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Know Yourself – Know Your Vocation

Mira Killian“Do you want God’s dreams for your life or your dreams for your life?”

When a kindly priest asks you that question in the confines of a confessional, the “correct” answer is pretty obvious.

Except, how am I supposed to know God’s dreams for my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? What is my purpose?

To explore this question, I’d like to take a little side trip through popular culture.

In the live action science fiction film Ghost in the Shell, Mira Killian believes she understands her purpose. She and her parents drowned when their refugee boat was sunk by techno terrorists. Her parents’ deaths were final, but Mira is granted a second life through the miracle of robotic technology. Her brain—the only salvageable part of her original being—was implanted in a new robot body. Motivated by her own tragedy and a desire to stop future attacks, Mira works tirelessly for the anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9. Within a year, she’s promoted to the rank of major and responds more readily to her rank than her name. Her job is her identity.

Her world starts to shift when a terrorist hacker beings killing high-level employees of Hanka Robotics, the company that built her body. While working the case, she begins experiencing glitches—brief visual hallucinations—that leave her feeling uneasy.

Her creator, Dr. Ouelet, erases the glitches and assures Major that they are nothing to worry about. She also encourages Major to keep taking the medication that keeps her flesh brain from rejecting her robot body.

In a reflective moment in Dr. Ouelet’s lab, Major says, “Everyone around me, they feel connected to something… connected to something I’m not.”

It’s the first time that Major gives voice to the idea that she might be on the wrong path—that she might not be fulfilling her proper role. She might have benefitted from the insight of theologian and author Parker Palmer:

Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved, but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.

So long as she doesn’t really know herself, Major can’t really understand what she is supposed to do. That lack of understanding lies at the root of her feelings of disconnectedness.

As the story unfolds, the glitches intensify and she begins experiencing repeated visions of a burning building. It pops up at the most inconvenient of times, like when she is closing in on the deadly terrorist Kuze.

A moment’s distraction leads to her capture. Kuze’s goal is not her torture or death, but rather her enlightenment. He knows what she is, where she came from, and understands the emptiness she feels. He has experienced it, too. He tells her that the medicine is intended to repress her real memories and that she will regain her true self if she stops taking it.

Which makes me wonder about my true self. What am I doing—or NOT doing—that is keeping me from who I should be? As a Christian, I want my intentions for my life to line up with God’s. Am I making myself busy to show God how “righteous” I am when I should spend more time worshiping? Am I substituting rules, regulations, and rubrics for living my true calling? Am I so busy judging people that I don’t make time to love and help them? Like Major’s medicine, my choices can seem to be positive when they’re actually a barrier to the life I should be living.

Troubled by what Kuze told her, Major sets out to find the truth. Her quest leads her back to Dr. Ouelet who tells her that most of what she “remembers” about her old life was implanted. She and her parents weren’t on a refugee boat, nor was she the only experimental subject. This knowledge sends Major off on a new path. She needs to know who she was and how she came to be the Major.

Major’s “knowing” of her true identity came at the cost of surrender. She had to give up her image of herself and accept that the truth might be different from what she had been told. In some ways, she might have been more comfortable taking the medicine and having her memory wiped. Learning the truth about ourselves can be unnerving, but it may be the best way to figure out our future.

The way forward, I think, is to cultivate a relationship of deep honesty and openness with God. That means being vulnerable and humble, and honestly asking “What did God make me to do?” It probably means finding an objective person – a counselor or spiritual director – to serve as a sounding board and give me candid feedback. Just like Major I’m going to have to surrender my illusions for the truth.

Tough stuff? Sure. Knowing myself deep down is no easy task. It’s scary. My illusions are comfortable and safe, but the lives of the great Biblical figures and generations of saints show me that God most often speaks to the people who are listening. Maybe if I start just by trying to listen, God will help me see beyond my imagined self to the true self I’m meant to be.

In the meantime, I think I’ll meditate on Thomas Merton’s famous prayer of abandonment:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(A different version of this post first appeared at Area of Effect magazine. It also expands on an earlier post on this site.)

