The Deepest Truths

With the Ordination and First Mass behind us, I’ve been struggling a bit to find my footing in this strange new reality. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the past six years learning more about priestly formation and deepening my own understanding of Catholic theology, the actual reality of Evan’s ordination caught me flat-footed.

Photo of Evan at his first Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in New York.
(Photo courtesy of the Paulist Fathers.)

On Sunday, May 26, 2019 Evan returned to St. Rose of Lima (our home parish) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Two of his Paulist brothers who had served as pastors of St. Rose in the 80s joined him and concelebrated. Our pastor, Fr. Clarence Sandoval, concelebrated as well. The church was packed with our parish family as well as friends and family of other faiths who came to celebrate with us.

It was a joyful worship, but one which was – at the same time – very, very strange. Seeing Evan at the altar leading the community in prayer, making the familiar gestures of blessing and consecration, and ultimately elevating the host and the cup was beautiful. He seemed so confident; his voice calm and clear as he recited the prayers and he moved through the liturgy as if he’d been doing it for years. It was a moment of fulfilment; the manifestation of something I’ve anticipated for a long time.

It was also deeply unsettling.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Evan celebrated a house Mass for us. So there, in our living room with our cats roaming about, we three enjoyed a quiet Mass before breakfast. In his alb and stole, Evan stood behind a desk which had been pressed into service as an altar. Just before he began, he said, “This is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.”

“Surreal.” That was the perfect word to describe what I’ve been feeling since the Ordination in New York.

I knew it was coming, but I don’t think I’d fully anticipated the impact. I hadn’t realized that Evan’s ordination would force me to confront the deepest truths of our faith.

In the language of the church, Ordination changed Evan at an ontological level. That is, through the sacrament, he has been changed and his relationship with the community has changed. The Evan who entered the church as a deacon, left as a priest. Those aren’t simply different titles; they are different states of being. At the same time, he is still very much the child Kit and I raised.

He has been given the authority to “confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi.” Which is a poetic way of expressing that he acts in the person of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass.

At the same time, he delights in good meals, entertaining movies, and beloved video games. He groans at my bad puns and shares warm hugs with his mother.

His is simultaneously a minister of heaven and a child of this world.

This is the very heart of our incarnational faith. God isn’t some remote figure who sits in a distant heaven judging us. God is the love which forms and sustains the universe. To drive the point home, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; simultaneously fully divine and fully human.

This strange co-existence isn’t just something which happens only at ordination. It is the nature of every sacrament to bring us face-to-face with the truth of the incarnation. It’s just that sometimes we get so used to the sacraments that we forget exactly what’s taking place. We overlook the extraordinary truth.

In the language of the church we call this a mystery. It’s a reality we can wrestle with, but never fully comprehend.

Evan’s ordination drew me up short and sharpened my awareness of the sacraments and the mystery they express. It reminded me that I participate in a community which treats the physical and the spiritual as parts of a whole and that the rituals and practices of the church are designed to put us in touch with the Divine. It was an invitation to enter into the mystery of faith in a new and deeper way.

For this, and for the opportunity to walk with Evan on his vocations journey, I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.” (Even if it’s going to still be weird to see him saying Mass!)

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Ordination Weekend

We are back from Evan’s ordination and, honestly, I think it’s going to take me a while to process everything. It was an extraordinary, wonderful, and transcendent experience. There will be a longer post later sharing some of my impressions.

In the meantime, the Paulists have posted links to the videos of Evan’s Ordination and Mass of Thanksgiving. If you have time and want to join in the celebration with us, please take a look. http://www.paulist.org/the-conversation/video-paulist-fr-evan-cummingss-ordination-and-first-mass/

— Dad (of Evan Fr. Evan)

Vocations, Journeys, Paulists and Bread

As of this writing, we are one week away from (God willing) Evan’s ordination to the priesthood. To be completely honest, it’s all a bit overwhelming.

Earlier today the Paulists released a brief video profile of Evan in which he talks about his calling, how this blog started, the broader Paulist family and how he prays with bread. If you have four-and-a-half minutes, I think it’s worth watching. (Of course, I’m Evan’s dad so my opinion in this matter is not especially objective.)

Thank you all for your prayers for Evan and for all of us. Please continue praying and, if you can, please join us for the livestream of the Ordination at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, May 18, 2019. You can find the stream on the Paulist Fathers Facebook page or their YouTube channel.

