The feast of the Holy Family (which is celebrated the Sunday after Christmas) reminds us of our heavenly Father’s plan and insistence on the design for Jesus’ earthly life to grow up in a family that practiced its faith. It also reminds us of our own families and how intrinsic family life is to our own formation, blessings and struggles. God chooses our family for us (even if we are adopted) and the search for our vocation is always accomplished within the context of family no matter what our relationships with them or they with God. Just as Jesus had to “work out” his calling in his family, so does anyone considering the priesthood/celibate life.
Reactions in a family to the news that someone is considering a religious vocation or entering the seminary are as wide ranging as could ever be described here. They run the gamut depending on one’s perspective of their son, the Church, and their own lived faith experience.
In contemporary circumstances some good parents do not practice their Catholic faith and are thus suspect at the outset of a Church vocation. This is usually the case when parents don’t know any priests or religious personally. A major issue is that our contemporary culture does not understand the tremendous value of celibate love, especially if they don’t have contact with integrated joyful celibates.
It’s important to understand that celibacy is a gift. Recent sexual abuse scandals cause some to hesitate, wondering if their son would be part of a lifestyle that can lead one to deviancy or at the very least unhappiness and loneliness.
No doubt a decision to enter the seminary and discern a priestly vocation affects an entire family and in fact is designed to do so. Some people focus only on the sacrifices: no grandchildren; family name and legacy issues; economic success and admiration, not to mention caring for ones family in older age. These are valid issues, but this perspective sees the priesthood and ministry within the Church only in a negative light.
Making it clear to his disciples that they would receive much more than they sacrificed, Jesus said to them: “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30).
Here are some do’s and don’ts for parents and families of those who are discerning a call to the priesthood or religious life:
- BE RECEPTIVE: Don’t overreact. Trust the Holy Spirit is at work in your son’s life but also in your life in some mysterious way in this process. Ask for docility to the Spirit.
- BE SUPPORTIVE: There are so many cultural and societal factors that can negatively influence a man’s priestly discernment. Many deride or mock a life of sacrificial love. Verbalize your support in word or writing but only when you are sincere and ready. Avoid negative comments or put downs of God’s call, the Church and its ministers.
- BE INFORMED: Supporting a vocation should not happen blindly. Ask questions but be aware that your son/brother may not have many answers initially. Find out how discernment/seminary works from them. Talk to a priest you trust. Call the Vocation Office staff, we can provide you with the names and contact information of the parents of our other seminarians or recently ordained priests so that you can talk with someone who understands exactly what you are feeling. Visit the "For Parents" section under the FAQ tab on this website. Remember no one is ordained right away; the formation process your son will go through in the seminary is designed to help him discover and become the man God created him to be, not shanghai him into a ministerial life.
- BE PATIENT: We live in a world of fast food, faster-paced changes and instant communication. But the workings of the heart and discernment of God's will cannot be rushed. The road to the seminary and to the priesthood is paved with ups and downs and graces and crosses similar to those preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. Initially some seminarians/applicants may not share much, some because it is so personal, others because they are anxious about or unable to put what they are feeling into words and some from fear of rejection or mockery.
- BE CHRIST LIKE: Reactions will vary as others find out about your son’s intentions. Be careful not to feel pressure to answer questions you can’t or choose not to. See this as an opportunity to get to know others spiritually and to grow in your own faith knowledge.
- BE LOVING: Love your son, love God, love the Church. If that is a struggle for you, ask God for the grace to love all three.
- BE PRAYERFUL: Lift your son up in prayer each day as well as his vocation. Don’t forget your other children too. Give God gratitude for your children. Do not be too anxious about the future… as scripture says, “fear is useless, what is needed is trust!”
- Don’t ordain your son today or tomorrow. Your loved one and the Church will decide if and when he is ready.
- Don’t badger him on his vocation. Don’t belittle his feelings, sincerity, or experience of the Church that may be different from yours.
- Don’t fall into the modern trap that unless one is sexually active one cannot be happy. Celibates have received the gift of sexuality as Jesus lived it out. We must all struggle to give that gift of love and intimacy with others in a way that honors God and his plan for us and the Church.
- Don’t think it is just a phase that will go away. Maybe the Lord is up to something special with your son. He chose simple fishermen, a tax collector and a physician… God chooses whom He wishes.
- Don’t try to figure it all out. Pope John Paul II described his vocation as a “gift and mystery.”