Entering into the Catholic priesthood is a calling likened to a small, still voice of God.
The priesthood position in the Church has been evident since the existence of the Church. Jewish priests were first established in the seventh century BC performing religious ceremonies. They were even more established around 950 BC due to the Temple in Jerusalem. The central role of the traditional Jewish priest was to perform sacrificial rituals. According to the Bible, the Temple was built as a place for God to live with the people. It was the holiest building that existed and needed to be kept holy by the priests. Their role as priests was to perform animal sacrifices to God as an offering. The priests performed these sacrifices as specialists on behalf of a community or congregation to restore the community’s and Temple’s holiness. It was believed that if there were sins among the people, God would not come and be with them.
Priesthood plays an essential aspect in the structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Society’s patriarchal standards have been called into question as these rules stem from a much different time in history than today. Women are no longer restricted to mundane traditional duties such as cleaning. Today a woman is pursuing the most powerful position in the world as Hilary Clinton mounts her campaign to become the U.S.A.’s first female president. If a woman can be a world leader, should she then be endowed with the ability to become a priest?
Several Bible passages prove that women were permitted a full sacramental ordination in early Christianity. It is written in Romans 16:1 that Phoebe, a deacon of the Cenchrea church, was commended. By not allowing the ordination of women, the Church has limited its potential supply of priests.
Furthermore, as gender equality has evolved, many Protestant denominations (e.g., Anglican) have adopted the priestly ordination of women. Perhaps we will see a return to Anglicanism as the dominant Christian variant due to the decline of Catholic priests negatively affecting its congregation. Considering they entered what an all-male clergy was, it is staggering to see the increase in Anglican Female priests over ten years.
All these are just some of the things that are pointed toward priesthood. Below are the books that talk about the Catholic priesthood in particular.
1. Fr. Rolfe’s Hadrian the Seventh. Fr. Rolfe is short for “Frederick Rolfe” (aka “Baron Corvo”) or Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe, Baron Corvo (1860-1913), who saw no mistakes with the idea of wanting to be pope. The problem is he was thrown out of the seminary (twice). The book foresaw the Lateran Treaty, a pope who has been around Rome (à la St. John XXIII). Frighteningly this is an assassination attempt on the Holy Father. Not exactly a page-turner, but a book that is unlike any other papacy novel.
2. The Island by Gustaw Herling. If you are a reader who is more into short stories, these three somewhat-related stories are a treat. Author Gustaw Herling is a Pole who moved to Italy as he survived a Russian slave labor camp and wrote some fantastic prose. The whole volume is influenced by William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” and his poetry in general.
3. The Red and the Black by Stendhal. The protagonist of this book, poor Julien Sorel, is a significant theological mind and an even greater hypocrite. Compared to its movie, the book is more exciting, infinitely better, and ultimately devastating because of Sorel’s self-destruction.
4. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Sherlock Holmes is set in a medieval Benedictine monastery, becoming a meeting place for Dominicans, Franciscans, and a group of papal legates. The movie version oversimplifies (and over-sexes) the book. Still, it is (a) a whodunit and (b) a lesson in ecclesiology, especially as regards the birth and, more importantly, the survival of the Franciscans in Italy. After the first 100 pages, the book takes on a life (and speed) of its own. Have a dictionary nearby: Eco goes barely a page without using a word you’ve never seen before.
5. The Catholic Priesthood book by Bevil Bramwell. This textbook on Catholic theology is a must-read for students at college levels and those discerning the priesthood or wanting to serve the Church in any capacity. It gives a framework for appreciating the Scriptures, shows the use of Scripture in many pastoral situations, and suggests many applications for the Scriptures in personal spiritual growth. It also details the history of attempts to remove the Scriptures from their ecclesial context.
The priest’s life is unique and challenging. Becoming a catholic priest is not for everyone. This requires a commitment to God first and then to the Catholic Church. Though some Catholic priests got involved in controversies, it does not change the fact that they are also humans, like everyone else, who are vulnerable to committing sins and mistakes. Nevertheless, entering into the Catholic priesthood is a calling that is not for everyone to take.