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

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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)

 

 

 

 

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/

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.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to National Vocations Awareness Week!

124px-Spas_vsederzhitel_sinaySince 1976 the United States Council of Catholic Bishops has been promoting growth in vocations through “Vocations Awareness Week”.  Over the years it has moved around the calendar — from the 28th Sunday of the year to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and Finally to the first week of November.  Through all of that, the aim has always been to develop a “culture of vocations”.

According to a press release on the USCCB website:

“Encouraging others to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to follow Christ without reservations are key elements in supporting a culture of vocations,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “With God’s grace, we can have a positive impact on others who may be open to considering a vocation to priesthood or religious life, by simply inviting them to think and pray about it. Our enthusiasm and willingness to speak directly to others about vocations just might be the conversation someone need to respond to God’s call.”

The USCCB website supports Vocations Awareness Week with a variety of resources including a parish prayer card, homily points for priests and deacons, Holy Hours for Vocations (both with and without a priest) and prayers for vocations.

Please take a moment during your busy week and pray for vocations — both for those who are actively pursuing their vocation and for those yet to be called.

The Pope Frances Effect and Hope for the Future of Religious Vocations

pope fances 2As the US welcomes Pope Frances, I can’t help but wonder what the effect will be on those discerning or even thinking
about discerning a religious vocation.

I have read the accounts of Saint John Paul the Great at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.  The strength of his personality and his ability to communicate the truths of the faith inspired young people all over the world.  His love of the youth inspired an entire generation.  Many religious vocations came out of the Pope John Paul 2 years and today are referred to as JP2 priests and religious.

Here is a exert from a National Catholic Register article: “Looking at the Good Fruit of World Youth Day Denver ’93 about vocations that sprang from the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver:

Among the young attendees was Giovanni Capucci, who traveled from Italy at the age of 19. Today, he’s known Pope_John_Paul_Youthas Father Capucci, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“It was such a marvelous event that it’s difficult to express,” Father Capucci said. “It was a beautiful experience of communion, with hundreds of thousands of people coming from all over the world. Pope John Paul II was able to transmit the Holy Spirit to all of us. You could just feel the holiness and the presence of God. It so radically changed my life that every single day since has been fulfilling.”

As the authors on this blog pray for parents of discerning sons and daughters, we hope Pope Frances will inspire other young men and women to be open to the idea of a heroic life spent serving the people of God.

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Objection Series: “He Will Have to Give Up So Much!” or Giving vs. Getting

Alright, can we just agree that every vocation has its difficult moments, challenges and rewards?   You can’t compare one to another and say one is more difficult than the other. Perhaps it looks so difficult to you because you don’t have a realistic view of the day to day life of a priest.  YouTube has many videos on “A Day in the Life of a Priest”   Refer to the post HERE: Another Vision of the Future with reflections by a priest of 25 years.

I admit that one of my first gut reactions to my son’s announcement was the politically incorrect comment, “He doesn’t know bishop playing soccerwhat he is giving up!”  My concept of being a priest meant you had to give up so much.   My unconscious bias from childhood imprinted the idea that a priest’s  life was full of sacrifice and suffering.  (I will explain this in another post on exploring where your attitudes and biases originate.)

What helped me understand this objection was the idea of “giving up and getting”.  Every vocation has its own aspects of things you are giving up and things you are getting.   Although as parents, we don’t know the joys and sacrifices of being a priest, the same concepts apply to the vocations of marriage and parenthood.

If you have been married for any length of time, you know that marriage can be filled with sacrifice and suffering. When I got married, I knew that I was giving up every man in the entire world in ordbride and groomer to marry my husband.  Did I see this as a sacrifice?  No!  I wanted to do it. I did it happily, whole heartedly, joyfully.  Did I understand the full implications of those vows?   At the time, I thought I did.  But of course as the saying goes, you have to say “I do” every day, even when you don’t want to, even when it is hard to love.  Did I fully know what that meant?  No, no one does on your wedding day

When I got married, I knew I was giving up my financial independence because I wanted to make a life and a home with my husband.  Was this a sacrifice?  It didn’t seem so until I wanted a new pair of boots, but the car needed new tires.

unncomfortable pregnant woman

Parenthood has a significant amount of giving up.  Giving up control of my body for 9 months of pregnancy and then
another year of breastfeeding was difficult, but I wanted to do it.   The minute you see that little face, you know any sacrifice is worth loving this little person and watching them grow.