— Dad (of Evan)

 

Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

The Eye of the Storm

320px-Hurricane_Isabel_from_ISS.jpgSeems like we don’t post as much here as we did when our son first informed us that he wished to enter the priesthood. It occurred to me that we are in the eye of the storm right now. The quiet time after a storm hits and before the storm ends. He is on his pastoral year getting a taste of what it would be like to work in a parish setting. Next year he will return to D.C. to go back to the seminary and continue his classes toward getting his master’s degree. He is a little more than half-way through this process. We have become accustomed to the thought of his life’s calling and where it might lead him. We are now seasoned seminarian parents who know where he is, how he is being treated, and where he is headed. In a few years however, we will enter the backside of the storm as he approaches ordination. When will he receive ordination as a deacon? What are his responsibilities at this point? What if he changes his mind between the deaconate and priesthood? At his final ordination as a priest, what is expected of us? Are we involved in the ceremony or merely attendees? What is the traditional gift from the parents at ordination? (We think it is the chalice and paten.)  Where do you find such thing? Can you get them made special just for your child? Are we expected to have a party for him?

The back of the storm is coming but right now, I think we are content to bask in the short burst of quiet and sunshine that is the now. Soon enough, we will batten down the hatches again and return to riding out the storm. As we enjoy this quiet moment, we realize others are just entering the whirlwind of their child’s decision to enter religious life. I pray our earlier posts will be signposts through the turbulence for these people and that they will find the answers they need.

— KitC (Mom of Evan)

 

Facing Your Parental Fears

Parents worry about their children. It’s just part and parcel of being a parent.

We’re afraid they’ll make the wrong choices, lose out on opportunities, or have to endure needless suffering. We just want our children to be happy, safe and well.

A call to religious life can be especially terrifying because so few of us have any direct knowledge or experience in that arena. The unknown is always frightening.

In an article I wrote for Area of Effect Magazine*, I recently noted:

Both of my sons have chosen different paths from mine. My eldest is working toward an academic career as a folklorist. My younger is in seminary preparing for a life of teaching. Neither of these is a road I’d choose to travel and both seem risky. Wouldn’t accounting or business be more stable choices?

It turns out that I’m not the first parent in history to worry about my children’s choices. Thomas Aquinas, the theologian and philosopher whose work has influenced Western thought for nearly a millennium, faced serious opposition from his family. At nineteen, he declared his intention to join the Dominican Order. His family kidnapped him and kept him locked in the family castle for nearly a year trying to get him to change his mind. It would have been easy for Thomas to give in.

To keep the article family friendly (it was about Disney’s Moana after all) I didn’t tell the part about Aquinas’ family locking him in a room with a naked prostitute. The legend says that Aquinas was so incensed that he chased the poor girl out with a fire poker.

The details on that may have gotten exaggerated in the telling, but we do know that Aquinas is recognized as one of the great Christian theologians. His parents fears nearly changed the course of western civilization.

Like marriage or a career or a mission trip around the world, a religious vocation is both a journey and an adventure. In the article at Area of Effect, I trace Moana’s journey and her parent’s fears. Like all good heroes her success is bought at the price of risk and hardship. Yet, if she hadn’t taken the risk, her people would have been destroyed.

Will your child be the next Aquinas or Mother Theresa? Will they live a life of heroic virtue? Maybe or maybe not. If you block them, you may find yourself in the shoes of Chief Tui (Moana’s dad) — standing in the way of the future that needs to be explored by our courageous and virtuous sons and daughters.

* Area of Effect is a print and web magazine which explores topics of faith and life through the lens of popular fandoms.

— Dad of Evan

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.

basketball-coach-and-players.jpg

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.

boardroom-meeting-620x480

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.

Insights from a Sister’s Father

There have been a couple of great vocations posts over at Aleteia in the last few months and I thought they were worth passing along. Both were written by Matt Wenke and they give insights into his journey as a parent who saw a child called to religious life.

The first is called When I prayed for vocations, I didn’t mean God could have my daughter! What I appreciate about the piece is that Matt is utterly candid when he talks about how he felt.

