Discerning Out: What It Is & Is Not

Every year, young men in seminary formation  come to the realization that priesthood is not their vocation.  If you don’t have a clear understanding of the discernment process or the nature of a vocation, you might see this is a failure.  Your son has spent all this time and effort on the road of discernment and then he decides to leave seminary.

The reality for a man who discerns out of seminary is very different.   First, this decision young-man-prayinghas been reached after a great deal of discussion  with his spiritual director and other formators at the seminary.  He has spent many hours in thought and prayer on this topic. Once the thought of discerning out of seminary is on the table, men do not pack their bags the same day.  I have read blogs and spoken to seminarians who told me that when serious questions arose, they were counseled to give the decision a little more time, prayer and counsel before making a final decision.  Over time, some discerned out, while others chose to continue their discernment.

If he is in college seminary, he may choose stay until the end of the semester to earn the academic credits.  Since the  seminary is an accredited program to grant a degree, the course credit can be transferred to another college.

When a man enters seminary, it is with the question, “Is God calling me to be a priest?” When a man discerns out,  he has determined that his true vocation is not priesthood.  He has come to understand that God is calling him to a different vocation.  It is NOT that he has decided, “I guess I don’t want to be a priest anymore.”

Although other seminarians may be dissappointed to see him go, they are genuinely glad that he has made this decision.   Remember, every seminarian is actively discerning if he is called to be a priest.  The man who discerns out can leave with the knowledge that he has given this question adequate time, prayer and counsel and will not need to wonder if he really should have been a priest.

Discerning out is actually a positive decision, not a negative one.  This is a real “win” for happy-sems-1
the Catholic Church in the long run.  The church now has a man who has been given years of spiritual direction and seminary education in philosophy and theology.  He has served those in need as part of his seminary education.   He has developed relationships with other men who take their faith seriously that can last throughout his life.

It is easy to see how a priest serves the church, but this man will be able to serve the church and his community in ways a priest could never do. How?

  • Living out the sacrament of marriage faithfully if he is called to marriage
  • Acting as the spiritual leader of  his family
  • Raising his children in the faith
  • Supporting charities with his time, talent and treasure

father-son-talking-1081076-wallpaperDay after day, he will go places and do things that a priest cannot.  He will be able to live and share his faith in ways a priest cannot.

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A priest easily stands out in a crowd and is recognized by believers and non-believers

A man  can choose to stand out and live his faith in a thousand places and ways on a daily basis to believers and non-believers.  How?

Whfamily-praying-in-churchile he is busy making a living, supporting and nurturing his family,  he chooses what kind of  jokes to join in on and his attitude toward women in general and his wife in particiular and how he treats people with disabilites.

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He chooses how he acts in the locker room as well as his response at work when something “questionable” is proposed as a strategy to increase sales.

He chooses how he spends his free time, how he spends his money and what kinds of movies, books or entertainment he enjoys.

How blessed is the parish to have the man who discerned out of seminary as a member! dad-and-cub-scoutHe is well schooled to participate in the life of his parish. He may teach Religious Education to children, act as a sponsor in  RCIA, run for parish council, act as a lector or extraordinary minister, help run the Cub Scout pack or coach a sport.

Discerning out of seminary can be the best thing to happen to a young man as the opportunities only expand for him to live his faith and serve his family, his parish and his community.  Discerning out is one outcome of the discernment process which allows the man to serve in different ways which will have a powerful impact on others.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection Series Part 2: But, I just want him to be happy!

How do you measure happiness?

This post should appeal to those who are interested in hard data from reliable sources.book-why-priest-happy  If your objection  arises from a belief that your son will not be happy as a priest, take a look at the current research published in:
Why Priests Are Happy: A Study  of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.  This book has been described as a “groundbreaking study…(which) finds that American priests enjoy an extraordinarily high rate of happiness and satisfaction, among the highest of any profession.”

This book presents the findings of survey research done in 2009 of 2,482 priests from 23 diocese in the US.  It is supplemented by a previous research study from 2004 of 1,242 priests from 16 dioceses. The focus of the study was the psychological and spiritual health of Catholic priests in the US.

Standardized pyschological tests and modern statistical analysis were used to compare priests to norm samples of the general population and then identify the elements which significantly contribute to happiness in priests.

A central finding of this study is the exraordinarily high rate of priestly happiness and satisfaction.  The findings are strong, replicable and consistent.  They like priesthood…are committed to it..and find much satisfaction in their lives and ministries.  The satisfaction of priests are among the highest of any way of life or vocation in the US.

The statement “Overall, I am happy as a priest” had a response of Stongly Agree or Agree by 90% of surveyed priests in 2004 and 92.4% in 2009.

priest-hangs-out-with-a-friend

Another central finding of the study was that the psychological health of priests tested slightly better than the laity on standardized tests for depression, anxiety and general psychological health.  Priests  reported high rates of close friendships with both other priests and with laity.

Factors Contributing to Priestly Happiness

Fourteen factors were found to be signifiant and account for almost 50% of what makes a happy priest.  The strongest predictor of priestly happiness was the priest’s own sense of inner peace apriest-book-2nd joy which was closely linked to their spiritual health.  To be a happy priest necessarily includes having a strong relationhip with God and daily nurturing that relationship with spiritual practices: celebrating the sacraments, private prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, rosary and spiritual reading. Personal celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation and a relationship with a Spiritual Director also contribute to a healthy spiritual life.

Other factors which contribute to priestly happiness include a healthy view o2-priestsf celibacy, a positive relationship with the Bishop, having close friends (both priests and liaty), feeling supported by happy-sems-1other priests, attending priest gatherings, family support of their vocation. making an annual retreat and a regular day off as well as vacation.  Each one of these factors is described and discussed in depth if you want to investigate these factors on a deeper level.