Parenthood has incredible bursts of joy on a daily basis, but the proportion of sacrifice and suffering ismom and daughter far greater.   As a percentage, parenthood has far more times of fatigue, sacrifice, frustration, anxiety, and suffering than joy.  Do I regret all the sacrifices and struggles of parenthood?  Absolutely not!  The sacrifice is part of the nature of being a parent and makes you cherish the times of joy.  If I only focused on all the things I was giving up as a parent, I would have missed the everyday joys and the big picture of the vocation of parenthood.

Realize that no matter what a young man gives up to be a priest, he will be getting his own set of joys to cherish that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

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

Do You Remember the Day You Became a Vocation Director?

Our parish does infant baptism on the first Sunday of the month.  So today after the noon mass there were 6 babies and a large number of friends and relatives in attendance.  I didn’t think any more about this until I read the article below and infant and parents baptismremembered the day my seminarian son was baptized.   Do you remember that day long ago when you brought your child to church to be baptized?

Of all my children, I know the exact date of my son’s baptism because it was Christmas Eve 1995.  That year, December 24 was a snowy Sunday.  With relatives in for the holiday, it was the perfect time to have him baptized.   Having a new baby at Christmas is so special because everything revolves around baby Jesus.  Holding my son in my arms, he was the perfect baby as he slept so peacefully just like baby Jesus  in the Christmas carols.  I remember the lovely smell of the chrism which lasted for days on his little head.

On the day of your child’s baptism, you make solemn promises to raise him in the faith that are a joy to make.  Just as on your wedding day, it is a joy to say your marriage vows.  But, you really don’t know how hard those vows are until you have to live them out.  When your child is small, hearing his prayers at bedtime and reading bible stories can be a joy.  But paying for catholic school tuition or getting a child to religious education classes can be struggle.

This article has been edited to focus on the promises of baptism by the parents to take on the role as the child’s first vocation director in the domestic church of their own home.

Children’s First Vocation Directors – Their Parents

Rev.Michael L.Griffin    6/24/2009       (www.sfcatholic.org/communication/bulletin.aspx)

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Bishop’s Bulletin) –       Many years ago I had the opportunity to speak with a priest who had quite a reputation as a vocations director. While we sat at lunch a few of us younger priests and seminarians began to ask him what he did to bring about so many vocations.

He said he always spoke about vocations during the celebration of baptism. He always reminded the parents and Godparents that Christ was giving this child a vocation, right there, right at this moment of new life in baptism. He said he invited those present to rejoice in this vocation, whatever it might be.

One of us asked, “Do the parents appreciate that?”
His response was simple and interesting, “They do at that moment, I just hope they do later.”

I was a little taken aback by the question and the response. It had not occurred to me that any parents would not be proud and pleased in their children as they grow up and embrace the life God gives to them.

I have come to discover that there are parents who will sometimes actively stand in the way of their son or daughter as they explore the possibility of serving Christ, their brothers and sisters, the Church, as a priest, religious sister or brother.

I have sat with young men and women who have cried as they spoke about the pain they feel in their hearts because one of their parents refuses to allow them to be open to the possibility.

I would imagine if I had the chance to ask why, the parent would have their reasons…

These parents stood at the [Baptismal] font of new life and promised to raise their child in the faith. This they did embracing their child as a gift and recognizing their role in guiding and blessing the child’s life, but also recognizing that the child’s life is not theirs. This is a profound and amazing relationship, and a source of blessing to all when embraced in love by parent and child.

In this powerful relationship, the voice of God and the gift of His call are given to be nourished and revealed.

It is a hope that if children are called to the Sacrament of Marriage, that they see this vocation lived with love and joy by their parents, and the couples they see around them at Mass.

It is a hope that if children are called to the priesthood or religious life, that they would see the joy of these vocations lived out around them in their parish life, but also come to appreciate the gift of self-offering and the gift of love within their home. [emphasis added]

Each night, as parents bless their children, each day as they teach them to pray and to listen and to grow, the voice of God becomes clearer, more easily heard. That voice might call them to enter the Church as a bride or groom, or as a religious, or as priest, but the first steps are taken in the domestic Church, in the home.

