A diocesan priest may also work full-time with the patients and staff of a hospital or with students in a high school or college as chaplain. Some priests are released from service in the Diocese in order to be chaplains to our men and women in the armed forces.
Basic to the ministry of any priest is preaching the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and being available to God’s people. It’s a busy, rewarding life that demands stamina and spiritual maturity.
A diocesan priest does not make the solemn vows that religious priests (and religious brothers and sisters) make but he does make promises that are discussed in subsequent questions. Perhaps the most striking difference between him and a religious order priest is that the diocesan priest lives a life more like that of his people: he buys his own clothes and car, he pays taxes, he may own personal property. That is why a diocesan priest is sometimes called a secular priest (from the Latin saeculum, a word that means roughly “this world of time and space in which we live”).
A diocesan priest belongs to the body of priests (called the presbyterate) of a local diocese, which is a particular territory within a state or country. The Diocese of Camden comprises the six southern-most counties of New Jersey: Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May. A diocesan priest normally serves within the boundaries of his diocese under the authority of his bishop.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, spoke about finding true happiness to a group of young people on pilgrimage. “Our ‘yes’ to God makes the font of true happiness gush forth,” the Pope observed. “It frees the ‘I’ from everything that closes it in on itself. It brings the poverty of our lives into the richness and power of God’s plan, without restricting our freedom and our responsibility. […] It conforms our lives to Christ’s own life.”
This pilgrimage, the Pontiff concluded, “is also a good time to allow yourselves to be asked by Christ: ‘What do you want to do with your lives?’ May those among you who feel the call to follow him in the priesthood or in consecrated life – as have so many young participants in these pilgrimages – reply to the Lord’s call and put yourselves totally at the service of the Church, with a life completely dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven. You will never be disappointed.”
Surprisingly, a diocesan priest must often fight for the time for personal prayer. He is often called upon to lead others in public prayer, especially the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church. These are genuine times of prayer for him as well as them — but like every Christian, the priest needs some time each day to spend alone with the Lord. His busy ministry sometimes makes this very difficult but it is something he must strive to keep fresh in his life, lest he lose sight of the One who called him to be a priest in the first place and the One who alone can sustain him.
In addition, because they want to serve God within the Church, diocesan priests make a formal promise of obedience to their bishop. Their personal integrity is on the line in this promise. It binds them to do what needs to be done, as seen through the eyes of the bishop who is responsible for the entire diocese; they renounce the exaggerated freedom to do always and everywhere what they like or want to do.
On the other hand, diocesan priests can testify that there is great freedom to be creative in the priesthood. Bishops rely on priests along with the laity to suggest necessary pastoral initiatives. A bishop also tries to match his priests with the work that needs to be done. Ordinarily, a priests ends up doing work for which he is well enough suited. The bottom line, however, is service to others, not oneself.
Imitating the celibacy of Jesus, whose entire earthly life was devoted to His priestly mission, Catholic priests represent Jesus in a unique way while celebrating the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, and even in their ordinary pastoral work. Celibacy is a declaration that the greatest joys of humanity are not to be found in earthly goods but in union with God in this life and in the next. It is also a statement to the Catholic people that their priest is available to them and at their service in a way that would be precluded by the responsibilities of marriage.
Celibacy does not do away with a priest’s sexuality, but with the help of grace and his own growth in virtue, it can become part of a tremendously joyful and fulfilled human life. Like marriage, it is not always easy to live, but a solid prayer life, healthy lifestyle, good friends, and prudent judgment about persons and situations contribute to a beautiful expression of celibate generosity by the priest for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for his brothers and sisters, and for the Church.
That being said, there are also some similarities and a ‘typical’ schedule to a parish priest’s day. For most priests ministering in a parish, the average day might look something like this:
Monday – Friday (a priest will have a day off during the week)
|6-8 am||Rise and prepare for the celebration of morning Mass. Many priests will include in their morning preparation their time of personal prayer, which becomes the foundation for their day.|
|8-10 am||Typically a priest will celebrate Mass between these morning hours. There are also some parishes that celebrate an evening daily Mass one or two days of the week.|
|10 am-12 noon||If there is a funeral, this would be the usual time to celebrate the Mass for the deceased and their grieving family. A priest might also utilize this time for office work or preparation for his bulletin article, homily preparation, staff development, building issues, visiting the parish school, visit parishioners or perform other ministries within the parish.|
|12 noon-1 pm||Everyone needs to eat, so this also true for the parish priest! A little fuel for the body will give him the energy he needs for the remainder of his day. This might also be a time for rest, exercise, or prayer.|
|1-4 pm||Many people look to their parish priest for assistance and spiritual guidance. During this time, a priest may have several appointments from members of his parish, for reasons ranging from spiritual direction, staff issues, building issues, school issues, diocesan issues, marriage counseling…if you can think of a need, a priest will be called upon to offer his help.|
|4-7 pm||It can be rather difficult to work on a homily while in the office, so many priests will take advantage of this time to return to his rectory to work on those areas of his ministry which require more privacy and fewer interruptions. He may also use this as a time for prayer, meetings, exercise, or rest. Dinner will be on his agenda as well!|
|7-10 pm||Depending on the day, this is the time when a priest in a parish meets with his parishioners for the many scheduled meetings which take place. Examples of a parish’s monthly meetings would be Parish Council, Worship/Education/Christian Service/Administration Commissions, School Committee, and any variety of parish organization meetings as well. This would also be a very busy time for a priest to again meet with parishioners, engaged couples, and others.|
|10 pm-?||After a long day of working ‘in the vineyard’, a priest will find his way back to his rectory for some personal time and then to bed for a night of hopefully restful sleep.|
Just as importantly, diocesan priests are asked to make an annual retreat in order to experience, in the calm and quiet of the retreat atmosphere, the loving presence of their Lord. These times of retreat are blessed times of spiritual renewal for the priest, just as they are for other believers.