Building a lively culture of vocations in families

One of my desires for this new year is to work more closely with parents in building a lively culture of vocations in their family life. My hope is to encourage parents to have more intentional conversations with their children on how God continues to call each one of their children to a life of holiness, filled with the grace and power of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. 

These types of conversations are only effective if they are rooted in a life of prayer. Prayer opens the hearts of parents and their children to hear the voice of Jesus who says in Mt 4:19, “Come, follow me.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of our children had the support they needed to truly discern their vocation, whether it would be marriage, priesthood, consecrated life or the single life, with dad and mom taking the lead?

From my experience, a majority of our young people simply assume that marriage is their vocation without praying or having intentional conversations with mom and dad about the possibility God is calling them to anything else.

Father Brett Brannen, a vocation director and former seminary rector, wrote a book titled “A Priest in the Family: A Guide for Parents Whose Sons are Considering Priesthood.” He wrote it because he encountered in his ministry so many seminarians and priests who shared that a parent or family member actively tried to talk them out of becoming a priest. 

He would often say to young men: “Would you like to become a priest?” Usually the answer was: “I don’t think so, Father.”

Then he would say, “But would you become a priest if Jesus asked you to?” And the answer is always the same: “Yes, Father, if Jesus asks me to become a priest, I will do it.”

Therefore, part of the challenge is to help our parents and children encounter the presence of Christ and to begin to hear his voice together. In this way we can begin to combat the challenge Father Brannen identifies; namely that many young people don’t consider a religious vocation because they don’t hear Jesus’ invitation.

Having families listen together also addresses another equally serious challenge. 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.

One of the reasons is that priesthood does not fit a parent’s vision of the good life for their children. Parents, too, need to hear the reassuring voice of Jesus reminding them that he loves their children, too, and only wants the best for them.

As I begin this new year with the desire to work more intentionally with parents, I thought sharing these Six Vocation Mythbusters for Parents from Vianney Vocations would be a good beginning:

Parents, please make a commitment during 2020 to be open to the possibility that your children might have a calling to the priesthood or religious life. Consider that such a calling is part of God’s plan for them — a plan that needs your nurturing and support.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me for ideas on how you can help your children discern their vocations. I look forward to working with you in providing them with the guidance they need.

Vocations Myths Busted

MYTH #1 “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 college degree — then think about seminary later.”

Mom and dad envision 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 high school. But many are ready. College seminaries are places of joy, camaraderie and deep spiritual growth.

Even if your son goes to college 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!

MYTH #2 “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 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, including marriage. Most priests have healthy friendships with brother priests, lay people and family that keep them grounded and connected.

MYTH #3 “Celibacy is impossible”

For couples who enjoy a healthy sexual relationship, it can be difficult to imagine 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. Seminaries offer superb formation in how to live celibately with peace and joy.

MYTH #4 “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!”

MYTH #5 “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 Thanksgiving 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. It’s me carving the turkey with mom 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.

MYTH #6 “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 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.”