If other men’s daughters expressed an interest in the convent or the cloister, I wouldn’t have questioned it at all. I would have been respectful of their choice and genuinely happy for them. “What a noble and beautiful vocation!” or, “What a meaningful life with a holy purpose!” I no doubt would have thought.

When I heard of my own daughter’s interest in the cloister, my immediate thought was, “Oh, my gosh, I hope you get a vacation… how often can you come home to visit?”

Isn’t it sad that my first thought wasn’t about Nora’s vocational fulfillment and spiritual well-being? My initial thought was that I might be missing my daughter’s presence in my home, and her gentle, delightful company.

His honesty continues as he lays bare his struggles with giving his daughter up to God. Take a few moments and read the rest of his story.

Recently he published a companion piece called So your loved one has become a religious…now what? This is written from his new perspective a little further along the journey.

One of the consolations, he’s found, is that he has been able to experience his daughter’s community.

Best of all, the Sisters graciously welcome us at the monastery twice per year for three day visits — with very liberal visiting times. These visits are a joyful reunion, punctuated by her prayer times, to which we are invited and in which we love to participate. In the chapel, we have a chance to praise God together, and get a sense of Frances Marie’s everyday life.

Ironically, in “losing” our daughter to a cloister, our “family” has grown! It is an absolute pleasure to “touch base” with the entire community as part of our visit. The sisters have become true family to us. Our concerns and burdens are theirs and theirs are ours. In the parlor the sisters show themselves as joyful, even playful women of all ages; they are witty and funny, seriously prayerful, reflective and wise.

As with the first article, there is much more to Matt’s story. It, too, is worth the time to read.

–Dad (of Evan)

 

 

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.

happy-brothers-and-semsinimg_4418
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.

Feeling Discouraged

According to a study released in 2011 a little over half of those who were ordained report being actively discouraged from their vocation by a family member. Beyond that, it is difficult to say how many potential vocations have been lost because someone who was discerning was steered onto a different path. In some ways, it seems like we are our own worst enemy when it comes to recruiting and forming new religious.

There’s a certain amount of speculation about why parents might be so selfish. Some point to cultural changes, or poor liturgies, or unbridled capitalism. I suspect there is truth to these ideas, but I think they tend to paint parents with a broad brush and ignore the very real experience of the parents.

Rachel Watkins writes about her experience of having a daughter enter religious life over at the Sioux City Diocesan Vocations site:

We will experience the same feelings and concerns most parents feel but in a different way.  We miss our children deeply and worry about them.  This worry is especially true of parents whose children are missionaries abroad.  And while their needs are taken care of by their dioceses or orders, we have concern for their well-being and support them financially with as much as our incomes allow.  Our lives can seem almost easier with the care they receive from their dioceses or orders but that is not always the case.

In truth, ours can be a difficult lot.  This is not to discourage anyone from encouraging their children to listen for God’s call.  My daughter does not know about what concerns me.  I say it only in an acceptance of the fact that our child’s choice is atypical, making us as their parents also uncommon.  Our children have chosen Christ first and foremost for their lives and their loves.  We could not be more proud, could we?  However, we know that this choice comes at a cost rarely understood.  We often find ourselves at a loss.  We may stumble when trying to tell others what our children are doing.  A teacher, a plumber, an at-home mom, even a tattoo artist, is easily understood but a monk, nun, consecrated or a priest?  These often require an explanation that extends longer than the line at the deli will allow…

…We do our best as parents to answer all the questions.  However, quite honestly, after a while, it can become distressing.  Some of the questions and comments we can receive are so negative.  My husband and I joke darkly to each other that we might have had a better reception if we had announced her decision to join a traveling band of jugglers rather than a recognized order in the Church.  In the end, all these questions come down to this: Why would anyone choose a priestly or vowed religious life?

In the face of these kinds of objections, it is understandable if parents begin to doubt the validity of their child’s vocation call.  They aren’t villains, just parents who are in uncertain territory. It is natural that they’ll want to know how their child’s decision will impact their lives. Vocations – like any other life choice a child makes – will have an effect on the family.