Lest you think the research outlined in this book is self serving
happy-mid-life-priestand slanted to show priesthood in a positive light, other social research backs up this study.   While researching this concept, I was surprised to find this very topic the subject of a homily by Fr. Jonathan Meyer  posted online titled “The Secret to a Happy Life”.  Click HERE  to watch the video. Fr. Meyer references a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago on job satisfaction and overall happiness.   The findings demonstrate that clergy rank #1 in both these areas which is well above the #2 rank held by firefighters.

                      Job Satisfaction score               General Happiness score

Clergy                                        87.2                                                        67.2

Firefighters                             80.1                                                        57.2  

You can’t get much more secular than the University of Chicago and the National Opionion Research Center. The NORC regularly conducts social science research on job satisfaction and overall happiness by occupation.

It is important to understand that a Catholic priest is not an occupation, but a life.  It is not something you put on at 8am and take off at 5pm.  You can’t think of a priest as a job like an engineer or an accountant.  Just like being a parent is not an occupation, but your life….forever.. Do you ever stop being a parent?  From happy-black-manyour child’s birth on into adulthood, you worry and care for your child in a thousand different ways that change over time.

If your son  discerns that he is called to be a priest, it will be something  he becomes and not just an occupation or career.  As a parent, this concept will take time, reflection and prayer to understand all the implications for you and your son.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection Series: But I just want him to be happy!

If you have been following this series, you have seen  that the objections have been very specific. At first, I had many of these objections described in this series. When you can’t get resolution on one or more of these objections, it is easy to fall back on the granddaddy of them all: “But, I just want him to be happy!”  It is the biggest catch all for every objection rolled into one.  Even after addressing all your objections, you may still come down to this one broad, vague objection.

Ask a parent at any point in the life of their child, “What do you want for your child?” Wealth? A great career?  A happy marriage and children?

What have you said during your son’s life when this question arises?  “I just want him to be happy” is the common refrain. Well, now you have the opportunity to see if you really mean it.

family-and-big-house
Do you really want him to be happy or do you just want your idea of what happiness could be for him?   A wife and children?  A good job?  A nice house in a good neighbrohood? Whose happiness do you really want?   If your son’s true vocation is priesthood,  he will find the most happiness in this vocation.

Whether your son was deciding on a college or a major or a job, parents routinely make the “I just want him to be happy” statement…and really mean it.  If your son is discerning a religious vocation to priesthood, you will need to take another look at that sentiment.

Understanding the Nature of a Vocation

It helps to understand the concept of vocation to get some clarity on this broad objection. The blog post Everone Has 3 Vocations  has a brief video that explains this concept.

If your son is discerning a call to a priestly vocation, you need to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of a few facts:

  • The Father loves your son more than you do and wants him to be happy more than you do
  • The Father created your son for a specific purpose and a specific vocation where he will find the most happiness and satisfaction

I admit,  these concepts took time for me to accept on a deeper level.  As a parent, I believed that I knew what was best for my son: go to college first and live in the “real” world before you go to seminary.  I didn’t want him to narrow his focus at such a young age in a “career” choice.  Since my son was only 17 when he started discerning, I was still feeling very protective and wanted to guide him as he entered college and began to explore his options.

What Do You Believe?

Image result for young man and parents

Do you believe that the Father loves your son more than you do?  Do you realize that the Father wants your son to be happy more than you do?  Then you need to trust the discernment process to determine if this is your son’s true vocation.  If your son discerns priesthood is not is true voacation, then he will “discern out” of seminary.  As previously discussed in the post Advantages of Going to Seminary or What is the Next Right Step?, your son  can best discern his vocation in the seminary.  You can only discern so far outside the seminary environment.

What Does Happiness Look Like in Seminary?

happy-seminarians-w-pope-cutout-1160x480Have you gone to  see the seminary or met any seminarians in your diocese?  I am always struck by how happy seminarians look.  Once you get to know them, it is easy to see that they seem happy in a different way.  It is hard to describe but easy to see.  They are not happy because they passsed an exam  or spring break is coming.  Most priests describe their time in seminary as one of the happiest times of their lives.

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If you are not convinced, visit the seminary, ask your vocation director to meet other seminarians or attend an event in your diocese where seminarians are present.  This kind of happiness is hard to describe, but plain to see.  I don’t know if even the seminarians can explain it.

happy-man-1

If your son is attending seminary, step back and look at him.  Does he look happy and content or stressed and unhappy?  If he is the later, you can be assurred that his spiritual director and/or formation director in seminary will be addressing it.

Just as in the Objection series post I Will Never Have Grandchildren, you will need to reflect on your desire for your son to be “happy” and what that  means for you and for him.  Ask yourself: “Whose happiness do I really want?”  The honest answer to this question will guide you on this path of discernment with your son as you try to support and understand him.

Part 2: But I just want him to be happy… Coming Soon! 

If your objection  arises from a belief that your son will not be happy as a priest, take a look at the current research published in:book-why-priest-happy

Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.  This book has been described as a “groundbreaking study…(which) finds that American priests enjoy an extraordinarily high rate of happiness and satisfaction, among the highest of any profession.”  I will post a part 2 to this objection to explore some of these findings soon.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Meet the Parents Part 2: On this road with your son.

Do  you feel alone sometimes while your son is on this path of discernment?  Hopefully, this blog is one way for you to see that you are not alone and that other parents have had the same concerns and worries, hopes and dreams for their son.  The first Meet the Parents  post on this blog was about taking advantage of any opportunities your diocese provides for parents to meet or attend other events like ordinations.

 

2mothers2If the idea of a group of parents is too much, your vocation director can put you in touch with  1 or more parents that can address your individual concerns.  You will be surprised how “normal” the parents of seminarians can be.  The post Objection  Series:  “How could this happen in our family?  We aren’t the model Catholic family!”  can give you a preview of what other families of  seminarians  are like.

This post takes a different view of the experience of parents as they follow their son on his discernment/vocation journey.

This article appeared in the Catholic Sun, a newspaper for the diocese of Phoenix AZ in November 2015.

