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

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

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

“Just a Thought”         posted  May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alone in a crowd

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

A Network of Support

sems cheering

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

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

fraternal meetings

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

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

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

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

2 priests

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

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

College and Graduate school program =  Seminary

Career goal = Priesthood

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

Company  = Diocese

Offices =  Parish assignment

Employer/Boss  =  Bishop

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

Mentor =  Spiritual Director

Colleagues/Peers = Brother priests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Vocation vs. Job

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

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

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

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

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

Long Hours

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

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

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

Catholic-hospital-chaplain-anoints-patient

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

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

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

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

Objection Series: “I Will Never Have Grandchildren.”

As parents, you know that if your son becomes a priest it is a great gift to your family.  But it also necessitates a sacrifice of the traditional dream of seeing your son happily married with children of his own.

Grandparents-and-Grandkids-Epcot-570x427      I admit that this may be the toughest objection for any parent, especially if this is your only child.
I have read beautiful accounts of parents appreciating all the spiritual children that will come from their son’s vocation.  The problem is you can’t take spiritual grandchildren to Disney World.

CNN produced the documentary “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Called to the Collar” about the increase in priestly vocations in rural Michigan.  It is an unusually balanced documentary on this topic done with respect and an open attitude. You can watch the entire program HERE.   When Lisa Ling asks about the issue of grandchildren, parents of twin sons who are both priests point out something obvious. “Even if he did marry, there is no guarantee that he and his  wife would have children.”

I have 2 other children who I hope will marry and have children someday, so this one is not a big issue for me.  If my seminarian son was an only child, it would be a very different story.

For parents in this situation, I think it would take a good amount of prayer and reflection to re-evaluate how you see your golden years.  If you have been waiting to go to Disney World with grandchildren, then this may be God’s way of telling you He has something else in mind for you.  This will be a discernment process of your own.  The love and attention you would have spent on grandchildren can be spent in other ways that you will find satisfying.

Recently, our parish held a reception for a beloved pastor of over 10 years when he was transferred to another parish.  Many parishioners were there to wish him well, thank him for his fatherly care and relay how he had touched their lives.  His elderly mother was there with a few family members.  Many people spoke to her about what a wonderful priest her son was and how grateful they were for his service to our parish.  This went on for several hours to the point that she had to sit down to be able to speak to all the people.  As a parent, this must have been an amazing experience to hear how her son touched so many lives and how much he was loved by the parish.    divine_mercy_78_f_small

In dealing with this objection, it seems that parents need to let go of one dream and reach out for another which is not well defined today.   Trust is an essential aspect of faith in this journey.  To resolve this objection, you will need to rely heavily on trusting the Lord’s love and plan for your son and for you.

Repeat as needed:  “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

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

Meet the Parents

Every summer our diocese has a picnic for seminarians and their families.  Unfortunately, our son was so sick last summer that he could not attend.  Since it was our first year, we did not want to go without him.  Looking back, we should have gone just to be able to meet the parents and siblings of other seminarians and see how “normal” they were.

Some catholic parents have been encouraging a religious vocation since infancy and would greet the news with great joy and satisfaction.  Others, like my husband and I, did the best we could to raise our children with a strong faith and respect for priests, but never really thought  one of our sons would enter seminary.  Sure it was an option, but when we would mention it to our boys, they would laugh and say, ”No way is that going to happen Mom.”

I would have been happy if he just married a nice catholic girl.  I guess I always assumed that seminarians came from families who were a lot more focused on vocations and more attentive to devotions like the rosary, daily mass and family prayer.   We did none of these.  Beyond grace at meals and bedtime prayers when they were small, the best I can say our family did was to pray the Divine Mercy novena from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday.  Mass every Sunday was a given even on vacation and when they went to camp.   As a mother, I do take great pride every year in getting all 3 kids as teens and young adults to mass 4 times between 4th Sunday of Advent and the Sunday after New Year’s, all the while hearing  “…but we just went to mass!”