The Eastern Dominican Vocations page offers some thoughtful advice to those discerning a Dominican vocation. It starts in a wise place, inviting the discerner to explore their parents’ objections:

Have you listened to your parents’ reasons? Before you try to explain the mystery of a vocation to them, allow them to tell you what their concerns are. These reasons could range wildly. They may think that you don’t really listen to them or honor them. They may want you to have a “normal” life that would include marriage and their expected grandchildren. They may think that you have abandoned them and won’t see them. They may think that you need to have several years of experience after college before you can make a decision. They may think that a religious community is full of misfits, or that religion is a scam. They may think that you will be happier and be more productive in doing just about anything else than becoming a religious.

From there, it goes on to offer several concrete suggestions for engaging in dialogue with parents. It ends on a very encouraging note:

Parents often feel bonded with the brothers in their son’s formation, and they come to realize that their son has many, many brothers. The brothers themselves look with affection on the parents of one of their own. In a sense, parents don’t lose a son so much as gain many, many sons!

(Kit and I have certainly felt that way about the Paulists. We have enjoyed meeting many of the seminarians and priests and frequently joke about all of our new “sons”.)

Answering the call to religious life raises questions for parents and we – those discerning and the Catholic community at large – owe it to them to take their concerns seriously and do our best to accompany them as they undertake the vocations journey with their child.

 

— Dad (of Evan)

The Patron Saint of Seminarian Moms

296px-gerbrand_van_den_eeckhout_-_anna_toont_haar_zoon_samuc3abl_aan_de_priester_eliThe first reading for today (December 22, 2106 – Thursday the fourth week of Advent) is from first Samuel (1 Samuel 1:24-28) and deals with Hannah bringing three year old Samuel to the Temple and leaving him there. She had promised the priest that if she had a son, she would dedicate the child to the Lord and she held to her part of the bargain.

When my son Evan entered his novitiate, these were the first readings I heard upon going to Mass. Right then and there, Hannah became my new favorite saint. I admired her strength in giving her child over to what she knew was right. The reading don’t say how she felt on leaving Samuel behind but I imagine there were tears and possibly even regrets but she still followed through. (Officially Hannah is the patron of childless wives and infertile women, but there doesn’t seem to be a patron for seminarian moms so I’ve adopted her.)

How often in both my children’s lives I have wished to keep them close so I could protect them. Every mother feels that mix of joy and sadness when their child moves away and leaves their protection. For most children, they eventually form a bond with one special person who enters their life and is there to help them. For my son, that isn’t an option and I fear him having no one to help him.

This is of course not true. Besides the counsel and wisdom of the brothers within his order (for a secular priest it would be the formation group and his peers), he has the Holy Spirit to guide him and be his counsel. This does not mean I stop worrying about him, or wanting to know he is safe, but I remind myself that I must give him fully to God.

This year my husband and I approach our first Christmas without him home with the family. While we grieve his absence during the holidays, we are lifted up but the words of Mary “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” and realize our son is in good hands.

A Merry Christmas to you all and a Blessed New Year.

— Mom of Evan

Oh The Places You’ll Go — As A Missionary

Athenry Priory East Window courtesy of Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia CommonsAs we’ve noted before, the preparation for the priesthood goes beyond just academic and theological work. In fact, those things exist to equip the seminarian to act in the world. The USCCB Program for Priestly Formation puts it this way:

The Church continues to place the highest value on the work of priestly formation, because it is linked to the very mission of the Church, especially the evangelization of humanity: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Our apostolic origins, which bind us in communion with the Lord and his mission, motivate those who engage in the ministry of priestly formation, underscore the urgency of their task, and remind them of their great responsibility.

A big part of priestly preparation is having opportunities to participate in the mission of the church through real ministry. During the Paulist novice year, the students engage in social service at soup kitchens, shelters, and other social service sites. As they move further into formation, the opportunities for service grow.

Next spring Evan will be joining a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) mission to Ireland. This mission trip will work with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and will be ministering to both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Therese Aaker posted a few thoughts on her trip to Ireland last spring, explaining the need for ministry to Catholics:

Generally, people there are bitterly angry about the Church. They’re angry with God at best, and indifferent toward Him at worst. They grew up in Catholic schools, but without good catechesis; they know very little about Church teaching. Most sadly, they do not know the Person of Jesus. All they know of the Church is its corruption — and as a result, my generation there is absent from the Church entirely. 