Priests’ Moms Find Peace Within Group

Carla Sperry never expected to be looked at as an expert in the Catholic faith. “Sometimes, even when my son was in the seminary, people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the mother of a seminarian!’ and they would think that I would know so much about our religion.”

A growing group of moms is finding solidarity with other mothers who not only understand that, but ride the same roller coaster of emotions as their children further discern or live a religious vocation. Sperry, whose son — Fr. Scott Michael Sperry — was ordained to the priesthood last year, is part of this group of moms who cling to their rosaries and each other every first Saturday of the month.

The group doesn’t have a formal name, but its purpose is clear: to pray the Joyful Mysteries for their children discerning or living a religious vocation.

Mom at son's diaconate ord 2015-11-17-at-12.49.54-PMRita Lee prays silently near her son, transitional Dcn. Ryan Lee, shortly after his ordination May 31. Lee organized a prayer group for moms whose children are discerning religious vocations. (Catholic Sun file photo)

Rita Lee, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle in Phoenix and the group’s founder, sits right in the middle of the group’s target audience. Her son, Dcn. Ryan Lee, is in his final year of discerning the priesthood and is living the vows of a deacon in that transition period. She learned during annual meetings of seminarian parents with the diocesan vocations director that some mothers felt sad about their sons’ calling, while others felt mad and many felt blessed.

“Fast forward a number of years and I guess the Holy Spirit finally spoke to me and gave me the grace to think that possibly we could come together as a group of mothers of seminarians, priests and religious, to pray specifically the rosary for our children,” Lee said.

The group currently consists of 30-35 members, who meet at a different parish each month, ensuring that no one has to consistently drive a long distance.

Anne Sanfilippo, a parishioner of St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Scottsdale, enjoys interacting with mothers of newly ordained priests and seminarians in the group. Her son, Fr. David Sanfilippo, has been a priest for 21 years and currently serves as the diocese’s Vicar of Priests.

“If they have any questions, it’s nice that they have somebody to fall back on … to say, ‘I’m feeling kind of sad and happy at the same time about the vocation. Did you feel that?’ And yes we did,” she said. “In our humanity, in our worldly thinking, we tend to think of it as a loss, but in the heavenly thinking, it’s truly, truly a blessing beyond words.”

Mothers who attend the meetings come to talk and laugh but mainly to pray. “We came together and we wanted to have our main focus be specifically on prayer, we didn’t want to be just another social group,” Lee said. “We pray the Rosary and we talk about problems, issues, challenges or graces that we or our children might have.”

Patty Bolding, co-organizer of the group, noted that the group meetings help ease her worries about her son, Fr. Robert Bolding, who serves as the President Rector of St. Mary’s High School.

“There’s nothing you can do for them, other than pray for them, so that’s probably what this group has been most rewarding for,” she said.

All mothers are welcome to join the group, Lee said, “Every mother whose son is a priest or seminarian anywhere in the world, any mom whose daughter is a consecrated religious, all are very welcome to join our group and we would love to have them.”

— By Lindsay Wantland

 

Objection Series: “But people are so critical of priests!” Super Human or A Human of Faith?

It must be hard to live your life and do your job while under a microscope. When every human failing is on display for others to comment and judge, you can lean toward one of 2 extremes:  defensive, self righteous arrogance on one end and humility on the other. Humility is a virtue everyone needs to work on and some of us have to work harder than others. During seminary formation  and ongoing spiritual direction, priests have to work on this just like everyone else.

Priests are not the only ones under a microscope today.  Police officers arepolice traffic stop under scrutiny on a daily basis.  In some areas, there is suspicion and mistrust with or without provocation.  How would you like to wear a body camera at work  documenting everything you say and do which could easily end up on the 6 o’clock news?   Since  priests won’t be wearing body cameras any time soon, perception is reality for people.  Many people find it necessary to voice their unsolicited opinion of their priest whether it is charitable or not.  “Who am I to judge?”  is not heard very often in our culture.

Whether you are a priest, police officer or politician, you have to accept the fact that you can’t please everyone and someone will always be less than satisfied.  How can you be expected to hit the perfect balance in every interaction with every personality across the spectrum of human experience?  You can’t; it is impossible.

So what do you do when everyone expects you to be “super” human?   A good place to start is to find where your heart is on the continuum between defensive, self righteous arrogance and  humility. Since this can be a moving target, we should make it a practice to check our location periodically.   Having the humility to know who you are and what you are called to do goes a long way  in dealing with this reality in the workplace, with your family or in a life spent serving  others.   Below is a post that describes this beautifully to give you a different perspective on this objection.

 

NewPriestNJ
Super Humans
06/26/2015

by Matthew Higgins

When I was a kid, I thought it was extremely odd that the priests at my parish took vacation time. I had no clue that they were allowed to do that. I did not see priesthood as a typical career, but something that took a great deal of sacrifice—including sacrificing any personal time for the service of the Church. For instance I knew that a priest could not get married and have children of his own. I knew that a priest lived simply and was at the service of the Church, mostly through the parish where he was assigned. To me, that meant he was at the service of the Church 24/7.

Now that I am older and understand a little bit more about the workings of the Church and parish as an institution as well as the Body of Christ, it makes perfect sense to me that priests are “allowed” to take time off. From my professional and personal relationships with priests, I know how important it is for priests to take time off—whether that means a day during the week or a
week’s vacation.

My childhood image of the priest and one that is shared by too manysuperman flag people is that these men are super human. The priest is not super human, but a human of faith. Not being super human does not mean he does not do super human things. In fact, through faith in God (who is very super human—not contained or restricted by human limitations), humans can do some super human things.

In the Gospel… we encounter something that is very super-human: faith and the consequences of faith known as miracles.  What is important to look at in these readings is who displays their faith and who does not. First, Jairus comes in faith to Christ on behalf of his jesus and little girldaughter. Jairus is looking for Christ to help. He has faith in Jesus’ power to heal and that faith has a consequence—healing for his daughter. Think for a second of the tremendous faith and courage it took for this man to leave his daughter’s side as she was at the point of death. With full knowledge that he may not be there with his daughter until the very last moment, he leaves and goes to Jesus. What selfless faith!

