When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to be a priest, I had no real understanding of the discernment process. Being a cradle catholic, I was surprised to realize that all of my questions and concerns were based on misunderstandings, false information or myths. Within 2 weeks of my son’s announcement, I found a book that answered all my questions and some I had not thought of yet: “To Save a Thousand Souls” by Fr. Brett Brannen. Although the book is written for the young man discerning, I found it gave me accurate information, interesting anecdotes and a better understanding of the discernment process. Here is how Amazon.com describes it:
In what has been hailed as “a groundbreaking work” Fr. Brett Brannen compiles all the wisdom of a master Vocation Director into one volume. Using powerful and entertaining stories, the book explains in down-to-earth language how to discern a vocation to diocesan priesthood.
The book has received universal praise from bishops and vocation directors: “Fr. Brannen’s book is tremendous—inspirational, imminently practical, and amazingly comprehensive. It is a clearly written ‘how to’ manual filled with solid advice for men discerning the priesthood. A marvelous work of immense value.” – Fr. Len Plazewski, President, National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors
Fr. Brannen has since published another very good book to specifically address the concerns and questions of parents, “A Priest in the Family”. Here is a description:
“A Priest in the Family is a comprehensive resource for the parents …. thoughtfully addressing common questions and concerns about seminary, celibacy, and the life of a priest. Whether you’re uneasy or elated about your son’s interest in the priesthood, this book is for you.”
Like his previous book, To Save a Thousand Souls, Fr. Brannen’s new book for parents is filled with humor, anecdotes, and dramatic stories from his own life as a priest. In twelve short, easy-to-read chapters, he explains priesthood, seminary, celibacy, and how a man discerns his vocation—all while keeping in mind parents’ legitimate concerns.
Readers have praised A Priest in the Family as an entertaining read that manages to allay parents’ fears and show them how to support their son, while offering a few laughs and a dose of inspiration along the way.
If you are struggling to understand what is going on with your son or have some questions that are just too embarrassing to ask, I urge you to open up a new window in your browser and go to vianneyvocations.com and order one or both of these books today. Until you can read these books for yourself, here is a brief summary of what I learned:
5 Things I Learned about the Discernment Process:
Once you enter seminary, you are pretty sure that you will become a priest.
Discernment is a long, gradual process that is ongoing. Many people are involved with helping an individual during the discernment process: spiritual director, vocation director, seminary faculty and others.
Once you enter seminary, you are expected to go all the way through to ordination. Leaving seminary is a failure, shameful and humiliating. Everyone will be disappointed if you leave.
“Discerning out” of seminary is actually a good thing. A few rough weeks in seminary is not a reason to discern out. The decision to “discern out” is made in conjunction with the Spiritual Director, Vocation Director and others involved in his discernment process. It means the man has determined that priesthood is not his true vocation. For the rest of his life, he will not need to wonder if he should have been a priest. This is not considered a failure or an embarrassment. Others at the seminary are actually happy for the man to be able to pursue his true vocation. Guys do not sneak out in the middle of the night. The seminary community, faculty and peers wish him well. The time spent in seminary is not wasted. The growth and maturity in his faith can only be a benefit to a young man as a future husband or single man.
You are too young to go into college seminary right out of high school.
The Father calls men at many different ages and at different times in their life. If your son feels called, he should take the time to discern if this is his vocation. There are significant advantages in going to college seminary right out of high school that are outlined in the book for parents by Fr Brannen. A post on this website also addresses this: Advantages of Going to Seminary
You need to go to college, date more and live in the “real world” before you go to seminary.
If your son is feeling called now, it is best to discern now rather than try to put it on the back burner or push it away. Going to seminary is not leaving the “real world.” Seminarians do have a more structured, healthy environment than a typical college. This environment allows more opportunity to focus on courses, strengthen their prayer life, increase knowledge of the faith and self-discipline. These are all good things for any young man to learn. Seminarians still hang out with friends, go to movies and parties, work summer jobs, drink beer and play sports. Finding the” right girl” is not a “remedy” for discerning a priestly vocation.
You should go to college and get a degree first. Then you can go to seminary if you still want to. If this priest thing doesn’t work out, you’ll have something to fall back on.
Priesthood is a vocation that God has designed for the individual where he will find the most happiness in his life. It is not something that “works out.” He will find he either has a priestly vocation or he doesn’t. You can’t put discernment on hold for 4 years just so he can have something to “fall back on”.
Although this post is all about getting factual information, please do not let gathering data be your only method of understanding. As a parent, you will never be able to understand this with only your head. You must take your concerns and questions of the heart to prayer consistently until you find some peace which the Father will give you. Please know that the contributing authors of this blog pray for all parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.