…We are all called to be vocations directors, but in a powerful way, parents are the first, and greatest of all vocations directors. This is both a challenge and a glorious gift.

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

A Summer Visit to the Seminary

This time of year, you and your son may be thinking about making a visit to a seminary.  He may be accepted for the fall term or still thinking about it.  After so much talk and talk about what seminary would be like, my son and I went for a visit in late June prior to his entrance in the fall.   I did not want to see the place for the first time when he was moving in.   I think I needed to take some of the mystery away so I could envision his life there.

We went in the summer to get a first look and had a very nice guy entering 4th college show us around and answer questions about seminary life.   It was good to visit during the summer because we were able to tour all areas of the seminary.  If school had been in session, our tour would have been more limited as some areas were off limits for the privacy of the seminarians.

Our tour guide introduced us to everyone from the cafeteria ladies to the dean.  Everyone was happy to meet my son and welcome new men 2welcome him.  Our guide would introduce him as one of the “new men”.   I was not accustom to hearing my 18 year old son called a “man”.  But I have come to see that if you call them men and expect them to act like men, they will respond.  I can guarantee you that at the tour for the state university, male students were never referred to as new men, but incoming freshman.  The cultural expectations of a freshman in a traditional college are a far cry from the expectations of the new men in the seminary.

If you want to visit the seminary, call ahead and make arrangements.  It was great to have another seminarian give us a tour and answer our many questions.  He was candid and provided lots of little details and suggestions from bringing a fan and an extra lamp to how the refrigerator in the common room was shared.  He told us about the opportunities for intramural basketball and other sports when we stopped at the gym.  Since it was just the 3 of us, we could stop and ask questions when we had them.  I am sure my son was rolling his eyes at my practical and possibly “politically incorrect” questions, but the answers put my mind at ease.

If the seminary has an open house or orientation day, you may have the opportunity to meet faculty, administrators and other seminarians.   During an orientation day in August, we were welcomed by seminarians and faculty at an informal coffee and donuts session.   Then, we went on another tour with other parents and new seminarians.   I was impressed with the other seminarians there to assist in welcoming the new guys.  They were friendly, outgoing, joking around, joyful, sincere, helpful, kind and empathetic.  I know it sounds like boy scouts, but they really seemed like great guys.  Some were in “clerics” and others in t-shirts and shorts looking like they were going to play basketball after they finished giving the tour.  This may not have been what the seminary wanted our tour guide to wear, but it made him seem more real, approachable and a regular guy.  He was easy going, encouraged questions and answered candidly.  There were no taboo topics or questions.  Some parents on our tour asked him questions on the side.

By the end of both of these visits to the seminary, I felt much more comfortable seeing and experiencing the seminary environment.  Sure there were a few tears when we said good bye, but I did that when we took the older siblings to college.   Taking them to a state university, I worried they would not get to mass on Sundays.  In this case, I knew this son would be at mass 7 days per week.  One less thing  to worry about.

E-mail and a Note about Discernment

This week a lovely note landed in the Seminarian Parents inbox.  It came from the Mum of a seminarian who…well, since she graciously offered permission to share her letter, I’ll let her tell the story.

Three years ago our 19 year old son entered a Diocesan seminary.

While not shocked – we were initially quite surprised and unsure that this was a good idea for someone so young.

At the time my husband and I tried to encourage him to ‘live’ a little before he entered. Maybe gain a bit more maturity, and life experience.  To his credit he was not to be deterred by our initial reticence and lack of enthusiasm : he was sure of his decision. He proceeded initially to ‘pre-seminary’ for a year and then the national  seminary.

And of course we supported him, loved him and were proud of him.

As parents we have always tried to support our children (he has an older brother & sister) – and when necessary offer guidance – in their life choices. University, and overseas travel for the others was a more familiar path for us  – but the seminary and priesthood was an altogether different scenario – and one I assumed other people’s sons would follow – not ours!

I desperately wanted to talk to someone in my situation who understood what I was going through – another mother of a seminarian. There seemed to be no one around – I assumed that they must all be very holy – too busy praying and going about the Lord’s work – and would have no understanding of my feelings, fears and worries for my son and his future!

