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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2014

by: Amy V.

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

young priest2

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

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

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

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

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

Mary and baby Jesus

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

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

I cried very hard that day.divine_mercy_78_f_small

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

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

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

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Another Vision of the Future

What if you could look into the future and see what your son’s life could be like in 6 years, 16 years or  26 years?  This ‘Vision of the Future’ series is intended to provide real life examples of an authentic discernment process that led to priesthood and then the expression of a joyful and fulfilling life.

The preceding post ( See: A Vision of the Future HERE ) shows a video of 2 young priests going through a discernment process that led to their priestly vocation.

Fr Joshua Johnson Fr Joshua Johnson was ordained in 2014,                                                                                         while Fr. MIke Schmitz was ordained in 2003.Fr Mike Schmitz

This post details Msgr. Charles Pope’s narrative of his discernment process 26 years ago and his reflection on ‘The Mystery of being a Priest.’  As a parent, you may identify with his  history of coming of age in the ‘beige Catholicism’ of the 1970’s and 80’s. He was ordained in 1989 and blogs regularly HERE at the Archdiocese of Washington DC blog

The Mystery of Being a Priest
Msgr. Charles Pope • June 23, 2015
Each year I concelebrate with hundreds of others priests in the ordination Mass of new priests. I find such Masses deeply spiritual. I have no role other than to quietly Monsignor Charles Popeconcelebrate, so the readings and the rites move me deeply. As I sit quietly, I ponder the mystery of my own priesthood.

When I was growing up, there was little to indicate that I would ever become a priest. I was not a particularly spiritual child (at least not after age 7). I did not “play Mass.” In fact, I did not like church at all. At the end of Mass when the priest said, “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” I responded, “Thanks be to God!” much more vigorously than necessary.

My teenage years were marked by rebellion and pride. And while it is true that I joined the parish youth choir, it was only so that I could meet girls. It was not an evil intent, but not particularly spiritual. I did indeed date a few of them, two of them seriously.

But sometime during college a strange and uncomfortable notion came over me that I was being called to the priesthood. It was an odd desire, one I could not explain.

It was true that by that time I had become a Church musician, organist, cantor, and choir director. But again, I do not think I was particularly spiritual.  Music was something I enjoyed, but my involvement was more about leadership and impressing others, especially girls.

The growing desire to be a priest was inexplicable to me. At the time I was dating a real beauty queen, Denise. She was pretty, kind, and did not bring a heavy agenda to the relationship. Her greatest desire was just to get married and start raising children. I was two years away from graduation from college. I already had a job lined up with the Army Corps of Engineers. My life seemed pretty well set. And now this? The priesthood? How crazy is that?

And it wasn’t just a fleeting thought; it was a desire and it was growing. It was so mysterious, so strange, so unexpected. Somehow in my most honest moments I knew that the desire for the priesthood was stronger than the desire for marriage. But it seemed disloyal to Denise and I wasn’t going to break her heart, no way! And frankly I did not respect most of the priests I knew at that time. It was the late 70s and early 80s, the era of beige Catholicism, and the priests I knew seemed worse than irrelevant. I often fought with the pastor about music. He couldn’t think past Carey Landry and the St. Louis Jesuits, while I had met Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, and Victoria.

What on earth (or in Heaven?) was this thinking about being a priest? I just couldn’t make sense of it.

I will spare you all the details, but God won. Denise had a change of heart (or maybe she got glasses and saw that I wasn’t all that great   ). Or maybe she sensed my growing ambivalence. I won’t go into the details, but our dating ended. The troublesome pastor and I also parted ways (he later left the priesthood).

Two years later I entered the seminary.  And now here I am, today, celebrating my 26th anniversary as a priest.

Sitting in the Basilica the other day seeing nine new priests ordained was a great joy. And there again were those words that spoke to the mystery of the call: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet (Jer 1:4). Well, God always knew, but it sure was news to me before I was 22.

Yes, the call of God is a great mystery to me. Before I was born, God knew I would become a priest, but surely I did not know until long after birth.

Even after my ordination I would not have selected most the assignments I was given over the years. I came forth from the seminary as a Thomist, a Moral theologian. I graduated at the top of my class. I was skilled in Latin and the ancient liturgy, a lover of chant and polyphony. But my assignments were in African-American parishes that knew little of these, and where Gospel music was the mainstay.

Yet I could not be happier. I lost nothing of what I had; I only gained more. The mystery of God’s call makes our own notions and plans seem laughable in retrospect.

The second reading at ordination this past Saturday also speaks volumes to my experience. Paul wrote to Timothy, Until I come, attend to the reading (or Sacred Scripture) exhortation and teaching … Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching (1 Tim 4:12ff).

Here, too, God has been good to me. I can only say that for 30 years now, 26 of them as a priest, I have prayed every day, celebrated the liturgy every day, read and studied God’s word every day, and confessed every week. And through it all I am a changed man. I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be. A wonderful change has come over me. I am more confident and serene. I have seen sins put to death and graces come alive. I love God more than ever. I love to pray and to teach. I have come to love God’s people so much more.

Surely my faults are still quite manifest. I am proud, opinionated, and too rash in many of my judgments. My zeal makes me impatient and too quick to judge. Have mercy on me, Lord and dear people of God!

But so many good things have come to change my life and to make a new man of me. Thank you, Lord. I do not boast, except in the Lord, for it is He who has accomplished all through the means above and by the prayers of his Holy people.

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

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.

Question: What is a Vocation?

imageWhen I set out to write this particular post, I thought it would be easy.  You hear about “vocations” all the time.  Except, when I started researching, it seemed to be more subtle and complex than I expected.