A quick Google search of “seminarian mission trips” turns up several mission trips both in the US and beyond its borders – including a mission trip to Perdue University. In each case, the primary purpose of the mission is to serve as a bearer of Christ’s love. Yet, at the same time, the missionaries are growing and developing in faith and charity as they prepare to enter priestly ministry.

If you have a moment, I’d ask that you offer up a prayer on behalf of all of the missionaries serving around the world.

— Dad (of Evan)

 

 

 

 

Bless Me, Father — A Review of Sorts

dvdSome parents object when their son declares an interest in a vocation. There are lots of reasons given, but I suspect that the root of the problem is lack of understanding of the priesthood. For too many of us priests are remote, mysterious figures who occupy some other plane of existence. We don’t see them as human beings. Fortunately, it’s easy to get past that – just spend some time getting to know the priests in your life.

Last year we suggested taking a priest to dinner as a way to better understand your son’s vocational journey. That advice still stands, but it may not always be practical or possible. A few months ago I stumbled across a bit of light entertainment which gives a surprisingly good insight into priestly life.

I was poking through the used DVDs at a local music store and came across the British comedy series Bless Me, Father. A quick check on Wikipedia gave me reason to believe it was worth watching and the price was much lower than retail, so I snatched it up. Kit and I watched all 21 episodes over the summer and found them to be both charming and honest.

The story – which was written by a man who had been a priest – centers on a newly ordained priest assigned to a small parish in post-war London. It begins with his first time hearing confessions in the parish and traces his life through most of his first year. The parish pastor is a clever old Irishman by the name of Fr. Duddleswell. Together they deal with a neighbor who runs a nightclub and is a bookmaker on the side, the bookmaker’s black Labrador,  the local Mother Superior who completely lacks sympathy and empathy, affairs of the heart, affairs of the parish, and Mrs. Pring the rectory housekeeper.

coverWe were so taken with the series that I dug a bit and found out it was based on a series of books which had been published in the 1970s. Fortunately, they are available as e-books. The first two Bless Me, Father and A Father Before Christmas served as the direct inspiration for most of the episodes.

There are a couple of interesting takeaways from both the books and the series.

First of all, they are set in the 1950s, so they are steeped in the Catholic world prior to Vatican II. This becomes most obvious in the area of interfaith relations. Fr. Duddleswell talks about his Anglican counterpart as a “doubtfully baptized Anglican layman.” Yet, most of what goes on in the books could be taking place at any parish in any part of the world. Fr. Duddleswell and Fr. Boyd deal with all the same human fears and failings as every other priest – and they do so with a wonderfully pastoral approach. There is a particularly touching episode in which Fr. Duddleswell contrives to find a way to comfort a child who is fearful that his grandfather is damned to Hell. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I will note that Fr. Duddleswell’s solution is clever, compassionate, and colors juuusst inside the lines.

Secondly, Fr. Boyd is honest about his insecurities and fears in the books and it is clear that the author is writing from his own experience with only the smallest of embellishments. He meets up with old friends – including one who left the seminary to purse an outside life. He visits his family in the second book and we learn about his upbringing and vocation. We walk beside him as he struggles to understand his feelings for a pretty, young nurse when he is hospitalized for an extended period. By the end of the two books I had tremendous sympathy and respect for both of the priests.

The books are authentically Catholic throughout, fully faithful to the teachings of the Church and also authentically human, fully faithful to the characters. Reading them is about as close to spending a year with priests as you could get without actually moving into the rectory. If you want to better understand the priesthood, you’ll find your time well invested with this series.

A Call to Return to Mission

pathwayRecently I was privileged to participate in a week long retreat/seminar at Loyola University on the topic of Parish Health and Wellness. It was an intense time with forty of the most dedicated and special people I have ever met in my life. Each one of these people touched my soul and walked alongside of me as we grew together in our knowledge of not only the topic at hand but our own spirituality and missions as well. I hope to maintain a relationship with each of them through our spiritual journeys. One person, in particular, called me back to the mission of this blog.