Finally, if you think you might be called to be a Paulist, you can learn more at the Paulist Fathers Vocations page.

— Dad (of Evan)

An Invitation

An invitation arrived in the mail this week. It wasn’t, of course, unexpected. In fact, we’ve had the date for a while now. The arrival of the invitation moves the ordination more solidly into the realm of “this is going to happen.”

I very much wanted to write something insightful here — something which summed up the last six years, something meaningful and inspiring.

But as I contemplate this next step in Evan’s journey all I can really give voice to is a profound sense of gratitude to God. Gratitude for both my sons, for my wife, for the life God has given me, and for love that God has shown me through all of this.

So I’ll leave the invitation here and ask your prayers for us and for Evan as he takes this next important step in his journey of faith and service.

Discernment — It May Not Be What You Think

There’s a phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis.” In essence, it refers to being so caught up in thinking about a decision that you face that you never actually make the decision. You go back-and-forth over alternatives wondering “what if” and “why not” and never actually make a move.

It’s a phenomenon which causes headaches for businesses, families and (especially) those who are trying to discern God’s will for their lives. And not just those discerning religious life, but all of us who feel called to God and aren’t quite sure what that means. It is all too easy to fret away our lives wondering whether or not we’re doing what God wants.

If all you’re doing is fretting, I’d venture to guess that you aren’t doing what God wants. Over at Aleteia, Meg Hunter-Kilmer takes this idea and runs with it. She describes herself as a “hobo missionary” who travels with no set agenda or fixed destinations. Her practical, lived advice on discernment is as refreshing as it is startling.

It’s a life of near-constant discernment, trying to figure out where to go and when, how long to stay and what to speak on. But I don’t spend a lot of time sitting in prayer waiting for angels to descend and hand me an itinerary. In fact, I discern in just the same way I tell others to discern: I’ve largely quit seeking God’s will.

https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/

Meg expands on the idea, giving some practical advice which is simultaneously simple and difficult to follow. At the end of the piece she takes a gentle, self-deprecating tone as she contemplates her ultimate encounter with God.

It’s entirely possible that I’m going to go to my judgment and find the triune God standing baffled before me, wondering why on earth I thought I ought to be homeless and unemployed for the sake of the kingdom. There’s a reason people don’t live this way, and perhaps I’ve gotten it totally wrong and I was really supposed to be an accountant in Idaho or something.

Still, I expect to see pleasure mixed in with the bafflement. “Oh, but honey, well done. It was a weird life you chose, but you tried so hard. You got it wrong, but you sure were seeking me.”

https://aleteia.org/2019/01/28/if-youre-discerning-you-have-to-read-this-it-will-change-what-you-think-you-know/

So, if you’re not quite sure what God has in mind for your life, join the rest of us confused human beings and follow Meg’s sage advice on discernment.

— Dad (of Evan)

Diaconate Ordination

It’s been a wonderful Christmas for us … and I hope for you as well.

Both boys were able to come home. It’s been good to be together again as a family. We’ve had lots of meals and laughter and family time.

Evan served as the deacon for a couple of Christmas Masses and it was wonderful to see him moving farther into his vocation.

The Paulist Fathers media team has put together a nine-minute “highlights reel” from the ordination Mass in September. It was a moving event that I doubt I’ll ever forget … but it’s still nice to have the video to go back to.

— Dad (of Evan)

My Brother the Deacon

I’m back from a whirlwind visit to Washington DC. My brother just took final promises and managed to get himself ordained as a deacon. In under a year that turns into a full on Roman Catholic Priest. My dad has already posted an overview of what happened here. You don’t need me rehashing the order of events from first promises through to his first Mass acting as a deacon. So forgive me if I skim those bits.

I never really doubted that Evan would continue down his path. It suits him fairly well, gives him a good and fulfilling life, and most of the other Paulists seem nice enough. I can’t speak for all of them as I haven’t met all of them. Anyways from the time he told me over Christmas break that he was changing his major to Philosophy with a minor in religious studies (to which my response, incidentally, was “Oh great my brother’s going to be a priest”), I figured he was set for life.

CSP_logo[1]That said, sure or not, it seemed like a fun idea to lay a side bet. So about four years ago I made a promise to Evan. If and when he took final promises I would get a tattoo of the (then current) Paulist Fathers logo. Now I fully intended to keep to this promise. But I had briefly forgotten it in the rush of travelling from one coast to another and prepping for a con the next week. So it came as something of a surprise to me when the first thing he said to me after his Final Promises Mass–literally the first thing–was “you owe me a tattoo”. To which I could only respond that he was right.