It was several months into the first year of college seminary when I tracked down the name of another mother of a  seminarian in our diocese.  We met for lunch and found we had a lot of experiences in common wading into the unknown 3 moms
waters of sending a son to seminary.   Her son is 3 years ahead of mine, so she gave me good information and insights about what is ahead.  Several months later, I met another seminarian mother.   Again, we had lots in common regarding questions, experiences and feelings.  We both wished we could have spoken earlier to another mother of a seminarian.  She said “I wish I could have asked another mother, ‘How many pairs of black pants should I send with him?’.   Mothers are practical as well as a little emotional when it comes to their seminarian sons.   It is hard to hold on and let go at the same time.

If you would like to speak to a parent of a seminarian in your diocese or religious order, please contact the vocation director and ask for a contact.  There are some things that only a parent can understand from a parent who has been there.

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

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 Vision of the Future

One of the problems with a son discerning a vocation to the priesthood is the unknown.  What is in his future?  What will his life be like?   If your son was going to be an accountant, you would have a pretty good idea what his life would be like.  An individual’s view of priesthood is limited by their own experiences for better or for worse.

Parents need to see authentic examples of a discernment road that has led to priesthood.  Perhaps you don’t have a view of what a joyful, fulfilling life of a priest looks like.  Knowing that you are doing exactly what God put you on this earth to do yields a peace, contentment and joy that is difficult to describe, but is plain to see.

This video shares the story of 2 young men who grew up with the typical life experiences of girlfriends, sports and school.   They share how, over time, they grew to understand that God was calling them to a different way of life; something totally unexpected and unknown.

Yes, the road ahead is filled with question marks for you and your son.  The difference is that your son wants to take the road of questions with a trust in the Lord that you may not be able to understand at this moment.

So what should you do?  If your son is willing to travel that road with trust; it is your role to trust your son, the vocation director, your bishop, the seminary and the discernment process.

If you want to see more examples of the daily life of a priest, go to Youtube and type in “A Day in the Life of a Priest.”

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

Objection Series: “He’s Throwing His Life Away!”

Although this statement sounds pretty harsh, you may have heard this about your son’s interest in priesthood or religious life.  Maybe you worry that you are going to hear it from a family member, a friend, a co-worker, your spouse or even yourself.

I heard variations on this comment a few times from acquaintances when they first heard the news that my son was going to college seminary right out of high school. Among the variations were:

car off bridge1

Why would you let him throw his life away like that?

I would never let my son throw his life away!

Why does he want to throw his life away?

But he’ll never have a normal life with a wife and children!

At first I was shocked at how rude these comments were.  Once the news was out, I had heard some negative and less than supportive comments, but this was the most severe response I heard.   The first time I heard it, I was taken aback and managed to stammer, “Oh, no, we’re very happy with his decision and proud of him.”  Then they would give me that ‘Are you crazy?’ look or just roll their eyes.

None of these negative comments came from Catholics.  I heard nothing but positive comments from the people in our parish and other Catholic friends and relatives.  The phrases “wasting his life” and “throwing his life away” have given me a lot to think about.  How is it that some people view the very idea of a young man considering becoming a priest as so terrible that they liken it to wasting his life?  Are these people so materialistic and achievement focused that they view a life of service to others as a waste?

After I got past being judgmental, I began to have empathy for these people who have so little awareness or appreciation of the spiritual needs of others and serving these needs. Then it occurred to me that I should pray for them to come to an understanding of the value of spirituality in their own lives.

Other comments have not been as overtly negative, but have an undertone of disapproval or express a lack of value in my son’s choice.  Over time, I began to see that the comments I received gave me an indication of the individual’s misunderstanding about the priesthood, religious life and seminary.  I got to the point, that when I heard a comment, I was able to counter with a little bit of information to provide some reality to their false assumptions.  Here are a few samples.  Help yourself to any of these responses when you find yourself on the receiving end of a less than enthusiastic comment.

Comment: “What happened to computer science?  He would have a great career if he stayed in computers.”

Response:  “If he is called to be a priest, I’m sure he will have the opportunity to do many different things in his life.”

