As a parent, how do you know if your son’s interest in discerning a vocation is the real thing or is it just a phase? When he is young, it is hard for a parent to believe this could be for real. I always thought this kind of decision took years of struggle. How could this happen so fast and still be real? Is this just a whim? An idealized fantasy? Is this going to be like the trumpet lessons that he was so desperate for and then lost interest within a few months? Here is a little bit of my son’s story and how I came to understand that this was a serious desire and not just a phase.
When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, he was 17 years old and finishing Junior year. About 3 months before this, he attended a Kairos retreat held by his catholic high school. When he returned, I knew something was different by his attitude and behavior.
Within the first week after the retreat, the group decided to all go to 7 am mass every day before school. Now, any catholic mother would be pleased to see a teenager do this. For my son, something else made it significant.
Prior to this, I could hardly get him out of bed to get to school. Normally, we had to leave home by 7 am to get to school by 740. It was common for me to check on him at 630 am…still in bed, 645 am… still in bed. “I’m up , I’m up”… then still find him in bed at 7 am.
Going to 7 am mass meant that he would need to get up at least an hour earlier to get to school. Since I was driving him, getting to school by 7 am meant that he had to be ready to leave the house by 615 am. It was significant to see him up and ready to leave at 615 am and worried if I would make him late.
This change in behavior was surprising to me, based on his love of sleeping. But I still thought, “This is great! But I know my son, how long can this possibly last? This is a phase.” On the weekends, my son could sleep in as late as noon or 1 pm if I was not home to get him up. By the first weekend, I was surprised to hear that he was planning to go to morning mass on Saturday and meet some of the Kairos kids there. That gave me pause, but I still thought, “This is a phase. I’m glad he is doing this, but I don’t see this lasting for any length of time.”
As the weeks wore on, he continued to go to the 7 am mass at school even when no other Kairos kids were attending. Right after the retreat, the group would meet in the chapel after school to say the rosary or just to pray together about 2 – 3 times per week. Gradually this petered out about 6 weeks later. My son either stayed after school to go to the chapel, or he would get in the car and ask if we could stop at our parish church on the way home. Although surprised, I was happy to do it.
The first time he asked, I said, “Sure, how long do you think we will be there? I have to get dinner in the oven.” His response was “I don’t know, it is not up to me”. “Okay,” I thought “I’ll just respect the time he needs and not push.” This happened at least 3 times per week during the next few months where he would stay between 30 – 45 minutes.
At this point, my attitude was pleased, but still watchful and waiting to see how long it would last. My son was different is some ways, but not others. He seemed much more pleasant and cooperative at home for a typical 17 year old boy. But he would still fight with his brother, grumble over taking out the garbage, and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.
At this point, he did not have his driver’s license, so whenever he wanted to go to church, confession or daily mass, he had to have someone drive him. Most of the time, it was me. This meant that during that first summer, I went to mass with him every day, including Saturday.
Sometimes we would sit together and sometimes we wouldn’t. After mass we would go out for coffee and talk about this idea of being a priest and applying to seminary. This was a very special time for me to be able to listen to his concerns, fears and excitement. If he had been able to drive, we would not have had that time together.
Prior to these events, getting his license was not a big issue. Now he became much more aggressive trying to get enough hours of practice in so he could get his license. Once he did, it seemed he asked to use the car to go to church frequently. I admit, I did think this was a ploy to get to drive more, but at least he was going to church.
During the summer, he would drive to confession once a week. I have never gone to confession once a week in my life. Again, I was impressed as he always had a better attitude when he returned. By the end of the summer, he was going to confession on Wednesdays and Saturdays; twice in one week. I think this was the point that I knew this was serious and not just a phase.
Please know that I am not as cynical and callous as this story may sound. Remember, I have 2 older children who went through their own phases of interests and passions which typically gave way to the next new thing. Certainly, my son’s increase in a devotion to his faith was not something I had ever seen before. But the sudden onset and fervor seemed to fit the pattern of other phases I saw in his older brother and sister. It honestly never seriously occurred to me that his behavior would only increase over time.
My take away bit of advice for other parents is this: Look at the behavior changes: Is he changing his priorities, his friends, his schedule, his hobbies? How long has this been going on? Has it been sustained or even increased over time? For me, seeing these sustained changes in my son over time was what helped me realize that this was not just a phase, but a serious interest in pursing further discernment.
I hope this can help other parents who are wondering if this is just a phase for a son or daughter or is it a serious desire that needs exploration.