Dating is to marriage what seminary is to priesthood

By: Rev. Brian Bashista 

This past Saturday, Bishop Loverde ordained one of our seminarians to the transitional diaconate (two more seminarians will be ordained to the diaconate this fall in Rome). This upcoming Saturday, Bishop Loverde will ordain three men to serve as our newest diocesan priests. In light of these grace-filled events, I welcome this opportunity to share some thoughts about vocations as being “wedded” to another.  

2009 Ordinations to the Priesthood


Wedded unions involve the offering of mutual love and support which then is open to bringing forth new life. For most men, this wedded life will be freely entered into with a wife through the beautiful sacrament of marriage and the openness to father children. For other men, those who are called to be priests, this wedded life will be freely entered into with a “Supernatural Wife,” the Church – the Spiritual Bride with whom they will form a new sacramental life and become spiritual fathers through the order of grace.  

It is vital that we discover our vocations. Our fulfillment, our blessedness, our salvation, and, most importantly, the salvation of others, depend upon our acceptance of the mission, the vocation that Christ invites us to embrace. 

So, how do we discover our vocation?  

The first step is to talk to the One who created us. The first step is to pray, to talk and to listen to God.  

The second step, similar the first, is to talk to others. Those called to the married life will talk to others about their journey– so too do those called to the priesthood. This is one of the major reasons why my office, the Office of Vocations, exists — to talk and to listen. Many men who meet with me never take the step to enter the seminary. 

 Praying, talking and listening to God and others are essential to discover a vocation; however, if someone simply does these alone he will never ultimately come to realize his true calling. He must act! Once someone has sensed that God might be calling him to this vocation or the other, he must act upon these inspirations rather than resist these promptings. 

Deacon Ed Bresnahan will write our next blog post!


Someone who feels called to marriage can pray and talk about the vocation all he or she wants, but never come close to getting married. The person must act upon the promptings received in prayer and as a result of conversations. People must date and get to know each other. This is also true for someone who feels prompted to explore the possibility of a call to the priesthood. He can pray and have numerous conversations with others but never come close to taking the first step to act upon these promptings by applying to enter the seminary. In fact, a man who enters the seminary has no firm idea that he is called the priesthood, just that he senses that he might be. On the flip side, he is not being accepted by the bishop to enter the seminary to definitely become a priest, just that the bishop senses that he might be. It is as unrealistic for someone to be certain they will marry someone before they date them as it is for someone to be certain they are called to the priesthood before they enter the seminary. Dating is to marriage what seminary is to priesthood.  

While the need is still so great, we are blessed in this diocese to have many affable, sacrificial and charitable young men who are seriously considering a call to the priesthood. These men were like so many others well on their way to becoming highly successful in the “eyes of the world,” but they are willing to give their lives to a supernatural reality which points “beyond this world.”  We currently have 35 men in formation for the diocesan priesthood, and nearly 20 men and 30 women from the Diocese of Arlington in formation for religious orders. 

Anyone wishing to more actively discern a vocation and to better understand sharing in Christ’s mission of salvation, may visit here or contact us at the Office of Vocations at (703) 841-2514.

2 thoughts on “Dating is to marriage what seminary is to priesthood

  1. Several friends of mine – engaged and newly married folks – have been discussing this very comparison. Specifically, we’ve been talking about it in the context of the waiting period placed on engaged couples before they can get married.

    Clearly, we want young engaged couples to enter thoughtfully into their sacramental vocation, just as a seminarian should do likewise. And that takes time. But whereas a seminarian spends a huge portion of his time each day discerning his vocation, engaging in spiritual formation and doing things directly related to them, most engaged couples are left to drift. So far as we could surmise, this is the result of a variety of factors:

    (1) Some dioceses – we’re from all over the place – have very little in the way of marriage prep. In the case of programs that do exist, not all are high value.

    (2) Much of the discernment and formation that needs to happen should happen in the parish. Even in good dioceses which have generally good programs, there can be spotty parishes.

    (3) As this post notes, the true parallel to seminary is not engagement, but dating. By the time one is engaged, there’s already a certain level of commitment involved. Admittedly, engagements can be broken off – and I’ve seen it rightly happen – but at that point it’s a little late to be second guessing. So what we really need is good formation for Catholic singles when they’re dating, or even before. But there are two problems with this: (a) It’s probably easier to garner support for a “marriage prep” program than a “singles formation” program. (b) Lukewarm folks are only going to spend additional time at church when they have to, when there’s something the Church has that they want, for which they’re willing to jump through hoops: the sacrament of marriage. It’s a lot harder to convince folks to attend “singles formation” – and the folks who are hardest to convince may be the ones who need it most.

    (4) Engaged people are busy. By virtue of their lay status, they live in the world. They work. They study. They have readings to pick out and choirs to organize, halls to book, caterers to contract and DJs to find. Even under the best of circumstances, engaged (or dating) couples do not have the time for the kind of intense spiritual direction and discernment that seminarians do. Which makes it all the more important that we reach the lay faithful with good formation earlier.

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