False Assumption: Only a career with a high income and career opportunities are valuable and worth pursing.

 

Comment:  “I thought he went to the prom with Susan?  She was gorgeous!  What happened?”

Response:  “They went to the prom as friends and still are friends.”

False Assumption:  Going to seminary means you can’t have any contact with girls.

 

Comment:  “Couldn’t he get into the state university?”

Response:  “As a matter of fact, he was accepted into a computer science program at State, but he decided not to go.  Actually, it was much harder to be accepted as a seminarian for the diocese and the college seminary than getting into State.”

False Assumption:  Guys who go to seminary are those who can’t get into a regular college.

 

Comment:  “You mean, no sex? Ever? And you’re okay with that?”

Response:  Okay, you try explaining the gift of celibacy in 2 minutes or less. I tried. I think I went with “…if he does have a vocation to priesthood, he will be given the grace to be able to handle it…..” and  “Yes, I am okay with that if he does become a priest. It’s part of the package.”

False Assumption:  Living a celibate lifestyle is impossible.

 

Comment:   “Is he gay?”

Response:  “No, that has nothing to do with it.  He is going to seminary to determine if God wants him to be a priest.”

False Assumption:  A healthy male attitude toward girls cannot be compatible with going to seminary.

 

Comment:  “Doesn’t he like girls?”

Response:  “Of course he does.   He has lots of friends that are girls.”

False Assumption:  A healthy male attitude toward girls cannot be compatible with going to seminary.

 

Comment:  “Don’t worry, he just hasn’t found the right girl yet.”

Response:  “I’m not worried.  He is just trying to figure out if God wants him to be a priest. If he doesn’t, I am sure the right girl will find him!  If he does determine he is not called to be a priest, he will be a great catch!”

False Assumption:  The “right” girl is an antidote to these thoughts of being a priest.

 
Please leave a comment if you  have had any experiences like this and had a good response or if you did not know what to say!  We will help you come up with a response.

Please know that the authors of this blog pray every day for parents of discerning sons and daughter to find peace and understanding.

What is a Vocation Story?

I have heard my son give his “vocation story” many times in different settings.  This is the story of how he decided to go to seminary and how he felt that God may be calling him to the priesthood.  I have heard many variations depending on the person asking and the situation.Asian man giving speech

The first time I heard my son give this talk in public was from the pulpit during a seminary appeal weekend for the diocese where the seminary is located.  It was interesting to hear him describe our family and how he grew up.  In that situation, I was surprised to hear something I did not know.

He explained that the first time the thought of priesthood came into his head was in 5th grade at the weekly school mass.  He said “I thought to myself:  A priest?  I don’t’ want to be a priest.  I want to get married and have a wife, kids, a family.”  Then he promptly dismissed the idea.  I had never heard that little detail before and realized he never spoke about it while in grade school.

When a friend or acquaintance meets my son and hears that he is in seminary, it is common for them to ask him “How did you know?”  When he is in a situation where it is not really appropriate to go into a long explanation, I have heard him say:  “Well, there was this burning bush….”  Then he pauses just long enough to crack a mischievous smile and say “Just kidding.”

My son’s first serious idea of a vocation started at a high school retreat during his Junior year.  In this retreat program, the Juniors from the previous years can act as student leaders the following year.  By the spring of his senior year, he was applying to the diocese.  Only a small, close circle of friends knew about his plans.  He did not want to make the news public until he was accepted by the diocese.  As a student leader at the retreat, I am sure it took no small amount of courage to tell his story to his peers who had no idea this was in the works.

I was there when my son told my mother about his plans to enter seminary.  He gave great detail and answered her questions.  I was sure my mother would say what she always did about priesthood: “It is such a hard life” with an extremely heavy sigh.   She didn’t.   She just cried and said how happy she was for him.  Of course, she said it to me, right after he left the room.

I was there when he told his Aunt, my sister, who is his godmother and confirmation sponsor.  She cried through the entire story and kept asking him “Really? Are you sure?”  This is where more information about the discernment process was needed to clarify. “No, he’s not sure, that’s why he is going to seminary.” (Note: Aunt Becky was crying because she was happy for him!)

