“Ask a Priest: Would a Tattoo Bar Me From the Priesthood?”

Q: I am a 22-year-old college student and have been growing deeply in my faith and relationship with God this past year. Right now, I am fasting from dating and focusing on finishing school and finding where the Lord is calling me to. I have no idea what occupation or vocation God calls me to. Am I to be a husband to a woman and a father to our children? Or a husband to the Church, my bride, and a father to our people? I know God has called me to be one of the sheepdogs protecting and leading his flock — hence, my previous belief that I had no calling but the military (I’m in the Marine Reserves). I hear a voice telling me not to turn down a religious vocation for false fear thinking that I “can’t be holy enough,” and I am just trusting God and seeing where he calls me to for the next couple of years. Anyway, these following questions popped into my head: 1) Can someone with tattoos apply for the priesthood? (I have a tattoo on my shoulder); 2) Is there a general GPA requirement you need to apply?; 3) I feel that I have holes in my knowledge of our faith; could you recommend one resource or book to start to learn more of the deep parts of our faith so I can better help lead and protect our people? Thank you. – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to hear that you feel called to protect people and are at least open to the idea of a priestly vocation. That shows a spirit of generosity.

To briefly answer your specific questions:

A tattoo, if it is discreet, wouldn’t necessarily ban you from the priesthood. You would have to check with a vocation director or religious superior.

There is no magic GPA required, though someone usually needs at least average or above-average intelligence. Studies for the priesthood are serious and long, and a priest should keep up his intellectual formation throughout life.

For your knowledge of the faith, the best resources would be the Catechism and its Compendium. Helpful, too, might be the Youth Catechism, or YouCat.

There are lots of authors who make the faith accessible: Fulton Sheen; Frank Sheed; John Hardon, S.J.; Patrick Madrid; Peter Kreeft; and Pope Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger, to name just a few. You could find out about their works online.

Be sure to read the Gospels. You want to get to learn about the person of Christ. He is the one High Priest. He is the one who calls men to the priesthood. He is the model for every priest.

And it would be good not to just read the Gospels, but to pray them. My colleague Father John Bartunek has an app to help you do that; it’s called “The Better Part” (it also exists as a book). He also made a video about understanding and discovering one’s calling. You can find it here (scroll down to the bottom for the last video – the “conference” video — of Be Not Afraid: A Retreat Guide on St. John Paul II).

And, yes, don’t worry if you “don’t feel holy enough.” All of us are a work in progress. Holiness comes from God. We just need to be open to where he leads us.

In the meantime you might want to contact a vocation director. Perhaps you could visit your local seminary if you feel called to the diocesan life.

For more material about vocations, you might find check out http://vocation.com/. You also might find it useful to check out some of the testimonies of members of my own religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, at http://legionariesofchrist.org/our-stories/.

I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.

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