Becoming A Priest
Becoming A Priest
Leo Philomin (Oblate Priest) gives expert video advice on: How did you become a priest?; Did you have a calling?; What advice would you give someone considering becoming a priest? and more...
Did you have a calling?
Yes, looking back I would be able to say that there have been a series of callings in my life. The callings are still continuing. I have to look back to recognize them. I would say that when I talk about callings, as I reflect back and think about incidents or situations in my life, there are moments when I feel that's more than just me thinking that. When I was about seven, my father had already come to England, now this is as a child, but when I was reflecting on it I was thinking I used to go to the cathedral where we lived nearby, and I always have this image of Jesus going to his father in heaven. As a child I used to say, "if you're going to your father, take me to mine." God took advantage of that child's request who wanted to join the priesthood at the time. There's been other people. When I came to London I struggled with my English. There was a Sister Mary Leticia in my school which I attended in London who encouraged me to make the mistakes and to learn from it, and not to shy away from what I was thinking because I was finding it difficult to articulate it in English. She actually gave me confidence, and the image I would have is that she made me feel that there was nothing impossible for me to do. When I look back now, when you look at the message of God, the angel Gabriel with Mary says to her that there is nothing impossible for God. She was encouraging me to trust and helping me to look beyond my own limits of 'I can't speak English therefore I'm not going to get involved'. I used to really withdraw because of the way I struggled with it, and she has helped me. When I look back, there's a sense in which what she has done for me I want to do for others, and she's religious herself. The Oblates I was with, they also were religious and they helped me achieve my potential. They said "Oh, you can't do that, you can't do this." Everything was open, everything was welcoming, everything was about giving it a try. They're parts of the call, people who have inspired me, and people who have said you should think about this, and that in itself is God calling you, when someone comes to you and says to you, "I've seen you for a long time, and I think you have qualities that will be excellent. Have you ever thought of being a priest? Have you ever thought of giving your life in mission?"
How long does it take to become a priest?
It depends on if you're going for the diocese or priesthood. It will probably take you about seven years if you have no other education behind you. For the religious priesthood, it's a little bit longer. It took me nine years. This is partly because when you join, you do a nine-month probation as you call it. We call it a 'pre-novitiate'. In the diocese instead that it's called a spiritual year and it's just discerning if this is what you're about, if this is what God wants you to be about. The priest or the community where you're living will help you in that discernment, you'll work and you'll study a little bit of your congregation or the ideal of the priesthood. After the nine months, you apply to be accepted. Once those who are in charge, if they accept you, you go on to what we call novitiate. The novitiate is like a seminary for the diocese and priest, where in the seminaries where they begin to live out what they're trying to be. And the novitiate is also very intense period of religious life where you live out what you're trying to be. But it's a period in which your primary concern is to deepen your relationship with God, and you grow in your understanding of the community, the congregation that you're in. You begin to understand how to live the vows. You begin to understand the work of this congregation and then at the end of it you make your final commitment. You make your vows, not your final commitment, but you make temporary vows. And then you renew that for about 4 to 6 years, and during those 4 to 6 years that you're studying you have to fulfill priesthood, and you have to do two years of philosophy. Some people will do three years, like a degree. Then you do four years of theology. During that fourth year of theology, you're really preparing yourself for ordination. So for the priesthood, in diocese there's a two year Philosophy, four years of Theology, and in the seventh year they're being ordained. Whereas for Oblates, you have the pre-novitiate and the novitiate year, so that's two years gone. Two years Philosophy, that's four. Four years of Theology that's eight. And then, you have a pastoral year where you check out. Before you make your final commitment between your Philosophy and your Theology, you're checking out to see "does this really work for me?". Do I get energy from this kind of work. It's a lifestyle. So that's about seven to nine years.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming a priest?
It's very difficult, in terms of who's asking it. First of all, I will just tell them to take time to pray, because priesthood is about a relationship with God. A priest is trying to live out a calling where God is asking him to represent Him to the people, and so it's always about a prayer life. Anyone who's thinking about becoming a priest, I would first tell them to pray about it. Then we'll help them to get in touch with another priest who will accompany them in whatever they're doing in life, and just talking to them about their life, and try to work through with them as to why they feel they're being called. Firstly, it's because the person themself feels they want to give of themselves to others, of service to others. They want to somehow make the world a better place - that's part of being a priest. But firstly, prayer. Secondly, accompaniment by another fellow priest who would encourage them to meet with other people who are thinking about priesthood. Because we arrange weekends twice a year for men who are thinking about priesthood, to bring them together to throw ideas together and throw their struggle. Also, I'd invite them to share it with their friends. Initially, it's a personal decision, or a personal thought, and it's difficult to share it with anyone else. As they're thinking serious about it I would invite them to share it with their family, and their friends, so that they can see what others think of his decision or his thinking. Eventually, as I journey with them, I would ask them to think about doing some kind of work that will be in relationship to what they are going to be about. If they have been in touch with me for about six months, I'd be saying to them, are you doing any volunteer work, are you involved in your local community, or in your church? Is there any work you could be taking on? And especially in terms of the missionary oblates, who we are, we work with the poor. I will try to help the person to look at, can you work where there are people who are in great need, where the poor are present? So it could be just as a basic element of volunteering in a soup kitchen - I try to look at how they give of themselves voluntarily, out of their paid time, because that would indicate how much they are willing to give as a priest. That's important because it's not about am I being paid for it or not, it's about actually just being of service to the community, to the people.