Second, the woman suffering from a hemorrhage has tremendous faith in Christ’s power. Her faith has a consequencewoman with hemorrhage—healing and salvation.  Each act of faith draws people to Christ. Each act of faith results in a miracle. Sometimes, like in the case of this woman, it is our own faith that moves us to act, that moves us toward Jesus. Other times, like in the case of Jairus, it is the great faith of others that leads us closer to Him and allows Him to miraculously heal us in big and small ways.

When we look at this connection between faith and healing through the lens of the life of the priest, we can see how these men can sometimes be mistaken for being super human….Fr Johnson at mass

Every time a priest says Mass, a miracle takes place. Through the priest, Christ becomes present on the Altars of our Churches and through faith we draw nearer and nearer to Him.  

Through the priest, Christ brings healing to those weighed down by sin in the Confessional and those sick and dying through the Sacrament of Anointing.

When a man, who is all things worldly and impure, through the constant prayers from his mother or grandmother, has an encounter with Jesus and repents…that’s a miracle. (When that man enters the seminary and becomes later becomes a priest…that’s a miracle too)

When society makes champions of sexual immodesty and immorality and then a priest, through His faith in Christ, makes a promise to and lives out a life of celibacy…that’s a miracle.

priest and  preachingWhen society becomes more and more divided under a false flag of hateful relativism disguised as “equality” and “tolerance” making others feel discouraged or afraid to speak the truth and a priest stands up and preaches God’s love strengthening our faith…that’s a miracle.

When a loved one dies suddenly, and your priest is there to help you not only in celebrating the funeral Liturgy but also on a personal level, following up with you as the months go by when it seems like everyone else is going on with their lives…giving you hope and encouraging you in faith…that’s a miracle.

Yes, a priest is human—a human with sins, struggles, and pope frances going to confessionbrokenness. But he is also a human that recognizes he needs to go to Jesus in faith to heal his brokenness. He is a human that allows Christ to work in and through him in these various situations. He is a human that shows an example of faith, attracting others to the super human person of Christ, increasing our faith in the one, true God—God who performs miracles big and small in those who have faith in Him.

Please know the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection  Series:  “How could this happen in our family?  We aren’t the model Catholic family!”

The first Sunday after Christmas celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. This is one of my favorite feasts of the church because it always gives me hope that our family can be better.  When you think about it, it really is amazing that Jesus chose to be  born into a poor family with all the struggles of living in a small village under Roman rule.  Even today, a family can relate to the struggles surrounding Jesus’s birth and life before his public ministry.

Holy Family rectangle

Now you can look at the Holy Family and say, “Well, Jesus was perfect, Mary never sinned and Joseph must have been the perfect husband.” Our families are not perfect and will never be perfect.  But the Holy Family gives us a model of the ideal in family life and marriage.  With the Holy Family, we see how the family is the place to learn to love, serve, respect and support each other in order to take it out to serve the world.

 

So if there are no perfect families, where do seminarians come from?  Not from under a rock, but from families, just like yours and mine. They are born into and grow up in couple silent
typical families with flawed parents, strained marriages, periods of
unemployment, relatives with drug and alcohol addiction and sick grandparents.  These families fight and argue over the remote, among other things, and whose turn it is to take out the garbage.

 

Black family cookoutThey celebrate holidays and birthdays and have cook outs in the summer.
Parents work to provide what they feel is the best they can afford for their children.  Older children hand down clothes to younger siblings and want the latest electronic device because “everyone has one.”

 

Vacations are planned and cancelled at the last minute.   Parents try to manage the family finances and then the refrigerator breaks down.  Doors get slammed and harsh words are exchanged.  Apologies are either generously offered or coaxed out of the offender.   Misunderstandings and outright lies, broken promises and letting each other down happen with varying degrees of frequency over the years.

 

Teenagers break curfew, get into to trouble at school and fall in and out of man injury-accident
love before  graduating from high school. More trouble ensues in college with learning money management, underage drinking, minor car accidents and repeating college courses more than once to pass.  Now the fighting is about using the car, whose turn it is to mow the lawn and still taking out the garbage.  Teens and young adults at home are prodded to get to Sunday mass and reminded when confessions are scheduled even though they’ve been at the same time for the last 15 years.

 

These families have relatives who don’t talk to each other and others who
strained marriagehave not had contact for 20 years.  There have been sudden deaths and unexpected pregnancies in and out of  marriage, divorces and broken engagements.  Some have not been to church in 15 years and others are verbally hypercritical of the Church and certain teachings.

 

Does any part of this sound like your family?  Well, most of these troubles have happened in our family over the years.  That’s why the example of the Holy Family gives hope to keep moving forward.

 

So they next time you say that seminarians or priests don’t know what it is like to live in the real world, just remember that they grew up in a family with all the problems and stresses, joys and sorrows this world provides.

Family with adult sons

Please know  the authors on this blog, pray daily for the parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

 

 

 

 

Objection Series: Celibacy or “He’ll never have his own children!”

Letting  Go

When you look back, parenting feels like a long series of letting go of your school_bus_image
child.  The first day of school is a day of pride and tears for parents. As  the years go by, your child starts to take bigger, more serious steps away: getting a driver’s license, starting to date, working a summer job.  Leaving for college feels like the last nail in the coffin when you finally say that last good bye, give that last hug and  wipe that last tear away.

Even when they come home for vacation, their lives are not at home, but with their friends and activities at college.  Every one of these acts of letting go are a normal part of a child’s growth and maturation.  These milestones are happy but bittersweet for a parent.
large-lego-blocks

It can take years to realize that your child is not your own, they are given to you for only a  short time. It just doesn’t feel like that when you are up to your ears in diapers and  Lego’s trying to get through the afternoon.

