Building Christian Homes
Parents have a crucial role to play in fostering vocations to the priesthood in the lives of their children. They serve as Christian examples to their children, pray and sacrifice for them, teach them the faith and bring them to the sacraments, and serve as a witness of fidelity in their own vocation to marriage.
Parents can build a home environment that nourishes faith in a loving God, encourages prayer, and develops trust among family members. That environment will nurture the freedom that their children need to be open to the Lord’s will in their lives, including the possibility of a religious or priestly vocation. Children may speak first to their parents about the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood, and in that crucial moment they may determine their son’s future, his openness to the joy of following God.
It is an act of generosity – sometimes heroic generosity – to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life among your children. Such trusting prayer, however, is richly rewarded by God, and will prove the source of immeasurable joy in the lives of the parents, their children, and those whom they may one serve as a priest or consecrated religious person.
Fostering Vocations within the Home
The ideal Catholic parent understands a simple truth: that God desires your child’s happiness even more than you do! If your son experiences a genuine call from the Lord to pursue the priesthood, trust in God’s love for your son!
From the earliest years, make it clear to your children that God has a plan for them. Read them Bible stories of Jesus calling his disciples. Engage in open conversations about your children’s hopes and dreams. Make sure that they understand the various vocations to marriage, priesthood, and religious life. Above all, teach them how to pray and serve others.
If your child does express an interest in priesthood, be supportive. Fr. Brett Brannen, in the book To Save a Thousand Souls, described the ideal parent as one who is at peace with God’s will, who says, essentially, “I will pray for you and support you as you go to seminary… and I will be equally proud of you if discern that you must leave seminary.”
Year after year, in surveys of newly ordained priests, over half report that their families opposed the idea of priesthood when they first expressed interest. Undoubtedly, parents want the best for their children. So what is it about priesthood that does not fit some parents’ vision of “the good life”?
Let’s look are six common myths about seminary and priesthood.
- “He’s too young.” Many parents, when their young son expresses an interest in seminary, will dispense well-meaning advice: “Get some life experience first—and at least a university degree—then think about seminary later.” Some parents hope that with a nice girlfriend and a good job, the idea of priesthood will fade away.The problem is, they may be right. That’s why it’s crucial that when God moves the heart of a young man to explore the priesthood, parents should trust God that the timing may be right. True, in some cases an 18-year-old may not be mature enough to enter seminary right out of school. But many are ready. Seminaries are places of joy, camaraderie, and deep spiritual growth. Even if your son goes to seminary and eventually discerns he is not called to priesthood, don’t think he’ll have to “make up for lost time.” Thousands of former seminarians look back on their seminary days with great affection and gratitude!
- “He’ll be so lonely.” This is an easy myth to dispel. Priests are surrounded by people! After all, their job is to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus. They are continually working with parish staff, youth, and a myriad of people who come to them for spiritual advice.Seminaries today are very deliberate in teaching men how to form good, healthy relationships with people in their parishes and the priests of their dioceses. Sure, there can be lonely moments—but the same is true in any vocation, marriage included. Most priests have healthy friendships with brother priests, lay people, and family that keep them grounded and connected.
- “Celibacy is impossible.” For some parents it can be difficult to image their son choosing “life without a wife.” Society would have us believe that celibacy is impossible, or at the very least, unreasonable. The truth is that sexual love is indeed one of God’s greatest natural gifts, but that thousands of saints have experienced tremendous joy living the supernatural vocation of celibacy. Today’s seminaries offer superb formation in how to live celibately with peace and joy.
- “I won’t have grandchildren.” When a mother of a priest was asked at her only child’s ordination if she was sad she would never have grandchildren, she responded, “It’s not about me.” She was simply grateful that her son had found God’s will for his life.Many parents of priests are surprised to find that they gain “spiritual grandchildren”—thousands of people whose lives have been profoundly influenced by their son’s priesthood. There is a special joy in meeting people who exclaim, “You’re Fr. Jacob’s mother? He’s such a great priest!”
- “I’ll lose my son.” Some parents think that if their son becomes a priest, they’ll never see him.One young priest laughed at this idea. “When Christmas rolls around and my brothers and sisters are busy with their children and in-laws, guess what? As a priest, I don’t have any of those ties. Often it’s me carving the turkey with mum and dad!” His point is that diocesan priests are able to spend a healthy amount of time with family. If the priest’s assignment is far from home, in the Internet age, social media and Skype make it easy to keep in touch.
- “He’ll be unhappy.” This is the “umbrella fear” that encompasses all the others. It’s also the easiest to dismiss, because the facts prove otherwise. A number of studies about happiness invariably find one profession ranked number one: clergy. There is even a recent book, based on a very large study, titled “ Why Priests Are Happy.” The author, Msgr. Stephen Rosetti, finds that 92% of priests report being happy, and that the key factor in this happiness is an “inner peace.”