While at our first dinner with some of the other participants we started introducing ourselves to each other. I mentioned my son in the seminary and one woman suddenly sat up, looked teary, and said she needed to talk to me after dinner. I was startled but said “sure”.

Later that evening when we got together to talk, she disclosed to me that her son is discerning going into the priesthood and she wanted to talk about the experience with me as a mother who has been there. Over the next four days together, we frequently touched base, she would ask questions, I would offer other questions, and I told her she should look toward our blog after we had to go home. Her emotions and distress at the unknown made me recall my similar emotions shortly after Evan informed us of his decision to join the Paulists. Six years later, I had gotten complacent and comfortable with the situation and didn’t think about the blog much anymore.

This mother’s experience brought me back to my original questions, fears, and hopes during the early days of Evan’s discernment and made me realize that there had to be others out there who are just in the first stages of discovery with their child. This blog is not just for us as we write it, but for others as they search for the answers to their questions about their child’s discernment to religious life. If you are just learning that your child is contemplating religious life, I hope the answers within this blog will help you. If you ever have a question that we don’t address, please contact us and we will do our best to get the information you need. We want to be with you during this exciting time.

My journey last month was made special by the wonderful people who joined me. This blog is for people who want to help each other as we all travel the same path at different times.

My prayers for you and your children as you enter this journey.

–Mom of Evan

Image courtesy of http://pdpics.com/photo/367-garden-pathway/

News from the Paulists!

Evan pointed out that the blog hasn’t been updated in a while.

He’s right.

I’ve missed several important events in the life of the Paulist Community. So, let me (with a firm purpose of amendment) get the blog up-to-date on a few important things.

Let’s start with this great article over at First Things about the oldest living Paulist priest, Fr. James Lloyd. The article highlights his years of service including time as a television host and seminary rector. I found this tidbit about his training as a psychologist.

Upon his return to the United States, his opportunities increased, as he earned a Ph.D. in psychology from New York University—a degree he believes enhanced his ministry as a priest. A philosopher by training, Fr. Lloyd had been instructing people in the faith with a classic theological approach. But while this logical process was effective in many cases, it ran into trouble with people who responded, “I can’t believe what the Church teaches.” Fr. Lloyd discovered that the reason these people couldn’t accept Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, was due not to intellectual factors, but to emotional ones. Deep resentments and unconscious biases had built up over many years, making them unable to see what Fr. Lloyd was teaching. He had to approach people differently, exploring their emotional worlds. That’s where his psychology degree paid off.

By combining sound psychology with traditional Catholic spirituality, Fr. Lloyd was able to remove the brambles in these people’s lives, which were blocking their path toward truth. Once those obstacles were removed, the logic of the faith became clearer, and reluctant souls under his care began flowing back into the Church once again.

The article concludes with this encouraging paragraph:

Speaking as a priest who has lived almost a century, he concludes, “I’m surprised the seminaries aren’t bulging with young men who want to have a wonderful and enriching life.” Fr. Lloyd feels blessed to have lived one.

Over at Paulist Press, they inaugurated the Elequenta Perfecta award, which was instituted “to celebrate people in communications who take their vocation seriously, live their faith life and can serve as an inspiration to others.” The award was given to Jeanne Gaffigan for her work as the writer and producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show. The cable-based sitcom chronicles the lives and foibles of a fiercely Catholic family living in New York City. Jeanne sees the program as a vehicle for sharing the faith:

She said the couple tries, “in our own imperfect way, to present a household of faith in one of the most culturally diverse places in our country.” The television show is loosely based on their experiences working in the comedy field and raising children in a two-bedroom apartment in New York.

Speaking of Paulist Press, just yesterday Paulist Press was awarded the Lumen Ex Libris by the Vatican Publish Office. Well done!

Finally, the biggest news happened back in September when Matthew Berrios, Steven Petroff and Stuart Wilson-Smith were all ordained as transitional deacons. This major milestone is one of the last before priestly ordination. Please keep them in your prayers as they finish this last year of training and formation before assuming their duties as priests.

–Dad of Evan