I quickly became aware that the role and relationship of parents and their seminarian son is at times different than that of our other children. (Not better or worse – just different)

Because of this unique role, the opportunity for the parents and families of our seminarians to meet and get to know one another (for both support & friendship) is important.  Whether the family are heavily involved in ‘church’ – or not at all – the procedures, processes and emotions are usually uncharted territory for everyone. But nothing seemed to exist – at a local level or online.

Towards the end of last year, our son decided to leave the seminary  – I didn’t want him to enter – but now I found I didn’t want him to leave! More uncharted waters – and once again, another parent to talk to would have been great.

While he has learnt a lot in these 3 years in the seminary – I know we as parents have as well.

In immersing himself in all things ‘Catholic’ – much has also been absorbed by us too. There have been many conversations as we talked with him before he entered – and in holidays when he was home

(I am a ‘cradle Catholic’ though I think the term ‘cultural Catholic’ would have been a better description. I loved the culture and familiarity of being catholic – the nitty gritty of my faith was largely ignored. )

For me I know my knowledge of catholic ‘stuff’, liturgical matters, seminarian studies and subjects, canon law, has increased – but above all this superfluous information, my Faith has deepened and (I think) matured. For that I will always be thankful and grateful to my son  – for testing my understanding of my faith, challenging my assumptions and encouraging me to seek and develop a more personal relationship with God.

This letter was encouraging to all of us.  We recognized our own questions, fears and concerns in this mother’s story.  Cathy and I chuckled at her assumption that the parents of prospective priest must somehow be above-average on the holiness meter.  We certainly aren’t, but we are trying to improve our relationship with God.

One of the concerns she had was her son’s age.  Cathy shared that concern and … well … I’ll let her explain:

Worry about Evan being too young was a big concern of mine as well. I spoke to the formation director of his order and he offered me an interesting perspective. He stated that they encourage men to explore the priesthood as early as possible (as soon as they hear the call). If it doesn’t work out there are no hard feelings, on the contrary, they often remain friends of the group for life. If they discern that the ordained life isn’t for them, they are still young enough to enter into the secular life and have a full career. If they wait till their late 30’s, for example, they are in their forty’s when they go back to their careers and it can be difficult.

All of which brings me to a brief point that I’d like to make about the discernment process.

Discernment is a process.  Some people think that discernment is sitting around, praying for Divine guidance and getting a lightning bolt from the sky in response.  Prayer is definitely important, but prayer needs to be accompanied by action.  A great post over at Verso L’alto talks about the danger of “passive discernment.”

People tend to talk about a priestly vocation as if entering seminary is a final decision with ordination as a foregone conclusion.  That isn’t the case at all.  You might as well start making wedding plans the first time your son takes a girl out on a date.  Yes, it could lead to marriage, but it might not.  It’s important to live through the process — it’s a journey, not a destination.

When young people perceive a call to religious life, they should explore it.  That means investigating seminaries and talking to vocations directors.  It probably means entering the seminary.  Whatever happens — that time in seminary is part of the journey.

I’d be so bold as to say that active discernment is good practice for all of us.  If you think God is calling you to something — a ministry in your parish, some task in your neighborhood or your workplace, or even more prayer and study — don’t sit back and think about it.  With openness to the Spirit, jump in and listen to God through your actions.

This is just a phase… or… I don’t want another trumpet in the attic.

As a parent, how do you know if your son’s  interest in discerning a vocation is the real thing or is it just a phase?  When he is  young, it is  hard for a parent to believe this could be for real.  I always thought this kind of decision took years of struggle.  How could this happen so fast and still be real?   Is this just a whim?  An idealized fantasy?  Is this going to be like the trumpet lessons that he was so desperate for and then lost interest within a few months?  Here is a little bit of my son’s story and how I came to understand that this was a serious desire and not just a phase.

When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, he was  17 years old and finishing Junior year. About 3 months before this, he attended a Kairos retreat held by his catholic high school.  When he returned, I knew something was different by his attitude and behavior.

Within the first week after the retreat, the group decided to all go to 7 am mass every day before school.   Now, any catholic mother would be pleased to see a teenager do this.  For my son, something else made it significant.