So I guess I need to find an artist, and scrounge up the money. There is also a small debate as to where to put the tattoo. He requested it be somewhere I could show off by rolling up a sleeve. I’ll figure something out.

Other than that everything was a massive blur of receptions, family, Mass, more Mass, another reception and sneaking off to do homework when I could. I am not as overwhelmed as my parents are. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in but it doesn’t feel like much changed. He made this choice years ago. Yes now there are official titles, duties, responsibilities and abilities to go with it but it’s just another step on the path. He’s still my brother, he’s still brother to all the Paulists and he’s still doing that thing he set out to do back in college. Good for him.

A few small notes about proceedings.

First the Ordination Mass: the one bit he got to control was who in his party would help carry the gifts. Usually the choice is one’s mother but he picked me. Apparently in equal measure because I am his one and only biological brother and because between the lack of a tie, long hair and generally scruffy appearance even in formal attire I helped to embody the Paulist rebellious streak. Works for me.

Secondly, gift giving. He wanted various texts of the forms, prayers, rituals and so on for various sacraments. The parents got him Marriage, his godmother sent Baptism, so it fell to me to provide for funerals. I’m gothic enough to pull it off. When I get back to the coast I will also be sending a small secular gift. After all he may have devoted his life to God but that doesn’t exactly take every second of his time. Oh and the Mission Crucifix he got is awesome. Never seen one with a skull and bones on it before.

–Brother of Evan

 

 

Eventful Weekend – Promises, Ordination, Blessings and Masses

We’re back from Washington, D.C. and I don’t know that there’s any way I can properly capture the experience for you. It was, in truth, a little overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is to share little slices of what happened to give you a sense of what it was like.

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Fr. Eric Andrews, president of the Paulists, receiving Evan’s final promises.

Final Promises

Friday evening was the Promises Mass for the Paulist community. At present, the Paulist seminary occupies the top floor of St. Joseph’s seminary. The main chapel is a beautiful, compact space with a soaring ceiling and a sanctuary space surrounded by marble. The Mass was a celebration of the community during which two novices made their first promises, the continuing students renewed their promises for the coming year and Evan made his final, lifetime commitment to the community.

The Mass was lovely, with Fr. Andrews hitting the right notes of service and devotion during difficult times.  The voices of the congregation, led by seminarian and cantor Richard Whitney, filled the worship space giving the occasion a sense of unity.

When it came time to make his commitment, Evan spoke clearly and firmly. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional impact of the moment. I keep rewriting this paragraph over and over trying to find the words to capture the experience and I just can’t seem to manage. (Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this post as there are bigger things coming!)

After the Mass there was a reception for everyone in attendance. Kit and I had some time to meet and mingle with the Paulist community. Over the past five years we’ve gotten quite close with several of the Paulist priests and others who are associated with the community. (Shout out to the Paul and the media team who were providing great coverage for the event.) We also met the parents of a young man who made his first promises. It was great talking to them and reflecting on our own experience of having a son in seminary.

Deaconate Ordination

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Crypt Church at the Basilica.

After Final Promises, the next step on the road to the priesthood is ordination as a transitional deacon. Bishop Roy E. Campbell presided over the Mass in the Crypt church in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Evan was one of four men ordained that morning. The others represented other orders, but all of them had family there to support them. We have been to a deaconate ordination once before–for a friend who was entering the permanent deaconate in Salt Lake–but it is very different when it is your own child.

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Evan laying prostrate before the altar.

With an acapella choir of Franciscans for accompaniment, we spent about two hours in the solemn observance of the Mass and ordination. As has been the case in other ordinations, the most powerful moment came when the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. It was a few minutes of heaven on earth as we asked the Universal Church to pray for the men as they moved forward in their formation as priests.

A bit later in the Mass Evan was vested in his stole and dalmatic (the traditional vestments of the deacon) by his friend and inspiration Fr. Michael Hennessey C.S.P.

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Ian assisting in bringing forward the gifts during the ordination Mass.

Ian, Evan’s older brother, was given the opportunity to bring forward the gifts during the Mass.

It was a timeless sort of experience. We were participating in a centuries-old ritual as our son joined an organization which is two millennia old. The cool perpetual twilight of the Crypt church, the smell of the incense, the plain chant and the ancient prayers and formulas made this a moment out-of-time; at once ephemeral and eternal. We were able to be fully present as the Mass unfolded and, at the same time, it seemed to end too soon.

