I don’t know if any of my sons are called to a priestly vocation. I do know that a couple of my children are attracted to that life. They have begun to recognize beauty and joy in that path and to allow the seedling of possibility to sprout in their dreams. Where will God take them? I cannot say. It is not my story to write. However, God has given me a place in it and called me, through my own vocation, to support and love and guide them. I have recently been reflecting at length on these matters. The following are some of my thoughts about the qualities that exist in a family that nurtures religious vocations. I pray that these qualities will grow and flourish in my own home and that God will stand in the gap when I fail.
Neither create nor permit any obstacles. Instead, encourage the discussion and dreams of a life dedicated solely to the service of God and His Church. This doesn’t mean pushing the kids that way, but allowing the dream to form and blossom in their minds and hearts. “Mommy, I want to be a Daddy someday.” That’s wonderful. “But sometimes I think I want to be a priest, too.” That’s great, too. God gave us Marriage and Holy Orders. They are both good and beautiful… I will support you wherever God leads you.
I have had the kids ask me questions like “What do YOU think I should do?” and what can I say? They don’t like my answer: Whatever God calls you to do is what will make you most happy… and that is what I think you should do. They think it’s a cop out. They think I must have a preference. I really don’t. The thought of grandchildren thrills me. The thought of a son in a Roman collar also gives me tremendous joy.
Do you have a secret preference? Keep it a secret. Pray constantly for increased trust in God and place your fears and preferences at the foot of the Cross-at every opportunity. Your holy will be done, Sweet Jesus!
Openness naturally leads to fruitful discussion because children are able to trust that you will handle their hopes with care. The conversations in our family often center on the idea of vocation as the kids share thoughts about their futures and dream out loud of what might be. I have been happy to see that they look at all their options with youthful interest. We’ve allowed them to dream and only guided those dreams minimally when questions are asked or input is helpful.
The first conversation I ever had with a child about these dreams was when my oldest (we’ll call him Professor) was four years old. He was closing in upon his fifth birthday. It was 11:45pm. We were all in bed and it was dark and quiet when I was startled by a shout from Professor’s room. I jumped out of bed. What is it? What’s wrong? “Oh, nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to tell you that God just told me he wants me to be a priest!” Oh. Okay. When did he tell you that? “Just now!” Uh huh. Okay… good. That’s good. “Yes! Goodnight, Mommy.” Do you need anything else? “Nope. That’s all. I love you.” Love you, too, son.
So, that was the inaugural discussion. He didn’t talk about it much at the time but began to show an increased interest in all things priestly. We purchased a little Mass kit for him for his fifth birthday and I made him little altar linens and tiny vestments.
Have you discussed vocation with your children lately? Prepare them now to open to the call of God.
Children are designed by God to learn through imitation. For this reason, the presence of consistent good example cannot be overstated and it takes constant effort to keep it in place. Shortly after Professor’s First Holy Communion at age six, we found it necessary to change parishes. It was not easy. It was uncomfortable. It was sad to leave those we loved. However, it was the right thing to do since the witness of the priests was joyless and the preaching was contrary to the teaching of the Church. As a result of our move, we found ourselves in a parish led by priests who were passionately in love with Christ and their vocations. They took time to answer Professor’s questions, invited him to inspect the sacristy and lived lives that shouted their joy and faithfulness. Invitations to consider the priesthood have been common. Their happy example has made a world of difference.
In the seven years since, Professor’s attraction to a religious vocation has waxed and waned. He has a natural appreciation for females and has thought in a positive way about marriage. He has been a successful athlete and harbored grand dreams that don’t seem to reconcile with a priestly vocation; but his mind and heart always seem to turn back to the church and liturgy where those joyful men of God serve.
In recent years, it had begun occurring to the Professor that maybe the priesthood was only for “old” guys. He was growing quickly and beginning to discover all that the world has to offer to youth. The entrance of a young and fervent priest into our community made all the difference. It helped that the priest was strong and fast and intelligent and energetic. Professor’s imagination was fueled again and he began to speak in sentences starting with “When I’m a priest, I’m going to….”
After he was invited to serve as an altar boy, his dreams expanded even further. The regular witness and example of the priests (young and old), the excellent fellowship with the other altar boys (yes, all boys), the increased appreciation and knowledge of the liturgy, the time spent with peers and grown men who love the Lord, and the time spent in the Presence of our Eucharistic Lord… these things have all contributed to feed the flame of desire that is growing in his heart.
Moms and Dads: surround your kids with good example and do not hesitate to remove the bad immediately. Model a faithful, fervent, blazing vocation and they will rise in search of that joy.
Fight for It
When I say, “fight for it” I mean that parents should be willing to step outside of their comfort zone to defend the vocation of the child. Not that we know necessarily what that is… but we at least have to be willing to fight for the dream.