Prior to this, I could hardly get him out of bed to get to school.  Normally, we had to leave home by 7 am to get to school by 740.  It was common for me to check on him at 630 am…still in bed, 645 am… still in bed.  “I’m up , I’m up”…  then still find him in bed at 7 am.

Going to 7 am mass meant that he would need to get up at least an hour earlier to get to school.   Since I was driving him, getting to school by 7 am meant that he had to be ready to leave the house by 615 am.  It was significant to see him up and ready to leave at 615 am and worried if I would make him late.

This change in behavior was surprising to me, based on his love of sleeping.  But I still thought, “This is  great!   But I know my son, how long can this possibly last?  This is a phase.”  On the weekends, my son could sleep in as late as noon or 1 pm if I was not home to get him up.   By the first weekend, I was surprised to hear that he was planning to go to morning mass on Saturday and meet some of the Kairos kids there.  That gave me pause, but I still thought,  “This is a phase.  I’m glad he is doing this, but I don’t see this lasting for any length of time.”

As the weeks wore on, he continued to go to the 7 am mass at school even when no other Kairos kids were attending.   Right after the retreat, the group would meet in the chapel after school to say the rosary or just to pray together about 2 – 3 times per week.   Gradually this petered out about 6 weeks later.  My son either stayed after school to go to the chapel, or he would get in the car and ask if we could stop at our parish church on the way home.  Although surprised, I was happy to do it.

The first time he asked, I said, “Sure, how long do you think we will be there?  I have to get dinner in the oven.”  His response was “I don’t know, it is not up to me”.   “Okay,” I thought  “I’ll just respect the time he needs and not push.”  This happened at least 3 times per week during the next few months where he would stay between 30 – 45 minutes.

At this point, my attitude was pleased, but still watchful and waiting to see how long it would last.   My son  was different is some ways, but not others.  He seemed much more pleasant and cooperative at home for a typical 17 year old boy. But he would still fight with his brother, grumble over taking out the garbage, and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.

At this point, he did not have his driver’s license, so whenever he wanted to go to church, confession or daily mass, he had to have someone drive him.  Most of the time, it was me.  This meant that during that first summer, I went to mass with him every day, including Saturday.

Sometimes we would sit together and sometimes we wouldn’t.  After mass we would go out for coffee and talk about this idea of being a priest and applying to seminary.  This was a very special time for me to be able to listen to his concerns, fears and excitement.  If he had been able to drive, we would not have had that time together.

Prior to these events, getting his license was not a big issue.  Now he became much more aggressive trying to get enough hours of practice in so he could get his license.  Once he did, it seemed he asked to use the car to go to church frequently. I admit, I did think this was a ploy to get to drive more, but at least he was going to church.

During the summer, he would drive to confession once a week.  I have never gone to confession once a week in my life.  Again, I was impressed as he always had a better attitude when he returned.   By the end of the summer, he was going to confession on Wednesdays and Saturdays; twice in one week.  I think this was the point that I knew this was serious and not just a phase.

Please know that I am not as cynical and callous as this story may sound.  Remember, I have 2 older children who went through their own phases of interests and passions which typically gave way to the next new thing.  Certainly, my son’s increase in a devotion to his faith was not something I had ever seen before.  But the sudden onset and fervor seemed to fit the pattern of other phases I saw in his older brother and sister.  It honestly never seriously occurred to me that his behavior would only increase over time.

My take away bit of advice for other parents is this:  Look at the behavior changes:  Is he changing his priorities, his friends, his schedule, his hobbies?  How long has this been going on?  Has it been sustained or even increased over time?  For me, seeing these sustained changes  in my son over time was what helped me realize that this was not just a phase, but a serious interest in pursing further discernment.

I hope this can help other parents who are wondering if this is just a phase for a son or daughter or is it a serious desire that needs exploration.

Welcoming a New Contributor

Just a quick note about this post.

It has always been our hope and prayer that this blog would become a place where those discerning and their parents came for information and encouragement.  Pam contacted us on Easter Sunday to let us know she’d found the blog and to inquire about our experience as seminarian parents and bloggers.  It was clear from her e-mail messages that she was a great writer and had a different perspective.  Our conversation naturally turned to asking her to contribute and we’re thrilled that she accepted.