Kit and I wanted to be completely present to the Mass, so we didn’t take any pictures. We’re grateful to Kit’s sister Beth and to the Paulist media team for sharing the pictures they took.

First Blessings

As a consequence of their ordination, deacons are able to impart blessings on objects and people. Some time ago Kit and I realized that we didn’t actually have a crucifix in our home. We decided we’d buy one and ask Evan to bless it for us. We found a San Damiano crucifix at the Basilica gift shop. We took it (along with a few other religious items we picked up) to the seminary after the ordination. Evan put on a stole and blessed everything by following a rubric from a book of blessings he received as an ordination gift.

This was, for me, a very surreal moment. I have seen hundreds of objects blessed. I have a modest understanding of the theology involved. But, to see my own son performing the ritual was … odd. It reinforced the fact that by virtue of ordination he has been ontologically changed. Again, words fail me in conveying exactly how it felt.

IMG_2198.jpgFirst Mass

The final event of the weekend was the first Mass at which Evan served as a deacon. He’s been assigned to work at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Maryland. To this point, he’s mostly worked with the young adults and RCIA groups. As a deacon, he’ll be spending a lot more time in the sanctuary. We were able to attend Mass with him before we had to catch our flight home.

The Paulists brought along the students and novices and some of the priests who had come for the ordination. We watched as the familiar beats of the Mass moved along, but with a new joy as we saw our son performing the actions of a deacon. This rendered the ordinary extraordinary in every sense of the word.

For Kit and I, the overwhelming response is gratitude to a God who has invited us to a ringside seat as our son cooperates with grace. It is humbling and beautiful to witness. We are also grateful for the many people who have prayed for Evan and for us through this experience. May God richly bless you as he has blessed us.

–Dad

Next Steps – Final Promises and Deaconate Ordination

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Paulist seminarians (now priests) Ryan Casey and Mike Hennessy lie prostrate before the altar during the chanting of the Litany of the Saints at their ordination as transitional deacons in 2017.

As we’ve noted elsewhere, one of the challenges involved in blogging about the seminary experience is that there’s a lot to write about at the beginning, not much in the middle, and then a whole lot to write about at the end.

Evan is entering his last year of formation and we find ourselves approaching a couple of important milestones. Although the process of priestly formation no longer includes the full formality of all of the minor orders, there are still several important milestones along the way. Those who are members of a society of apostolic life must make final promises and all who are headed toward priesthood must be ordained as transitional deacons.

God willing, this coming Labor Day weekend Evan will make his final promises and be ordained a transitional deacon. To help understand these two important events, it we’ll take a look back to last year’s final promises and deaconate ordinations with Ryan Casey and Mike Hennessy.

Final promises Mass is the time when a seminarian (who has been making annual promises) makes a final, life-long commitment to the Paulists. You might be wondering why “promises” and not “vows”. As the Wikipedia explains:

The Paulists are a society of apostolic life, meaning they do not make religious vows; rather, by means of promises they are supposed to pursue their mission through living in community.

This is an important moment in the life of a Paulist. It was a moving moment for both Mike and Ryan:

Like Ryan, Mike Hennessy was also touched by being surrounded by brother priests. The most moving moment for him was “when the other Paulists who have already made their final promises came up and we were all together — surrounded each other.”

“They’ve all been where I’ve been,” Mike said. “And, you know, they have years of experience and ups and downs and struggles and joys that I’ll be able to, God willing, share in now myself.”

Fr. Eric Andrews presided over the Mass and carried on a Paulist tradition.

Friday’s celebration also included a traditional moment of levity when Fr. Eric gave Ryan and Mike each a symbolic penny in payment for a lifetime of ministry work. The men also were given the traditional Paulist Mission Cross, dark wood crucifixes that symbolize the community’s mission.

“For some, the cross is foolishness, for others a stumbling block,” Fr. Eric prayed during the blessing of the mission crosses. “But for those who believe, it is the Power of Christ and the Wisdom of God.”

The day after final promises, Ryan and Mike were ordained as transitional deacons.

Ryan and Mike committed to several promises including obedience. One of the most moving points of ordination masses is the moment when the ordinands lie prostrate in front of the altar and the congregation sings the Litany of the Saints.

As part of [the ordination] liturgy, Ryan and Mike were publicly vested in new garments to indicate their new status, and they immediately took their place at the altar, and then, seated on either side of the bishop.