Fighting for the dream means walking a different path from most of the world. It means extraordinary diligence in formation and friendships and education and prayer. It means having the courage to protect a child when the world says to let him go and letting him go where God calls him when the world thinks you are crazy for doing it.
Fighting for the dream in concrete terms might mean changing parishes when the example there is detrimental to spiritual formation. It can mean that old friendships are severed when the dream is not honored and seeking new ones in unusual places. It certainly means traveling a rocky road to find a terrain that feeds and nourishes the child’s soul. It also means that the parents must enter into their own spiritual renewal in order to properly direct the son.
Have you begged God to draw you closer to Himself and change your life forever? Do it now and He will grant you the strength to receive the tidal wave of grace that will engulf your family.
The family culture is vital for the nourishment of vocations because it has the power to help a child unfold the dreams that God has planted deep within the soul. It has the authority, the blessing and the grace to properly support a young person in this discernment, and the love that sustains the courage necessary to risk and fight for the heart of the child.
My middle son (the one we affectionately refer to as “Crash” and with good reason) turned nine this year. He has never before had an attraction to the priesthood and has even told us all about what his future wife will be like. He never wanted to celebrate Mass, he wanted to build houses and put out fires. He didn’t want to wear a Roman collar; he wanted to wear a Carhart. We have never questioned these things about him but only encouraged him to pursue holiness in whatever he does. We love to hear about his dreams and strive to be open and to discuss these things whenever he wants to.
Holy Week for Crash was different this year. He seemed to wake up to the liturgy and took notice of the extensive involvement of his big brother. He observed the healthy and joyful camaraderie of the altar boys and the priests and started to want what they had. He sensed the excitement and importance of the liturgical events, particularly the Easter Vigil Mass. This example of the boys and priests (and deacon) was powerful.
On Easter Sunday morning, Crash bounced downstairs to tell me about a dream that he had. “We were at the Easter Vigil and they were one altar boy short and Father Bona asked ME to serve!” Since he’s not yet old enough to serve it was only a possibility in a dream… but God builds good dreams and Crash thought of it all day long.
A week later, he told me that he wanted to be a priest. To be honest, I was utterly shocked. Really? That’s surprising to hear since you have always said that you absolutely did not want to be one. You’ve always wanted to be a dad. “Yes, I know. I was just sitting here, not thinking about anything, and all of a sudden I wanted to be a priest.”
I picked my jaw up off of my lap. The discussion had changed.
I am not so naïve as to think, “that is that” with the subject. I know how the tides of life ebb and flow and feelings, inclinations and thoughts change. I know that discernment is a journey and that the call of God does not generally follow the path we expect it to. Also, I am aware that I will not be privy to a large part of the personal discernment of my children.
These events have caused me to reflect on my role as a mother and how essential it is that we are attentive to this process in our homes. It is critical that we are open to the possibilities and dreams of our children and of God; willing to discuss and support, encourage and guide; ready to fight to defend those dreams by turning away from some things or being open to something new; willing to be unpopular or lonely or a little frightened by God’s plans; providing example to our children through the living out of our own vocation, and finding a way to keep joy-filled servants of God in their lives.
Professor would not surprise anyone by becoming a priest, but he would make an excellent dad. Crash might surprise a great many people by becoming a priest! But God’s ways are not our ways. I do not know the end result. Until then, I pray fervently that our home is and will increasingly become a place where God’s dreams will always have fertile ground.
Does your home dance to the rhythm of the liturgical year? Or does it live to the beat frantically to the commands of the academic and athletic calendar? It is a constant battle but every day is an opportunity to begin again.
Mother and Father, get on your knees… and teach your children to do the same. There is no substitute for prayer. Work and discuss and read and plan as you will, but to grow in love and knowledge of our Lord we must remain in constant communication with Him. Clarity, sanctity and faithfulness are contingent upon that grace. Build a prayerful home and the vocation of the child will enter into his dreams.
Tomorrow morning, the Professor and his dad will travel to the cathedral to witness the ordination of six men to the priesthood. My son is as excited about this event as I’ve ever seen him about any. He wants to absorb everything, breathing in every bit of incense and all the beauty of history and ritual, joy and sacrament. The Mass is where his heart is and this particular Mass has captured his imagination and awakened a little more of his dream.
How can a priestly vocation grow without a love of the liturgy and the very Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? God works as He will and does work outside of the Mass to call souls. The priesthood, however, is primarily about that moment when Heaven and Earth meet in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If we want to nurture vocations, that is the best place to begin. On our knees. In the Presence of God. Surrounded by servants of God. With Open hearts. Family at our side. Ready to embrace Christ’s dream.
Jesus, I trust in You!
Copyright 2011 Melody Lyons