This week a lovely note landed in the Seminarian Parents inbox. It came from the Mum of a seminarian who…well, since she graciously offered permission to share her letter, I’ll let her tell the story.
Three years ago our 19 year old son entered a Diocesan seminary.
While not shocked – we were initially quite surprised and unsure that this was a good idea for someone so young.
At the time my husband and I tried to encourage him to ‘live’ a little before he entered. Maybe gain a bit more maturity, and life experience. To his credit he was not to be deterred by our initial reticence and lack of enthusiasm : he was sure of his decision. He proceeded initially to ‘pre-seminary’ for a year and then the national seminary.
And of course we supported him, loved him and were proud of him.
As parents we have always tried to support our children (he has an older brother & sister) – and when necessary offer guidance – in their life choices. University, and overseas travel for the others was a more familiar path for us – but the seminary and priesthood was an altogether different scenario – and one I assumed other people’s sons would follow – not ours!
I desperately wanted to talk to someone in my situation who understood what I was going through – another mother of a seminarian. There seemed to be no one around – I assumed that they must all be very holy – too busy praying and going about the Lord’s work – and would have no understanding of my feelings, fears and worries for my son and his future!
I quickly became aware that the role and relationship of parents and their seminarian son is at times different than that of our other children. (Not better or worse – just different)
Because of this unique role, the opportunity for the parents and families of our seminarians to meet and get to know one another (for both support & friendship) is important. Whether the family are heavily involved in ‘church’ – or not at all – the procedures, processes and emotions are usually uncharted territory for everyone. But nothing seemed to exist – at a local level or online.
Towards the end of last year, our son decided to leave the seminary – I didn’t want him to enter – but now I found I didn’t want him to leave! More uncharted waters – and once again, another parent to talk to would have been great.
While he has learnt a lot in these 3 years in the seminary – I know we as parents have as well.
In immersing himself in all things ‘Catholic’ – much has also been absorbed by us too. There have been many conversations as we talked with him before he entered – and in holidays when he was home
(I am a ‘cradle Catholic’ though I think the term ‘cultural Catholic’ would have been a better description. I loved the culture and familiarity of being catholic – the nitty gritty of my faith was largely ignored. )
For me I know my knowledge of catholic ‘stuff’, liturgical matters, seminarian studies and subjects, canon law, has increased – but above all this superfluous information, my Faith has deepened and (I think) matured. For that I will always be thankful and grateful to my son – for testing my understanding of my faith, challenging my assumptions and encouraging me to seek and develop a more personal relationship with God.
This letter was encouraging to all of us. We recognized our own questions, fears and concerns in this mother’s story. Cathy and I chuckled at her assumption that the parents of prospective priest must somehow be above-average on the holiness meter. We certainly aren’t, but we are trying to improve our relationship with God.
One of the concerns she had was her son’s age. Cathy shared that concern and … well … I’ll let her explain:
Worry about Evan being too young was a big concern of mine as well. I spoke to the formation director of his order and he offered me an interesting perspective. He stated that they encourage men to explore the priesthood as early as possible (as soon as they hear the call). If it doesn’t work out there are no hard feelings, on the contrary, they often remain friends of the group for life. If they discern that the ordained life isn’t for them, they are still young enough to enter into the secular life and have a full career. If they wait till their late 30’s, for example, they are in their forty’s when they go back to their careers and it can be difficult.
All of which brings me to a brief point that I’d like to make about the discernment process.
Discernment is a process. Some people think that discernment is sitting around, praying for Divine guidance and getting a lightning bolt from the sky in response. Prayer is definitely important, but prayer needs to be accompanied by action. A great post over at Verso L’alto talks about the danger of “passive discernment.”
People tend to talk about a priestly vocation as if entering seminary is a final decision with ordination as a foregone conclusion. That isn’t the case at all. You might as well start making wedding plans the first time your son takes a girl out on a date. Yes, it could lead to marriage, but it might not. It’s important to live through the process — it’s a journey, not a destination.
When young people perceive a call to religious life, they should explore it. That means investigating seminaries and talking to vocations directors. It probably means entering the seminary. Whatever happens — that time in seminary is part of the journey.
I’d be so bold as to say that active discernment is good practice for all of us. If you think God is calling you to something — a ministry in your parish, some task in your neighborhood or your workplace, or even more prayer and study — don’t sit back and think about it. With openness to the Spirit, jump in and listen to God through your actions.