“These days after surgery you’re up and walking within hours,” Bishop Knestout said. “After ordination, you’re serving at the altar within minutes.”

Deacons, whether transitional or permanent, are ordained clergy. As a result, deacons are permitted to do a number of things which aren’t possible for lay people. They can:

  • preach during Mass
  • expose and repose the blessed sacrament for adoration
  • impart many types blessings
  • conduct Baptisms, weddings and funerals

Deacons may not:

  • celebrate Mass
  • hear confessions and grant absolution
  • perform the anointing of the sick
  • ordain anyone

There are some people who think of a deacon as a sort of “lite priest,” but that misses the point. The role of the ordained deacon is different from and complimentary to the roles of other ordained clergy. (For more information on the deaconate in the U.S. check out the resources available from the USCCB.)

By the way, the passage through the transitional deaconate isn’t just an idea that someone came up with to mark the time. It is a requirement of the law of the church. Canon law requires that a man entering the priesthood must be a transitional deacon for at least six months before being ordained as a priest.

We are looking forward to being with Evan and our extended Paulist family in D.C. in a few weeks. We hope to celebrate not only Evan’s milestone, but also the dedication and faith of all the in the Paulist community.

The deaconate ordination is a time or great joy for the community and the families of those involved. To give you a taste of that, I’ll leave you with a some sound clips from Ryan and Michael’s families.

— Dad

Paulist Ordination

God willing, three men who have been in formation to become Paulist priests will be ordained on Saturday.

In anticipation, the Paulist website been running some profile pieces and reflections by these three men. Here are some handy links:

Please join us in praying for these men as they prepare for their ordination. May God bless them and their ministries!

— Kevin (Dad of Evan)

 

What Would You Say?

height_90_width_90_BH_FD_LrgOn a recent podcast episode of “The Busted Halo Radio Show“, Fr. Dave Dwyer offered some Fatherly Advice to a young caller who was struggling with discernment.

The young man said that he had turned down a great job and the woman he loved to go to a monastery. On the one hand he felt a strong call from God, on the other he had some negative emotion around the things he was giving up. He asked Fr. Dave to give him some insight into what he might do and how he might move forward.

If he had asked you, what would you say? Would you answer one way if he was your son and another if he was a friend or the child of a friend? In the moment — when the question is posed unexpectedly — it can be difficult to know what to say.

The USSCB vocations page has a ‘Frequently Asked Questions‘ section which touches on this:

How should I react if my son or daughter talks to me about becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

If this hasn’t happened yet, maybe you ought to ask yourself how you or your spouse might react. Would it be shock? Concern? Skepticism? Would this be a dream come true for you or your worst nightmare? Knowing and understanding your own feelings and your reasons for them is an important step in knowing how to respond to your son or daughter. The vast majority of teens today feel that if they told their parents they were even “just thinking” about priesthood or religious life, their parents would be completely opposed to the idea, laugh at them, or in some other way not take them seriously.

What you say in that moment may have a long-lasting impact on other’s decisions. Yours may be the voice which confirms someone’s belief or increases their doubts. What is important is to recognize that when someone discusses discernment with you, they are sharing something they’ve probably been wrestling with for a while. They are taking a risk by being vulnerable and sharing their struggle. How you react will influence not only their decision, but also the future of the relationship between the two of you.

If your child says they want to pursue religious life, you may have legitimate questions and concerns. You might believe your child isn’t suited for the life or you may simply be overwhelmed with the unknown. The same can be said of just about any major decision your child makes. Perhaps they intend to marry someone you believe to be unsuitable. Or they might want to pursue a career for the money, while you feel that the job will frustrate and demoralize them. On the other hand, they might be turning down what you believe to be a great opportunity.

No matter what decision they make, they will remember how you made them feel. If you were condescending or dismissive, they’ll remember. If you’re open and attentive — even if you disagree with them — they’ll remember that too. No matter what your personal feelings, it’s best to be thoughtful in how you communicate. The rest of your life is a long time and it’s important to think about the kind of relationship you want to have with your child.

Obviously, Fr. Dave didn’t have to worry as much about the future of his relationship with the caller. Odds are, Fr. Dave and that young may will never speak again. However, Fr. Dave does a great job of modeling how to have a conversation around the topic of discernment. If you’re struggling with how to talk to your child about their vocation, take a few minutes and listen to how Fr. Dave handles it.

 

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)

 

 

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)