do feel that God is calling them to this way of life there is a process which needs to be followed.
Clearly the first step is to discern whether or not there is a call from God, (a vocation). This discernment is not taken in isolation because we cannot discern God’s will alone. It might be the case that fellow parishioners or friends have suggested that the priesthood might be something to be considered. The suggestion might also come from a parish priest. But once the seed has been sown it needs to be carefully considered and taken to prayer. It would be beneficial to talk to a spiritual guide or a spiritual director to help formulate one’s thoughts to ensure the right path is followed. It is also important at this time to consider whether the call is to diocesan priesthood or a call to the religious life.
Once reasonable clarity has been formed, and the decision made to take the matter further, it is necessary to have a conversation with the parish priest. If the parish priest affirms the possibility of a vocation he will put a potential candidate in touch with the Diocesan Vocations Director and/or a vocations director for a particular religious order.
A candidate for the diocesan priesthood is accepted by a diocese, and the training and formation will be directed to the goal of being ordained for the diocese. A candidate for religious priesthood will firstly consider which religious order he might be called to and his formation will take place as part of the processof joining and becoming a member of the religious order.
For candidates to Diocesan priesthood the Diocesan Vocations Director will meet with candidates for two or three informal meetings/interviews. This is another way to help a candidate to discern God’s call. If a candidate and the Diocesan Vocations Director discern that a future in the priesthood is a possibility a formal application process begins. This involves the completion of a substantial application form which will entail the gathering of important documentation and references. It will also include a psychological assessment and, for safeguarding purposes, the completion of a PVG, (Protecting Vulnerable Groups), necessary for all people who undertake regulated work with children or vulnerable adults.
In the Autumn months of any given year candidates will be invited to participate in three weekends of discernment organised at a national level and usually this takes place somewhere in the central belt of Scotland. The final weekend will include a formal interview with an interview panel. If a candidate is accepted the interview panel will make a recommendation to the diocesan bishop and, an interview with the bishop will be arranged.
In the January following the Autumn weekends of discernment candidates are invited to participate in a propaedeutic period i.e. a period of preliminary instruction and introduction to further study, which takes place in the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, Spain. This is the time when candidates who are in full or part-time employment will have given up their jobs.
Ongoing discernment continues aided by the formation staff at the college. At the end of the propaedeutic period candidates who have been accepted to go to seminary will learn which seminary they will attend. For more mature candidates there is the option of the Beda College in Rome, and the course of study is usually between four and five years. For younger candidates the options include; The Scot’s College in Rome or a seminary closer to home. The Diocese of Aberdeen has been sending some candidates to Oscott College, Birmingham. The course of study for younger candidates varies but is usually between six and seven years.
During the journey through seminary candidates will receive the ministries of Lector, (reader in church), and Acolyte, (a minister at the altar): these are sometimes referred to as minor orders. These will lead to ordination to the transitory Diaconate, and finally to ordination to the priesthood. Once again it needs to be made clear: ongoing discernment continues alongside study and formation. The path to priesthood is not a conveyor belt and there is no such thing as a failed vocation. If we have discerned God’s will correctly, and we have the courage to undertake that will, God will be our strength and will lead us to where He wants us to be.
I would ask all who are reading this article to please pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and if any man thinks he may already have a calling, please get in touch with your parishpriest or vocations director.
For more information go to: www.priestsforscotland.org.uk