Control

At birth, you start with being responsible for meeting their every need: physical,  emotional, psychological. Between birth and age 5, parenting is exhausting, but you can pretty much  direct their lives, their friends and their activities.   Once they take those first steps away: going off to school, choosing their own friends, you come to the realization that you can’t control every part of their lives.  With every passing year, the stakes only get higher as they take bigger steps away until one day you realize: they are not yours to hold onto forever.
mom and teen sonThey have been given to you to nurture, love, educate until you send them on their way.  This is a difficult realization for any parent and can be much harder for some parents than others.  Thankfully, the Father has designed this so that we have to learn to let go little by little over many years.  Eventually, you  realize, it takes a lot more love to let go than to hold on.

Are you worried that if your son becomes a priest, he”ll miss out on all the joys of being a parent? Below is an exert from a post by a Catholic mom on Ignitum Today who addresses this very question.

Celibates Make Great Parents                          6/02/2014

by Lauren Meyers

There are a few things that I do every day. I brush my teeth. I drink a cup, of coffee… and I kiss and pinch the cheeks of my two sons. As most parents would testify, I love my children. I love their laughs, their hugs. I love seeing them learn and watching them grow. I cherish every day with them, and I wonder how I ever lived without them. I want to take them in my arms and never let them go.

It’s times when I think about this joy that I wonder about those priests, religious, and other members of the Church who have taken a vow of celibacy. I don’t mean to make assumptions or to judge, but I wonder if it’s lonely. I wonder if they feel regret. I wonder if they feel that they are missing out by not being parents.

I get my answer when my four-year-old son opens up a new toy from his grandparents. He immediately says, “I need to show Father Kevin!” His first desire is to share the pride and joy of his new dinosaur with our parish priest. I get my answer when we are at the mall. My two-year-old sees a sister in a habit and, without ever having seen her, yells out, “Mary!” He is instantly comfortable and happy in her presence, and smiles as he reaches out his hands to her. I get my answer when another parish priest wags a finger with a smile and reminds my son not to run near the front steps of the rectory. He returns the smile and walks back to the vestibule.

I get my answer: They are parents. That’s not to say that they are parents in the same way that a man or woman who changes diapers in the middle of the night, packs lunch boxes, or spends countless hours driving to practices and recitals is a parent. These men and women, though, love immensely. They nurture, teach, and admonish. They pray for and provide guidance for countless children, youth, and adults. They care for others in any way that is needed. They are called to love in ways that are motherly and fatherly. Just like any parent, their presence is irreplaceable.

Those who are called to celibacy are not exempt from parenthood, and in some ways make the greatest parents. They are, perhaps, best equipped to be parents because they are conscious of a fact that I know I overlook all the time:

My children are not my own. My children do not exist for the sake of my personal fulfillment. Their lives are not meant to serve my own desires. My call as a parent is to protect and nurture a soul which belongs to God, so that soul might remain in the presence of God for all eternity. My vocation is to love immensely and to let go with trust.

Those who are celibate display true love and abandon. They love and are loved by God so dearly, and have abandoned themselves with complete trust in God’s will. Who better to help me return my children to God than those who have given themselves to God in such an intense way? Who better to remind me of my call to love with abandon and to return to the Lord every gift I have been given, including my children? I hope, in my life, to express true gratitude for those celibates who have vowed to love all the sons and daughters of the Church as their mothers and fathers. I hope to learn from them how to be a great parent.

Please know the authors on this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection Series: Celibacy or “You mean, no sex? Ever?”

As part of the Objection Series, I did not think I would be writing specifically about celibacy, although it can be an objection for parents.  I referred to celibacy in the Objection Series post: He’s throwing his life away!  I  was surprised to hear “You mean, no sex? Ever?” as the  very first objection from a well meaning friend responding to the news that my son was entering college seminary.

Now, I won’t begin to claim I have any understanding of celibacy as a discipline of the priesthood. There are so many facets to celibacy: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.  I imagine it would take a long time to come to an understanding and appreciation of celibacy by the individual and even longer for their family.  It doesn’t help that the culture is so over sexualized from every direction, type of media and passing billboard.  It is almost impossible to get away from the culture’s slant on sexuality.

Perhaps understanding the concept of celibacy is like eating an elephant; you need to take it one bite at time.  So as part of a small bite of understanding, here is  a post from a seminarian related to the desires of the heart of every man and woman. He provides a glimpse at the evolving understanding of celibacy in this post from the blog:  Seminarian Casual

Why I Want To Be a Priest     Posted November 20, 2015

by 

Thomas-Rhett-200x200Thomas Rhett, my favorite country artist, just came out with a new music video for his song “Die A Happy Man.” The video features Rhett and his gorgeous wife enjoying all the pleasures that a vacation in Hawaii can offer. And all of that paints the picture for his lines:

If I never get to see the Northern Lights
If I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
If all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby I could die a happy man. 

couple on horse3I think that song speaks to everyone. Everyone wants intimacy, a relationship, and to share one’s life with another. What’s more, everyone wants that on the beaches of Hawaii while horseback riding with the dog tagging along and a cold one in your hand.

 

I had my life pointing in that direction: I was set to make a lot of money as an engineer and I had the gorgeous girlfriend, what more can the world offer?

I think that was the mindset of a guy I met this summer who asked me “Why do you want to be a priest? Do you like public speaking?”I went into shock and I wasn’t sure why.  At this point I had been thinking about that question for years—throughout high school, at college, and now for a whole year at seminary. I’ve even given my vocation story countless times to total strangers. But for some reason the question caught me off guard and it left me with a pit in my stomach wondering whether or not I knew the answer.

 

The thing about that situation was that the guy that asked me was looking at the priesthood from a utilitarian standpoint. To someone like that, the priesthood is just another career path that you would only choose if you liked it and it fit what you thought the ideal life is.

 

Now, that’s not entirely wrong. The priesthood is a profession in some sense, but I think what the man asked me neglects the whole “God” dimension to the question. Because without God, the priesthood does seem best fitted for someone that likes public speaking, or likes being a leading community figure, or even likes to live by himself.