How old do you have to be to become a priest?
Chronologically, there's Church law. To be ordained a priest you have to be 25 years plus. I would say that today you would be looking at some kind of a maturity in the person who is coming. Most of the priests who'd be ordained today would be probably about 27 plus by the time they're ordained. In actual fact, a lot of men come later on in life having studied or having worked for maybe about ten years and they joined the priesthood process in their 30s, sometimes in their early 30s. Some join in their mid-30s, but the age is about 25 plus.
Do you have to be particularly academic to become a priest?
There is an academic aspect to the priesthood, as I said. You have to do some philosophical studies and theological studies. You are not looking for someone who is ultra-intelligent, but you are looking for an average intelligence in the person. You are looking at a person who can listen to someone else's issues and be able to work with it, and so you're calling for someone who is intelligent. Also, to be able to communicate the faith requires that the person is able to understand the faith. So it's not just about praying. Being a priest involves academic sight, definitely.
Do you have to sit exams to become a priest?
You do. Again, it's not about how intelligent you are. If you are of an average intelligence, you can do a degree, it's like a diploma in philosophy and theology. That process is available for fellows who can't hack too much of reading and everything, but have a genuine desire and a real intuition of priesthood. Then there are others who are very capable of holding knowledge, and studying, and investigating, and they can do a degree on it. You can do a degree in philosophy and a degree in theology. Basically, for myself, I have what we call a Baccalaureate in Philosophy, and then I went on to do a Bachelor of Divinity for three years. Then, to make up my fourth year of theology, I did a post-graduate diploma in leadership, pastor leadership, to make up the four years of theology.
What is a seminary?
A seminary is like a seed bed where seed is grown in an environment that will help it to grow. When you think of inseminate and seminary, the word comes from that kind of understanding. So a seminary is a place where men come, and are given the ambience to deepen their spiritual life and also to grow in the knowledge of scriptures and church and faith, and to have that philosophical and theological background that will help them to proclaim the faith. Today, seminaries aren't as closed as in the old days. It's much more open. You`re not just looking at academic qualification, but you're looking at the emotional, the human development of the person, the pastoral side of it - it's a much more holistic place. It's a place of learning to be a priest.
What happens in a seminary?
You would have a schedule of life where you would gather together to pray together each day, where the students, as they would be called seminarians, would be then going into classes for philosophy and theology. They would then come back together, and the ordinary life force will take place. They would have breakfast, meals, play together, and play football. If you have enough of them in the seminary you could have two teams. Then they would be looking after the grounds. Again, I am talking about the diocese, and the priest students works in that kind of style. For ourselves as religious priesthood, we used to go to a college to study. We used to come back - you could call it a seminary, we call it a scholastic. When you talk about scholastic, you talk about scholars. People who are studying and living together, so it was a sense of where we shared community life. We would cook and we would eat. We would enjoy our life, we would have leisure time together. We would also go from there to pastoral work, volunteer in different places of ministry, come back together, share prayer again and create a rhythm of life where my desire to become a priest or religious is able to grow, deepen and be nourished.
What vows do priests make?
Dioceasan priests don't make vows, they make promises. It is akin to the vow, but the promise is a promise of obedience to the local ordinary, who is the bishop. It's a technical term. An obedience to the bishop is made, and that's all that the dioceasan priesthood makes. They're asked to live a life of chastity, but that's it. My two uncles who are dioceasan priests, tell me as religious priests, I make three vows and then as a missionary oblate I've made a fourth vow. The vows I made are: poverty, to live a simple life, where everything I have is shared with the community I live with and the community looks after me; obedience, recognizing that I'm called to listen to what God is asking of me, but I listen to it through my community who are also praying with me and want the best for me. I listen particularly through my own superiors, but it's a joint listening, it's a two-way listening. I can share my own thoughts around it. It's not just about jump and you jump, but it's about saying, "is this what I'm being called to?" I pray about it, I go back, I talk about it, and then make the decision to accept. I also take a vow of chastity, which is the call to live a chaste life. We don't marry, and so we are celibates. But everyone, even a married person, is called to a life of chastity, which is a faithfulness to the spouse, so I am called to be faithful to my commitment as a religious. And the fourth vow I take as a missionary oblate is a vow of perseverence. Perseverence is contained in all the first three vows, once you take it for life you have to persevere in it. As a missionary oblate it's a recognition that the vows are difficult to live and that commitment to those vows takes a lifetime of persevering in it. As priests then, dioceasan priests make a vow of obedience to the bishop, a promise of obedience to the bishop. They're called to live a chaste life. They don't take a vow of poverty or anything like that, so it's not worth complaining about a dioceasan having everything because they have never taken the vow. My uncles always tell me in zest that they live the vow but I have taken it, because life is hard for priests as well as for religion. As a religious, because I live in community, the community looks after me, so I don't have to worry about a lot of stuff. I don't have a mortgage and I don't have worry about where my next food is going to come on the table because the community is there looking after my needs. The community, by looking after my needs, allows me to be free to be and to be with other people in their own needs.