Listening to your son talk about his vocation story gives a parent new insight into his mind and heart.  You may be surprised by what you learn as you hear his story repeated over time.

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

Everyone has 3 Vocations

With all the talk on this blog about vocations and discernment, you may enjoy a video by Fr Mike Schmitz who provides a little different explanation of the 3 (yes, three) vocations that every person on earth has.

Years ago when our generation was coming of age, a vocation meant religious life, married or single.   A vocation to religious life was always referred to as a “calling”.  I never heard of marriage or single life as being a “calling”.  The inference was that marriage was a choice and single life was a default.  The idea of choosing a single state in life for a specific purpose was unheard of.

The universal call to holiness was a major concept to come out of Vatican 2.  It is too bad that this news and its’ application to everyday life took decades to get to the people.  I am glad that young people are hearing this information now, but for those of us who grew up with out it, it is nothing short of revolutionary. It is a realistic prescription to make you into a saint.

Fr. Mike gives a clear explanation about how all 3 of your vocations come together for you to become the saint God wants you to be.

Fr Mike Schmitz, Director of Youth and Young Adult ministry in Duluth, Minnesota is also the chaplain at the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. You can listen to his archived and current homilies HERE or find him on Youtube with both short and long presentations.

Please know that the authors of the blog pray everyday for all 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.

How long does it take to become a priest? Part 2 or How does the average high school graduate adapt to academic life in the seminary?

When we first learned that the undergraduate degree at college seminary is Philosophy, I was surprised. Educationally, I understand the need for an in depth knowledge of philosophy as a framework to build the graduate Theology coursework.Guy with books But my first reaction was “Philosophy? Really?” It sounded like a very tough course of study. I knew this kind of degree would require an enormous amount of reading and writing as well as being able to express your thoughts cogently in discussions by having an in depth grasp of the subject. Would he be able to handle it?

I must digress here to tell you a little about my son’s academic history.

My son has never been what I would call a “scholar”. Since grade school, he was the one who would “forget” that he had homework, or “forget” it at home, or “forget” to turn it in. This was a constant battle all through grade school and even high school. We like to joke that as soon as he learned there was no math in being a priest, then he was all for it.

My husband and I are voracious readers. Our children have grown up with books and magazines in every room of the house. Truly, from infancy we were reading to them. We had vinyl books for the bathtub and the touch and feel books like “Pat the Bunny.” As they grew up, we would snuggle up on the couch after bath time in pajamas to read from the Little House book series. Our other 2 children developed a habit of reading for pleasure and had no difficulty keeping up with reading in college. Somehow, this son never learned to read for pleasure.

Many times as he was growing up, I would take him to the bookstore to find something, anything, that would spark an interest in reading. I tried every book series from “The Magic Tree House” books to Harry Potter. Nothing worked.

So imagine my surprise to hear that the next 8 years of his life would be filled with reading. Not novels or interesting case studies, but philosophy and theology books. Many of these seminal works have been written hundreds if not thousands of years ago. At this point, my son was just starting his senior year in high school and I did not know how his new focus on attending seminary would impact his school work.

In his final year of high school, he did his homework without reminder, worked on long term projects and brought home mostly A’s and a few B’s including an A in Latin. He would complain if a course was boring because it was so easy. This was a complete reversal in behavior and attitude. It seems that once my son knew what he wanted to do, he developed more focus and a reason to strive to do well in his classes.

Once he started at the seminary, he would come home on his monthly weekend off campus ready to quiz us on concepts in Theology and Philosophy. This was a new experience to see our son so interested in a subject that he would talk about it outside of school.

As any parent knows, motivation and desire can only get a student so far. Clearly, the environment in college seminary is a contributing factor to academic success. In contrast to the state university where my son  would have attended, seminary actually had a “curfew” 7 days per week, no visitors in the dorms, and a strict zero tolerance policy on drugs or alcohol.