I think another part of it is that some people think that someone who coupone on beach3wants to be a priest just isn’t into the whole marriage thing. They don’t want that wife on the sun setting shores of Hawaii.  And to all of those pretenses I want to scream “No! I do want those things! I’m a normal guy!”

 

The thing that people have to remember is that discernment is choosing between two goods. Marriage is a good and priesthood is a good. It’s not that I don’t have a desire to get married, it’s that I have a longing for something more than that. It’s precisely that longing for more that comes from God, and because that longing is deep in your heart it’s difficult to explain to people.

 

That’s what I wish people knew. It’s not that I don’t want the girl on the beach, it’s that I want something more than that. And if God is truly calling me to more, then that’s the only way that I’ll die a happy man.

Please know that the authors of the blog pray for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

The Story of a Seminarian from a Mom’s Point of View by Amy V.

One of the best things about this blog is that it provides a place for parents to be brutally honest with how they feel as they watch their son go through discernment. Parents who read these portrayals realize they are not alone.  Every parent knows that it is not about them, but they still need a place to express overwhelming feelings both positive and negative during the process.

Below is a exert from a post on Amy V.’s blog: Catholicsistas.com about her son’s journey of discernment and entering the seminary. The heart wrenching feelings of love, fear and worry are detailed in an honest portrayal of a mother trying to learn to let go of her son to many unknowns. Since the author included her son’s picture on this blog post, I will include it in this post.

If you would like to read the entire blog post click here:HERE for the site Catholic sistas.com

THE STORY OF A SEMINARIAN…FROM A MOM’S POINT OF VIEW

July 30, 2014

by: Amy V.

We wanted our son to know that even though our hearts overflowed with love for him, God loved him even more. We enjoyed researching, reading, and talking about different ideas to teach him the truths of our faith and to try to prepare the garden of his heart to receive the love of God.

young priest2

One of the ways God showed His love to our son was through the presence of an amazing new priest.  Our son started seeing priests as men who were fully alive and full of joy and men who cared about the small things, like talking to a 9 year old about which Harry Potter book is the best. We never prayed for our son to be anything in particular, but we prayed that he would know, love, and serve the Lord.

When he was in middle school, priests would ask him if he had ever thought about being a priest someday. He hated when people asked him this and from about 8th grade until 11th grade he started saying, “No way!”  My son loved being Catholic, and since he attended a public school, was always looking for ways to defend his beloved faith. So, right before his senior year in high school, my son felt very strongly that the Lord was confirming in his heart a call to discern the Catholic Priesthood with a deliberate and an intentional heart.

mom cringingAt first, he told everyone, and I cringed. “Not yet,” I thought, “Not yet. Don’t tell people yet.” That year, after his initial zeal, I think he felt like maybe God was chaining him in and the only way God would be happy is if he succumbed to the chains. Time passed, he finished high school and went to college, and during this past year the Lord relentlessly pursued him. Slowly, sometimes painfully, and sometimes full of joy, he began to see his calling as an invitation, not a chain. The Lord was offering him a gift.

So what do you say to your son when you know he is seriously worried-mother1discerning this life’s vocation? There is such a fine line. While you want to be supportive, you don’t want to be too excited and honestly, you worry. The life of a priest is not easy, and your son is saying, “Yes, I will consider this completely counter cultural life.” I’ve learned that when a young man chooses to open his heart up to discern the will of the Father in this way, that young man will suffer vicious attacks from the evil one. I’ve learned that moments of consolation can be followed by moments of fear and sorrow over what is being given up.

I’ve learned that people will not hold back what they think of this vocation, for good and for bad. And yet, how proud am I? My child is willing to say, “Yes!” to consider taking up the cross of my Lord, and follow Him. He is willing to sell all he has for the pearl of great price. But if he changes his mind, I want him to know that’s ok. That means it wasn’t his calling.

Mary and baby Jesus

Jesus, I trust in You. That’s all I can say. I love my son, but I love You more. I want Your will for his life, whatever that is. This is so not about me, but I feel like when he is suffering with this decision, a sword is piercing my heart too. Mother Mary, pray for me to be strong like you. Mother Mary, how did you let Him go? Mother Mary, how will I let my son go? I love you, my son. The world is hurting and needs you to show them the way. If you don’t, who will? Who loves people more than you? Who has a smile like you that brings light to the darkest places?

Amy V's seminarian sonLast month I had this notion that I needed to go see the seminary where he was going to be staying. I needed to see if he should bring Tide HE or regular Tide for crying out loud. Due to various circumstances, the Lord said no to this notion. My son has already seen the seminary and he has made this choice himself. He didn’t need his mom going there and hovering. So the Lord showed me, “This is not your journey, this is his. Walk with him, but trust Me and honestly trust your son.”

I cried very hard that day.divine_mercy_78_f_small

There are so many unknowns still, but there is peace because I know he is where God is calling him. When he looks back on his life, the Lord has been calling him for a long time. My son has a heart for the Lord.

God help me to keep walking with him and encouraging him. Help me, dear Lord, as my heart is sad sometimes because my world is changing. It is changing for the better, but it is changing.

Please know the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons & daughters to find understanding & peace.

We must have done something right.

When I read blogs of parents encouraging vocations in their children, I can’t help but feel a little inadequate.  These blogs have many wonderful ideas I wish we had done when our children were younger.  For example, I wish we have said    “What do you think God wants you to be?” instead of “What do you want to be?”

As parents,  the list of things we did wrong is much longer than the things we did right. So it is easier to share this short list of things that I can see now had a positive impact in the long run.

I know a religious vocation does not come from anything overt that parents did or didn’t do, but from the Holy Spirit.  With the youngest in seminary, the other 2 appear to have grown into responsible, compassionate and generous young adults.  So, I can’t help but think, “We must have done something right.”   Looking back, I have come up with a list of things that in the long run seems to have had a positive impact.

