For a thorough handbook for discerning priesthood “To save a thousand souls” is a great title. Fortunately the book lives up to the title in that it is both a serious and worthwhile guide to those thinking about and further discerning a call to the priesthood.
As the author points out int the book, this is for those specifically discerning the Diocesan priesthood. I would suggest that even those who are looking at becoming a priest in a religious order also take a look at this book since it so well illustrates what the diocesan priesthood is — plus a lot of the advice would apply to them also.
Even as a layman reading this book there is a lot to recommend in it. I really loved the first chapter “This is Just What Priests Do!” as it tells stories out of the lives of Diocesan priests. As the book progresses it touches on the theology of the priesthood and the issue of what is a vocation in the first place. Fr. Brett Brannen takes great care for the most part in explaining what a vocation is and what indeed is all of our primary vocations — to grow in holiness. As he mentions, so often vocation is talked about in reference to the priesthood only and not the callings to consecrated and married life.
Fr. Brett Brannen has taken his wealth of experience to answer all those questions that someone discerning the priesthood is bound to have. He also provides solid spiritual advice along the way to help in this discernment and how to develop the spiritual life of prayer. Several chapters address this specifically, but the topic is integral to both discernment and to what happens after the man decides he is being called to the priesthood.
There is tons of practical advice spread throughout the book and presented quite simply. One of the best parts of the book are the multiple stories from both his personal experience and from many others in regard to both discernment and being a priest. Fr. Brett Brannen provides lots of clarity and he doesn’t just rollover difficult questions. The book is solidly orthodox and the chapter titled “Celibacy, Chastity, Charity, and Cheerfulness” presents the subject of celibacy forthrightly and also goes into the Vatican document regarding proposed seminarians and same-sex attraction. This chapter was especially well written in regards to sexual integration and what might disqualify someone from the priesthood. The topic of masturbation is also addressed in some detail. Another chapter addresses prerequisites and impediments to the priesthood.
There is also a lot of important information such as what is seminary like and a look a the day to day life as a seminarian along with the educational requirements. The types of assignments a Diocesan priest might experience and a look at ordination day are other important chapters.
In close to 400 pages I only had one quibble with this book. The chapter on vocations talked of the single life led in generosity as a specific vocation. I don’t believe that this is something the Church has really taught. Mary Beth Bonachi wrote an article on this previously that she could find “no mention of an unconsecrated single “vocation” in Church teaching anywhere” and references Mulieris Dignitatem and notes John Paul II says that God calls all women to give themselves in one of two ways — in motherhood or in consecration to Christ. No mention of singleness in there. Though maybe this is an area that will be developed more fully by the Church in the future. Often though I get the feeling people talk about the single life itself as a vocation to keep from hurting feelings. But I am not close to being an expert or really a fully informed layman on this subject.
Like I said I had just the one quibble and otherwise I think this book would make a great resource throughout the Church to help those in discernment and to give much good advice to others that want to help promote vocations to the Diocesan priesthood. Besides as a thorough handbook on the subject people don’t have to read it cover to cover, but could also use it as a handy reference — especially with the question index in the back. This book has also been praised by many people such as the always reliable Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R. and others with a solid reputation.
Available via Vianney Vocations
Update: I found out that the book originally included in the section whether there was indeed a single vocation. They took the section out since the theology is still developing. So I guess I am now quibble free.