Parents - The mother and father of all vocations
By Father Joseph Corel
There was a time not so long ago when parents believed one of their sons would grow up to be a priest, or at least one or more of their sons would enter the seminary. Since parents thought it to be so natural, they were not encouraging nor discouraging; they just saw it as a regular part of family life for one or more of their boys to be in seminary.
Things have changed since those days. Today, the culture is not friendly to those who are thinking about a priestly or religious vocation. The culture says individuals are supposed to live for themselves, not for others. It says a young man is supposed to do what he wants, when he wants, as opposed to self-sacrifice and seeing himself as part of something bigger than himself.
Some parents may want to encourage their sons to consider the Priesthood but are afraid that if they do so, their son may take it as some sort of pressure. So the parents keep quiet. Some parents may question what the Church is looking for in a candidate to seminary. They do not know if their son would qualify, so they do not say anything. Some would not want their son to enter the seminary to find out whether he is called to the Priesthood.
Finally, some parents are letting their sons know that as parent, they are open to God's plan for their son, whatever that plan is - including the Priesthood. Let's look at each scenario individually.
First, some parents do not say anything because they do not want to pressure. I urge everyone to reread the call stories in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Then, find some "call stories" of priests and religious throughout the ages right into current times. It is extraordinarily rare that someone was called to the vocation without someone saying something to the person. God's favorite way to call someone to the Priesthood is through another person. There is not one seminarian in formation right now for our diocese who just decided to "show up" at the vocation director's doorstep. Every one of them came because people told them they should consider the Priesthood. I am sure that if anyone visited a seminary and talked to every seminarian, they could not find one who just showed up without someone saying something to him about being a priest before he arrived.
It is also important to realize that this is probably the only situation in which we would not say something because of the fear of pressure. Many parents talk to their kids about which college to attend, which sports to play in grade school and high school, what to study once he attends college, or even which car to buy when he's old enough. Simply letting your son know you are open to God's call, including the Priesthood, is not saying he needs to go to seminary or you will not be happy with him. It lets him know that as far as you are concerned, it is a viable option for him if he is being called. If he begins to show interest in that direction, treat him as if he were thinking of going to the public university or any other college. Support him and let him know you are behind him every step of the way, no matter what he chooses.
Satan has no problem pressuring children to walk away from God. Most of the time, Satan's schemes are decorated in words like "peer pressure" and "teen marketing." Peer pressure when it is from Satan allows for teen drinking, promiscuity and drug abuse. Teen marketing from Satan makes most of the music and video games that would not meet Christian standards. The same marketing tools also make it difficult for girls and boys to find clothing in stores that would be considered modest in the Christian sense of the word. To be silent is to allow Satan to have all the pressure. God is the giver of truth; let's pressure with truth. The boy still has the chance to say "no," but at least his conscience is being developed to know his parents are okay with God's plan.
Second, some parents do not know what the Church is looking for in a seminarian candidate so they do not ask their son. The Church is looking for 1) healthy 2) male Catholics who are 3) friends with their peers, 4) respected by the elders of the community, and 5) who believe their relationship with God is important to them.
In the application process, his psychological, mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health will all be evaluated.
Applying for the seminary involves a long process. At any point, the vocation director or the candidate can stop the process. If the vocation director stops the process, the person does not need to feel like a failure or feel less than before he started the process. He learns that the Lord is not calling him at this time for this diocese. It would still be possible for him to re-apply later or apply for entrance into a religious community. It is also possible he truly is not called to ordained ministry.
God is much more powerful, merciful and loving than any vocation director. God is not going to let a vocation director who is also discerning God's will for this individual stand in the way of God's will being done. "Fear not" is the words Jesus would say for those who do not apply because they are afraid of the application process.
Some parents, in this category may not know how the application process works, or how the seminary system works or how to go about paying for the seminary. Never hesitate to call the Vocation Office to get any of these questions answered. Sometimes, the answers can only be given if all the preceding steps have been taken. For example, we never talk about payment until a person has begun to apply to the diocese for seminary. Once those steps have begun, then it is prudent to talk about payment.
Third, some parents do not want their son to consider seminary (which usually can be translated, "Some parents do not want their son to consider the Priesthood"). First, it would be important to remind parents that their son has to get through the extensive application process. Then, he may be in seminary to find out (discern) whether God is truly calling him to marriage but wants the man to be in seminary first in order to improve his relationship with God, with self and/or the relationship between the two.
Parents also need to remember that God is not going to ask the parent to take more than one step at a time. Because your son is thinking about the Priesthood, that does not mean he is called to the Priesthood. He may simply be called to fill out the application to apply to seminary (which is always a self-learning experience for the candidate). He may be called to enter seminary for a period of time. Do not ordain him before the Church calls him to ordination.
Remember, the Church discerns with the man. If the Lord is truly calling your son to the Priesthood, it was given to him at his baptism. Satan may try to use any number of fears on you to keep your son from achieving the happiness, peace, and joy God wants to give to your son as a priest. Some of those fears include:
That you feel like you are going to lose your son;
I recommend reading the Why Should I Encourage My Son to be a Priest pamphlet by Dominican Father Andrew Carl Wisdom (ISBN # 978-0-7648-1518-8). It takes about 30 minutes to read and addresses all of these fears. I also recommend speaking to a spiritual director or the vocation director about why it is that God may be calling your son but you are not ready to allow him to follow.
Realize that you may be in good company. No one knows why Jesus called James and John the Sons of Thunder. Here is one explanation: Imagine if some strange man came along the seashore right after a hard time at sea and told your two sons, "leave the fishing trade and your dad and come follow me." The two men - adolescent boys? Who knows their age? - put down their nets and followed the man. Somehow, I doubt the dad in this story would be very quiet and accepting. Yet, that is exactly what happened to Zebedee. His sons left dad to the fishing business as they went to follow Jesus.
Remember, too, at the age of 12, Jesus had already ditched his mother and Joseph for three days to stay behind in the Temple area, praying with the elders. God will take care of your fears and worries as well; just talk to someone about them so God can speak to you through another. The hope of those promoting vocations in the diocese is that all parents would encourage their sons and daughters to do whatever God calls them to do. Joy, happiness and peace in this life come from doing the will of God. Who doesn't want their children to be filled with peace, happiness, and joy?