Number one has to be attending catholic schools.
I know many vocations come from those who attended public schools.  But, after putting 3 children catholic school kidsthrough 12 years of catholic education I can’t help but reflect on all the positive benefits not available in public schools.

The example of the sisters, priests and lay teachers was a powerful factor as well as the transmission of our values and beliefs.  But the other factor is related to the cost and sacrifice related to attending catholic school.  Here are a few examples:

They saw our family sacrifice to pay for catholic education.  When they would complain about not going on a fancy vacation or getting a new car, we would remind them that we have decided to spend our money differently: sending them to catholic school.

2kids in catholic uniforms

Buying school uniforms every year was always difficult. We utilized the donated uniforms at grade school and high school while donating what they had outgrown.  Looking back, I realize the kids never complained.  It was just accepted that this was a way to help with the expenses of a catholic education.

nun teaching boy

We never allowed any disrespect or criticism of priests, religious sisters or any authority figure in their life. If a child made a negative comment in this regard, it was addressed immediately.

3 alter servers

Weekly mass  This is a no brain-er in our home. Even on vacation, we would plan where we would be able to go to Sunday mass.

Supporting and encouraging participating as altar servers and in youth group.

Actively participating in the life of the parish. I can honestly say we did not do this to specifically “encourage vocations.”  At best, we thought it was part of showing them how to be a responsible adult.

boy shoveling snow

Encouraging service to others
They were expected to shovel snow for their grandfather & other elderly neighbors and refuse money.  They helped to gather and deliver donations  to those less fortunate at Goodwill, donating to homeless shelters and pro-life baby showers.

1381656446_Grieving-girl-with-motherUsing a death in the family as a way to share more deeply in the application of our faith.
Our children lost a beloved grandfather suddenly. We shared our sorrow and grief with them, but communicated that we were happy he was in heaven with God.

Please know that the contributing authors on this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find peace and understanding.

Objection Series: Where did he get this idea? We aren’t even that religious!

If you have read some of the parent stories on this blog, you have seen that a vocation does not have to come from the super catholic families with 12 children who pray the rosary every night.  Everyday, parents try to do the best they can to raise their family saying gradechildren in the faith.  Some days we succeed and some days we fail. Looking back on how we raised our children, it seems the list of things we did wrong is much longer than the things we did right.  Does this sound like your parenting experience?  If so, you may be asking yourself,  “How did this happen in our family?”

Here is a post from a website from the Vocations Office in Newark NJ called New Priest NJ.  There is a category of blog posts labelled “Parents” on the lower right side of the page.  This post talks about how the thought of a vocation can grow in a person’s mind and heart and how it needs to be explored.  Read this excerpt to see how this young man answered his call to discernment.

“Just a Thought”         posted  May 22, 2015

It starts with a thought. It develops with a question. The answer leads to fulfillment.

Many men who have grown up in the Church have, at one point or another, considered the priesthood. Even if it altar boyswas a fleeting moment while serving as an Altar boy or on a Youth retreat, men in the Church consider the priesthood. As these men witness the lives of their parish priests, oftentimes they think, “I wonder what made him want to be a priest…Could I do that?” Unfortunately, for many men, the discernment process ends with that one thought. It is either quickly disregarded or not encouraged enough to develop or bear fruit.

As with any way of life, when we see a good or positive role model, we are drawn to be like that person.

Part of desiring to be like that person naturally brings about the question, HOW are they like that? When we are blessed to have good, holy men in our parishes, it can lead to developing good and holy men discerning God’s fathermike2_outwill in their lives. Growing up, I saw the hardworking priests in my parish that made me feel welcome and that I mattered. I saw how happy they were as priests-administering the sacraments, leading ministry groups, running pilgrimages, and much more. They were kind, thoughtful, faithful, and dedicated to the people of the parish. Their words spoke to my heart and I often thought that I could be happy living a life like that.
It is very common for that thought to enter the head of men with similar experiences. It is that very thought that begins discernment in a man’s life. The thought must be developed and nurtured. It must become a question—“Is Jesus calling me to be one of His priests?”

The question is nurtured through prayer and discernment. For some this question leads them to study and enter into formation in a Seminary. For others this question is considered while working or studying full time.
young man praying in natureEventually, when he asks the question sincerely and is completely open to receiving the answer, the Lord responds. For some the answer is YES, for others the answer is NO. For me, the answer was no, but I can now live out my vocation to married life with confidence that I laid it all on the table—I have no regrets—and I am a better husband and father because I allowed that thought to become a question and the answer brought about fulfillment in my life.

Please know the contributing authors on this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find peace and understanding.

Objection Series: “He will be so lonely!” or The difference between being alone and lonely

Priests are surrounded by people all the time.  Their entire role is to interact with people.  A priest can be so busy with people that it may difficult to carve out time alone for personal prayer each day.

Everyone feels lonely at times in the course of any vocation.  How you perceive it and utilize an established network of resources can influence having a negative or a positive experience of being alone. Knowing that you have established strong resources in friends, family, peers and mentors can go a long way when feeling “lonely”.

Being alone does not necessitate feeling lonely. Everyone spends time alone at work and at home.  In a busy life, time alone can be viewed as either an oasis or a burden based on your perception.

alone in a crowd

You can feel lonely even when surrounded by people if you do not feel connected or engaged in the relationship.  There can be plenty of loneliness in marriage while sleeping in the same bed.  Every parent has wanted even a few minutes alone and found that the bathroom is not even a refuge when you have small children.   Some mothers get up early just so they can have some time alone before the chaos starts.

A Network of Support

sems cheering

Suppose you spent between 6 –  8 years in college and graduate school with everyone having the same major and career goal.  Your school was small enough that you got to know the guys who are ahead and behind you.  In this school, you sems prayingspent a lot of time together in class and studying together since everyone took the same courses over the years.  Your school had a very structured schedule so students were able to spend quality time with each other several times a day at events everyone found  meaningful.   You would have a pretty wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Depending on your personality, you would have built some strong friendships.