Other Concerns of Parents
Parents often have lots of questions and concerns when a son expresses an interest in the priesthood. Here are some of the most common:
- Do not to be offended or hurt if your son did not confide in you first, or early on in his discernment.
Young people who are in discernment oftentimes keep this process confidential from the people who mean the most to them until they feel ready to put the experience into words and to speak about it face to face.Rest assured that your son both needs and desires your support and encouragement. In fact, your support as a parent is most likely valued more than any other figure in your son’s life.
- Some parents are taken aback by their son’s news of his discernment to serve the Church because they do not consider themselves a very religious family.While a child’s faith, worship, and vocational plans are oftentimes influenced by family practices and expectations, a vocation to serve the Church is a call from God, the author of all life. This call is intensely personal. Although your son desires to discern his call with great attention and fidelity, you are not obliged to alter your current religious practices unless you wish to do so. Still, your son will certainly benefit greatly from your support during his discernment.
- Occasionally parents become concerned that their son is not suited to serve the Church due to certain temperaments or failings. These same concerns are commonly expressed by the very individuals who are in discernment.The priesthood and religious life requires a high calibre of skills, abilities, and psycho-sexual maturity. However, it is not reserved to “the perfect.” If every young man who experienced the first movements in his heart to serve the Church waited until he felt completely worthy to begin his discernment, we may not have any priests at all! A genuine vocation is not measured by one’s feelings of worthiness, but rather by one’s desire to respond to God’s call to serve the Church as a disciple of Christ.
The academic and formation programs offered in the seminary seek to develop a candidate’s natural skills and abilities and to remedy any weaknesses or deficiencies. This occurs over a period of years. Before the discernment process reaches this stage, however, the most supportive action parents can take is to encourage their son to be faithful to God’s call.
- Some parents express anxiety about what may happen if their son leaves seminary before its completion.It is possible that your son could spend as few as five days or as many as a five years in seminary and discern that a life of single-hearted service in the Church is not for him. There is nothing shameful about withdrawing from a program for this reason. The time spent in formation should never be considered a waste. Your son will have grown in holiness, self-awareness, and in personal maturity through the entire process of discernment and by his time in a formation program.
- Some parents express anxiety over their son’s potential loneliness as an unmarried person.There is a difference between aloneness and loneliness. In the life of a priest, moments of solitude or aloneness are required for prayer, reflection, homily preparation, and rest. Many priests experience aloneness without feeling lonely. Further, in the midst of his ministry, a priest interacts with hundreds of individuals a week, and many life-giving friendships are enjoyed. Still, no vocation, even marriage, is immune to loneliness. Therefore, a priest must always be vigilant in maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends, brother priests, religious brothers and sisters and parishioners.
- Some parents are saddened by the fact that they’ll be unable to enjoy the presence of grandchildren or a daughter-in-law through their son’s marriage.Although the presence of grandchildren would offer much happiness, every parent desires first and foremost that their son or daughter live a joyful and fulfilled life. If God is calling your son to serve the Church as a priest, fulfilment, happiness and holiness of life will only be fully realised by faithfully responding to this call. Further, the Church recognises with great respect and appreciation this sacrifice of parents. We trust that God will bless you abundantly for supporting your son through his discernment process.
- Some parents feel as if they are losing their son in a permanent way, or that they will not be able to see or visit their son during his years in the seminary.If your son’s discernment leads him to enter seminary, his departure will be similar to a son leaving home to attend university or to enlist in the armed forces. There will be an inevitable transition period for all parties. If a son enters seminary to study for the priesthood, he will most likely make visits home at Christmas, and over the summer holiday each year. The exact programme varies from seminary to seminary but many seminarians are also able to go home at other times during the year as well. Throughout his formation in seminary, he will be encouraged to maintain and develop family relationships through periodic visits and by frequent communication.
- Some parents are not sure whether they know how to adequately support their son.This is another common anxiety. In many other moments in your son’s life you have felt ready to offer sound advice from your own past experiences. However, because a vocation to the priesthood is a such a unique call, you may feel unqualified to offer helpful advice. Your son understands this and does not expect you to be omniscient! One helpful question you can ask your son is, “What is the most important thing I can do to assist and support you?” This simple question will mean a great deal to your son. It is a further sign of your unconditional love as a parent.Another helpful question is, “Is your discernment of a vocation something that you’d like me to keep confidential at the moment?” This will assure your son of your respect for his “pace” of discernment and of its public knowledge.
- Lastly, some parents have expressed remorse that had their marriage been more loving, their son would have chosen a married vocation over a celibate one.It is very rarely true that a young man considers priesthood because he experienced an unhappy family home – and if it were the case it would not be a sufficient sign of a priestly vocation. Although a functional, loving model of married life in the household is very beneficial and can help a son or daughter grow to affective maturity, nevertheless a vocation comes to a young person in the form of a personal call from God. The process of discernment helps distinguish between the positive call from God and negative, freedom limiting considerations, that arise from fears or traumatic experiences.