Although there are plenty of diversions and recreation available on campus, seminarians are not overwhelmed with 100’s of options to divide their time on any given day. School days are structured and predictable to allow for sleep, mass, prayer, class, study hours, recreation and just hanging out. Weekends even have structure with free time from after morning prayer and mass in the morning until curfew. On weekends, students can leave campus to shop, go to a movie, visit friends or go out to eat. The curfew is reasonable and is what I probably would impose if my son was living at home and going to a local college.

The freshman class had 12 students and the entire college seminary had less than 50 students. This means that if you cut class, oversleep and miss morning prayer or mass, it will be noticed and addressed. You can’t fly under the radar in seminary. Class sizes are small so the faculty actually get to know the students. Most freshmen are taking the same classes so it is common to study together and help someone who is struggling. Obviously, this is worlds away from the state university with 27,000 students on campus.

Based on my experience, I can say that an average high school student can adapt to the academic rigors of college seminary with the right motivation and attitude with environmental structure and support.

A son is a son…..

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I grew up hearing the rhyme, ” A daughter’s a daughter all of her life, but a son is a son till he takes on a wife”. But what happens when the son doesn’t take on a wife, like when he becomes a priest. The most common question I get from other people is “What about grandkids?” I am okay with not having grandkids but my first question was “Am I going to lose my son?”

I recently took a trip to D.C. The trip was not only to see my son, but as a surprise for my mother as well. My very thoughtful sister, Beth, was bringing my mother down from Pennsylvania to visit Evan for a weekend. She suggested that I also come to D.C. and surprise Mom. The plan worked worked like a dream and even my father kept the secret. My mother was surprised and happy to see me. It was wonderful getting to spend time with her and my sister.

I arrived a day earlier than my sister and mother and Evan had to work that morning. I wandered down to the kitchen for a cup of tea and found another seminarian doing the same. Michael C. is a lovely man about nine years older than Evan. We struck up a conversation that lead to him talking about his calling and the path his life is taking. At the end of the conversation he commented that it was like talking to his mom, but not. There are some things you can never talk to your mom about because….she’s your mom. I also felt like I was talking to a son. A son I was just getting to know and who was already fully grown.

The conversation got me thinking and I took some time to ask a few of the priests in residence at the college about their moms, and moms in general. Usually these gentlemen talked about the fact that they were close to both their mom and dads but became closer to their moms around the time of formation. Some commented, as the “single” man in the family, they were often looked on to coordinate family events and help their mother.  One individual commented the the death of a mother was often a mid life crisis event for priests.

After two days of visiting and touring DC on bus, Beth and Mom returned to Erie on Sunday morning. I stayed because my flight wasn’t until Monday morning. Evan and I had some time to visit the church of his spiritual director. I attended my first Eastern Rite Catholic Mass (a lovely spiritual event if you ever have the opportunity to partake) and dinner that evening was takeout from Evan’s favorite pizza joint (& Pizza). After the meal, Evan left me saying he and Mike H. were bottling a batch of beer they had brewed earlier. I stayed in my room for a while then suddenly grabbed my phone (camera) and went down to the kitchen. I got to spend two lovely hours talking and taking pictures of these young men while they bottled their cream stout beer. Mike loved asking me questions about Evan as a child. Evan groaned and Mike laughed about Evan’s climbing prowess and escape abilities at ten months.  This made for a very congenial evening. A toast at the end with flat beer and Mike commented, “I know you don’t see it because you aren’t here all the time, but the whole house gets lighter when a mom visits. There is just something about a mom, even if it isn’t your mom.”  (Another new fully grown son!)

I have had time to reflect on all this and I have come up with my own interpretation of the mom-son-priest relationship. God made man and woman to be support and help to each other. In a relationship where the man marries, that support and help comes from the wife. When a son gets married the mother steps back and allows the marriage relationship to flourish. A man who becomes a priest will still need that relationship of support and the benefit of a female perspective. Usually, the woman who suits that role best will be his mother. So a son is a son… for the rest of her life.

BTW. When asked if I would call Evan “Father” after ordination, I cheerfully reply “Of course, Father Sweetheart”

-Mom C.