Now suppose that every year, many graduates are hired by the same company.  Over time, many guys you knew in graduate school are working for this company.  They may be located at different offices in the same area, but you are all doing the same work, have the same challenges and concerns as you grow in your new role, learn new skills and begin to master challenging assignments.

fraternal meetings

Suppose your employer asked you to meet periodically with some of your peers to support and encourage each other.  You also are expected to meet periodically with a more senior member of the staff as a mentor.

How connected would you feel to these colleagues whom you have known for years?

Feeling connected with others who support you is a significant benefit when someone is feeling lonely, whether alone or surrounded by people.

Not many people have these built- in opportunities for support and fraternal relationships in their career.  The closest I can compare this to is the military.  The people you go through boot camp with and then deploy together always have a special bond.  It is easy to see how these people would stay in touch and reach out to each other in times of need.

2 priests

Besides the relationships with family and friends, a brother priest can provide support and understanding on a different level when needed.  One  needs to know when to ask for support from the right resource.

If you are a little puzzled by this analogy, here is the key to the terms in bold:

College and Graduate school program =  Seminary

Career goal = Priesthood

Quality time = Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, sports etc…

Company  = Diocese

Offices =  Parish assignment

Employer/Boss  =  Bishop

Meeting periodically with peers  = Fraternal events, formal and informal gatherings

Mentor =  Spiritual Director

Colleagues/Peers = Brother priests

Please know the authors pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Objection Series: “I will never see him, especially on the holidays!”

Are you suffering from the delusion that your adult children will come home for every holiday?   Let’s have a little reality happy-family-and-grandparents-handing-out-presents-on-christmas-daycheck on the “I will never see him on the holidays” objection.  Compare the circumstances of a married son to a son who is a priest in your diocese.  I cannot speak about a son or daughter in a religious order, so I will let the other contributing author provide insight into that situation.

Every year, you may have had the pleasant or not so pleasant discussion with your spouse on which set of in-laws to visit for which holiday. This conversation can start as early as summer and be revisited for months.  Once grandchildren are in the picture, this only increases the stakes for all parties involved.    Some couples try to keep everyone happy by eating 2 meals and running between both families.  Some families take turns between Christmas and Thanksgiving, so you end up on the phone for at least one holiday each year.  Others live too far away to even visit regularly.  All this adds up to holiday stress.

carving turkeyNow, suppose your son is a priest in your diocese.  In Fr Brennan’s book “To Save a Thousand Souls”, he quotes a priest on this topic:

“When my siblings have to divide their time with the in-laws at the holidays, it ends up being just me at home carving the turkey with Mom and Dad.”

Sure, he will be busy on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and I doubt you will see him between Palm Sunday and Easter.  But he will most likely be at your house for every holiday meal at some point.  The reality is that you will most likely be able to spend far more holiday time with your son if he is a priest in your diocese than a married  son.

I will be posting soon on a related the objection:  I will be losing him to the Church or I will never see him.

Please know the authors of this blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding & peace.

Objection Series: “He will be so overworked” or A vocation vs. a job

This objection is a good example of how the vocation of parenthood and priesthood have different but closely related demands.   You have more in common with your priest than you think.   If you haven’t watched the video in the post “Everyone has 3 Vocations”, click HERE  to get a little background.

 Vocation vs. Job

Your job is what you do to earn a living.  You may love it or hate it.   But your primary vocation is a spouse and parent: it is who you priest and school childrenare.   As your vocation, it is who God created you to be.   For us as laity, your job and your vocation are 2 separate things.  For a priest, they are one and the same.   I don’t know if that is better or worse, it’s just a fact.  The activities of their day are seamlessly woven into who they are as a person.   We can leave our work at the office and switch into parent or spouse mode at home.

Have you ever seen a working mother take a phone call from her child at work?  She completely changes: her voice, her language, her work persona falls away instantly into being “Mom”.

Look at your vocation as a parent.  Do you ever stop being a parent?   No, being a parent is a 24/7/365 job whether you are sick or mom and sick childexhausted from a long day at work.  Every parent knows that the second shift starts the minute you come home from work and open the door.  That shift can go all night if kids are sick or are having a problem regardless if you have to get up and go to work in the morning.

How is this different for a priest who gets called in the middle of the night to go to the hospital to see a dying parishioner, but still needs to get up and say 7am mass?   It’s not.  It is just a different vocation of being a father.

When you look at life from a vocation point of view, you will begin to see more similarities in the vocation of  parent and that of a priest.  Yes, children grow up and the role of a parent changes.  Do you ever stop worrying and supporting them?  If your adult married daughter called you at 3am would you not go to her if it was needed’?

Long Hours

Your job may be a sales manager which is a full time position and then some at certain times of the year.  If you have ever been in a “salaried” position you know that never means a 40 hour work week.  We have a family member who is a tax accountant whom we rarely see between January and the end of April.  As a corollary, no, you probably are not going to see your son the priest between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Do you realize that priests are required to have time off and even go on vacation as well as retreat?   To remain effective in any role, you need time off to relax, pursue hobbies. play sports and spend time with family and friends.  The church is wise enough to know that no one can function in any role without balance.

fireman helping in floodBoth my husband and I work in what are considered “helping” professions.  My husband works far more than 40 hours per week, but loves his job and finds it fulfilling.  At times, he works crazy long hours, but does so with the knowledge that he is helping others.

Catholic-hospital-chaplain-anoints-patient

When you find meaning and purpose in your work, the long hours don’t seem like such a burden.  Knowing that you are making a difference helps you to push through the times of fatigue  and stress.  What you do becomes who you are.

Over the years, both my husband and I have had periods of unemployment with the changing economy.  When supporting a family, unemployment creates tremendous stress and anxiety which only escalates with time.  Growing up, our children have seen the positive and negative impact this can have on day to day life in the family.

It is funny now to think that if our son does becomes a priest, he will never be laid off or down sized for lack-off work!

Please know the authors of the blog pray daily for parents of discerning sons & daughters to find understanding and peace.