I’m going to take my best shot and hope that if I stray, someone will be kind enough to correct me.

I’ll start with a quote from St. John Paul II.

What is a vocation? It is an interior call of grace, which falls into the soul like a seed, to mature within it. (Angelus message, December 14, 1980)

The Lumen Gentium, (one of the principle documents to come out of the Second Vatican Council) explains that there is a sort of universal vocation:

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history. (40)

My first thought was, “Oh.  Is that all?”  The “perfection of charity” and “holiness” seems like something of a tall order.  But it’s right there in black-and-white and (just in case you missed it) there’s a reference to this in paragraph 2013 of the Catechism.

Both those quotes contain within them the notion of a “call” from God; an invitation to live a life of holiness.  What’s interesting is that the Lumen Gentium acknowledges that there are many different ways that this life of holiness can be lived.  Section 41 speaks eloquently about bishops and priests, other consecrated clerics, lay ministers, married couples, widows, single people, “those who engage in labor”, the poor, the infirm, and the sick.  It concludes by sweeping them all up into a final paragraph:

Finally all Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world. (41)

This is often referred to as the “universal vocation” and I’m taken with this notion that we are all encouraged to pursue holiness as our primary vocation, by acting out our calling.  It’s the word “calling” that most Catholics think of when they hear the word “vocation”.

Traditionally, Catholic thought turns to three different vocations as “primary” vocations or callings; holy orders, consecrated life, or marriage.  Holy orders refers to those who are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops.  Consecrated life refers to those who have taken vows to live “the evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience“; the most common of which are those who live in religious communities such as monks or nuns.  Marriage is also a vocation, although one that is often held in too little regard in the common culture.

All of these primary vocations — these paths to holiness — are a response to God’s call and all of them involve a total gift of self.  For married couples, we are called to give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to our spouse.  For those taking vows, they are giving themselves totally to God.

I found a wonderful article on OSV.COM that explains it very eloquently:

In the case of each primary vocation, that gift of self is not a transitory or temporary thing. It’s not given one day and taken back the next. Rather, the central relationship of each is spousal. It’s exclusive, total and enduring. When the gift of self is made to God, enduring is a “for all eternity” kind of enduring. When the gift of self is made to another person, it’s just an “until death to us part” kind of enduring. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: You fully and freely give yourself to another, and through that giving you pursue your universal vocation, holiness.

One of the keys — if not the key — to working toward holiness is surrender.  It’s that wonderful paradox that comes up again and again in Christ’s teachings — the idea that to attain the most that God has for us, we have to give up our self.

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Which doesn’t mean that we turn our backs on life.  Most of us have bills to pay and families to raise and (yes!) parishes to support and that means taking up some form of worldly labor.  You’ll sometimes see this referred to as a “secondary vocation”. Having a job (or even a career) facilitates our survival and it can also be part of our journey toward holiness  The Lumen Gentium recognizes this when it says:

Finally, those who engage in labor—and frequently it is of a heavy nature—should better themselves by their human labors. They should be of aid to their fellow citizens. They should raise all of society, and even creation itself, to a better mode of existence. Indeed, they should imitate by their lively charity, in their joyous hope and by their voluntary sharing of each others’ burdens, the very Christ who plied His hands with carpenter’s tools and Who in union with His Father, is continually working for the salvation of all men. In this, then, their daily work they should climb to the heights of holiness and apostolic activity. (41)

There is — as I discovered in writing this — a lot more territory to cover when it comes to vocations including the question of discerning God’s will for our lives.  I’ll end this now, though, with an encouraging quote from Thomas Merton.

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

Thomas Merton

–Dad

It’s A Date!

So, now we have a date.  A letter of instructions arrived for our son yesterday and, among other things, it gave August 21, 2013 as the start date for his Novitiate.

(I’m tempted to call that a “report date”, but that seems a little too militaristic for someone entering a religious vocation.)

It’s a little odd to think about him moving across the country in less than two months.  I’m excited for him and proud, but it will be something of an adjustment for all of us.  I imagine that any parent with a child moving far away would feel the same.

He is part of a class of four new novices and the Paulist Vocations office has asked for prayers for all of them.

Almighty and ever faithful God, you spoke your Word to the world in your Son Jesus Christ, and commissioned Saint Paul to bring your word to all nations and to the ends of the earth. Your Spirit led Servant of God Isaac Hecker to proclaim your word in North America using tools of the modern age.

We ask you to call new missionaries in the line of Saint Paul and Father Hecker.

May they burn with passion to give the Gospel a voice so that all may know the mystery of your love. May they follow the Lord Jesus with the zeal of Saint Paul and Father Hecker as they carry on the mission of the Paulist Community.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, we ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

You can learn more about Paulist vocations on their website or by following them on Facebook.

–Dad

First notice

“Mom, I’m thinking of changing majors, engineering isn’t right”

“Have you thought of being a priest?”

“Funny you should say that”

Thanksgiving vacation, our son visiting during break of sophomore year, a life changing conversation. This was when our son introduced to us the fact that he was in conversation with the Paulist priests and was contemplating a vocation.

As a catholic mom, you want to keep religious life forward as a possibility but somehow you never really expect it when it happens. Now what? Did he need help from us? What is going through his mind to entice him to this life? Is there anywhere to go to get answers? The answer to the last on is a resounding NO. As vocation is a very personal call, no two calls will be the same. Additionally, I never imagined how it would impact my faith journey personally.

I flirted with the thought of religious life while in college and, in re-exploring those memories, and the new events in our life, have gone on a journey of my own to define my life and the vocations in that life. Two years later, I still don’t have answers but understand a few of the questions better.

–Mom