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.

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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.

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

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.

Question: What is a Vocations Director

riceOne of the things that’s impressed me the most about Evan’s journey is the level of support that he’s had.

See that smiling fellow on the left of the page?  His name is Fr. Larry Rice and he’s the current Vocations Director for the Paulists.  His job is to guide men in the process of discernment.  He talks to them, prays for them and with them, and assists them on their journey.

The Vocation Network website puts it this way:

A vocation director is designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation, and to oversee the application process of new members entering the community as a postulant. They assist those who are considering the possibility of religious life by providing support, discernment counseling, and information.The Vocation director for a religious congregation answers to the elected superiors of their congregation. The National Religious Vocation Conference is the professional organization for vocation directors of religious communities.

Vocation Directors who work on behalf of a diocese answer to the bishop.They have  their own professional organization, the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.)

It might sound (a little) like Vocations Directors are recruiters, looking to grow the ranks.  This isn’t the case.  In fact, anyone who has been pressured is not (by canon law) permitted to take vows.  The ordained life — like marriage — is only legitimately available to those who choose it freely.

It might interest you to know that there are Vocations Directors for nuns as well.  Sister M. Consolata is the Vocations Director for the Sisters of St. Francis of Alton, Illinois.  She describes her role in working with young women in the process of discernment.

My role is to help you.  Do you feel a tug on your heart to give everything to Jesus?  Do you desire to live only for Him?  Or maybe you are just wondering what religious life is all about.

I am here to help answer your questions and walk with you during your time of discernment.  Remember, the Lord takes the first initiative.  He loves you.  Yes, YOU!  Then He invites you to make a response to His love.  Be not afraid! I would love to hear from you and about your journey with of faith.

Whether you’re a woman considering a vocation as a nun or a man considering the priesthood, your first contact should be with a Vocations Director.  There will likely be one in your diocese and there are plenty of links on the web that you can use to contact them.  Communicating with a Vocations Director will be an important step in the vocation journey — not just for the discerner, but also for that person’s family.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet Evan’s current Vocations Director, Fr. Rice.  We did get to meet Fr. Rice’s predecessor, Fr. Dave Farnum when he came through Utah to meet with Evan a year ago last spring.  Fr. Dave is a wonderful man who told us about his own call to the priesthood.  He reassured us about the process of discernment and gave us insight into what the ordained life would be like.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him and are grateful for everything that he — and Fr. Rice — have done for Evan.

–Dad

Question: What is an "Order" Priest?

In an earlier post, we mentioned that our son will be attending the Paulist seminary.  That invites the question, “What is a Paulist?”

Before we can get to the answer to that, it might be helpful to explain the difference between diocesan priests and order priests — sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests.

The word “priest” often conjures up the image of a kindly fellow in a roman collar who works at the local parish.  Sort of a latter day version of Bing Crosby’s character in Going My Way.  There’s a bit of Hollywood hyperbole going on with Bing Crosby, but the image of a diocesan priest is essentially correct.

A man who is ordained as a diocesan priest promises to obey and respect the diocesan bishop and his successors and to live a life of chastity.  His task is to serve the people of the diocese primarily by administering the sacraments.

In a 2009 article from the Catholic News Service, Father Brian Doerr, vocations director for the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana says:

From the beginning, you’ve discerned that you’ll be ordained and be in the world living and working

Most diocesan priests serve as pastors or associate pastors at local parishes, but some are assigned to other ministries such as teaching in parochial schools.

Order priests, on the other hand, belong to a particular religious community.  Religious communities are formally organized catholic groups working on the particular mission or charism of their founder.  For example, Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  That means he is a member of a religious community for men that is known as The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyla in 1540.

Fr. Warren Sazama (a Jesuit) uses a healthcare metaphor to explain the differences:

One diocesan priest I know referred to diocesan priests as the general practitioners of the clergy and compared religious to specialists. As in medicine, the Church needs both. So, while for the most part diocesan priests serve in parishes, religious can serve in a variety of ways according to the “charism,” or unique vision and mission of their founder. That might be in schools, hospitals, orphanages, missions, retreat houses, social justice centers, or other ministries in accordance with the inspiration, special vision, mission, and spirituality of their founder

Finally, just because I find it amusing, I wanted to share something I found while researching this post.  The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Department of Labor includes Roman Catholic Priest among the many thousands of other job titles it lists.  I’m not sure it’s proper to refer to a priestly vocation as a “job”, but I can’t disagree with the government’s assessment that:

Many priests will be needed in the years ahead to provide for the spiritual, educational, and social needs of the increasing number of Catholics.

–Dad