As she notes, her son is in a college seminary and entered shortly after high school.  This is different from our experience, but is an experience shared by many, many parents.

In the coming months, you’ll see posts from all of us as our individual journeys continue.

As always, we want your questions.  Feel free to e-mail us at seminarianparents@gmail.com.

— Dad of Evan

How Agnostics Pray

Candle FlameRight, so this isn’t really all that directly linked to my brother’s current work but it seemed the right place to post it.

You’ve heard the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes” right? Well I can’t speak to that specifically but I admit I’ve been doing a bit of praying myself lately. And no that doesn’t mean I have any more faith than the last time I wrote, or that I’ve returned to the fold or joined a new church. I still don’t believe in much of anything, and if something does exist I have no reason to believe inherently that it is the Abrahamic God. So, I don’t know if anyone is there to listen, if someone can listen I don’t know if they are, and if they are I don’t know if they care, and if they care I don’t know if they can do anything. Seems a losing proposition doesn’t it? Yeah it kind of is.

Rationalists would say I’m either trying to shift my problems onto a force beyond my power so I can blame them if things go pear shaped or I am attempting to control the universe in ways that are flatly impossible. And maybe they are right. But right now, right now I’ll take anything I can get.

So how do agnostics pray? In my case with desperation and hope. Without giving out details I find myself in a situation that could end badly and there is nothing I can do to influence the outcome right now. So I have others pray for me, I’m never one to turn my nose up at someone offering aid. And as stress increases I start to pray myself. I don’t know if anyone can hear me and I don’t believe anyone does but I cling to the hope that I’m wrong. That some benevolent figure can pick up what I’m sending out and help out somehow. But I suppose that’s more of a why than a how. The how is more mundane. Lots of pleading silently and hoping against my own mind as I detail my troubles. And in my case lighting candles as a vigil. I’ve always been in favor of enduring actions as an article of ritual, so as I type this there are candles burning in my window, a light to guide someone if they want to find their way back. And on occasion I incorporate saints. They serve as handy symbols of precise desire, like the deities of pre-christian pantheons.

–Evan’s Brother

Mom: A New Contributing Author

I am very happy to find this blog as a place for parents and other family members to discuss the discernment and formation process.

I have been looking for a place to share what I have learned in the past 2 years.   In that time, my son started discerning a vocation to the priesthood (age 17), applied and was accepted to our diocese as a seminarian and started his first year in college seminary (now age 19).

The parents who started this blog have a son who is in formation in a religious community, while my posts will focus on a son discerning diocesan priesthood.  By contributing on this blog, I hope readers will have a view of the similarities and differences of the our experience as parents  as well as our sons in discernment and formation.

As a cradle catholic, I attended catholic school from kindergarten through high school as well as graduating from a catholic college in the early 80’s.   Based on my background, I thought I was fairly knowledgeable on all things catholic. But, I was in for a surprise to realize that what little I did know about seminary, discernment and the priesthood was completely wrong, misinterpreted or based on urban legend.

When my son first told me he thought God was calling him to the priesthood, I had most of the common concerns and objections.    You’re too young…. Go to college first…  Get some life experience….etc.

Over the next few weeks; it took finding the right resources and a lot of prayer to come to a better understanding of the elements of discernment.   By contributing to this blog, I hope to shed some light on these issues and the ongoing discernment process and seminary formation for diocesan priesthood.

I was shocked and saddened to find out that 48% of newly ordained priests reported that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons.  This data from CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) has remained at 48% for the 2014 and 2015 reports on newly ordained priests.  Remember, these are the ones who actually completed seminary and were ordained!   How many others never made it very far without the support of their family?    This fact alone has motivated me to find a place for parents to discuss issues and encourage each other during their son’s journey wherever it leads.

I have searched the internet for resources or advice or personal experiences from other mothers/parents of seminarians, but have found almost nothing. Everyone I ask about this tells me it is needed.  If we are truly trying to “create a culture of vocations”, then the feelings and experiences of parents and other family members should to be a part of the conversation to open up the exploration of religious vocations in our families.

I welcome your questions and feedback.