Discernment — It May Not Be What You Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Dad (of Evan)

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What Would You Say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Know Yourself – Know Your Vocation

Mira Killian“Do you want God’s dreams for your life or your dreams for your life?”

When a kindly priest asks you that question in the confines of a confessional, the “correct” answer is pretty obvious.

Except, how am I supposed to know God’s dreams for my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? What is my purpose?

To explore this question, I’d like to take a little side trip through popular culture.

In the live action science fiction film Ghost in the Shell, Mira Killian believes she understands her purpose. She and her parents drowned when their refugee boat was sunk by techno terrorists. Her parents’ deaths were final, but Mira is granted a second life through the miracle of robotic technology. Her brain—the only salvageable part of her original being—was implanted in a new robot body. Motivated by her own tragedy and a desire to stop future attacks, Mira works tirelessly for the anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9. Within a year, she’s promoted to the rank of major and responds more readily to her rank than her name. Her job is her identity.

Her world starts to shift when a terrorist hacker beings killing high-level employees of Hanka Robotics, the company that built her body. While working the case, she begins experiencing glitches—brief visual hallucinations—that leave her feeling uneasy.

Her creator, Dr. Ouelet, erases the glitches and assures Major that they are nothing to worry about. She also encourages Major to keep taking the medication that keeps her flesh brain from rejecting her robot body.

In a reflective moment in Dr. Ouelet’s lab, Major says, “Everyone around me, they feel connected to something… connected to something I’m not.”

It’s the first time that Major gives voice to the idea that she might be on the wrong path—that she might not be fulfilling her proper role. She might have benefitted from the insight of theologian and author Parker Palmer:

Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved, but as a gift to be received. 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 become 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.

So long as she doesn’t really know herself, Major can’t really understand what she is supposed to do. That lack of understanding lies at the root of her feelings of disconnectedness.

As the story unfolds, the glitches intensify and she begins experiencing repeated visions of a burning building. It pops up at the most inconvenient of times, like when she is closing in on the deadly terrorist Kuze.

A moment’s distraction leads to her capture. Kuze’s goal is not her torture or death, but rather her enlightenment. He knows what she is, where she came from, and understands the emptiness she feels. He has experienced it, too. He tells her that the medicine is intended to repress her real memories and that she will regain her true self if she stops taking it.

Which makes me wonder about my true self. What am I doing—or NOT doing—that is keeping me from who I should be? As a Christian, I want my intentions for my life to line up with God’s. Am I making myself busy to show God how “righteous” I am when I should spend more time worshiping? Am I substituting rules, regulations, and rubrics for living my true calling? Am I so busy judging people that I don’t make time to love and help them? Like Major’s medicine, my choices can seem to be positive when they’re actually a barrier to the life I should be living.

Troubled by what Kuze told her, Major sets out to find the truth. Her quest leads her back to Dr. Ouelet who tells her that most of what she “remembers” about her old life was implanted. She and her parents weren’t on a refugee boat, nor was she the only experimental subject. This knowledge sends Major off on a new path. She needs to know who she was and how she came to be the Major.

Major’s “knowing” of her true identity came at the cost of surrender. She had to give up her image of herself and accept that the truth might be different from what she had been told. In some ways, she might have been more comfortable taking the medicine and having her memory wiped. Learning the truth about ourselves can be unnerving, but it may be the best way to figure out our future.

The way forward, I think, is to cultivate a relationship of deep honesty and openness with God. That means being vulnerable and humble, and honestly asking “What did God make me to do?” It probably means finding an objective person – a counselor or spiritual director – to serve as a sounding board and give me candid feedback. Just like Major I’m going to have to surrender my illusions for the truth.

Tough stuff? Sure. Knowing myself deep down is no easy task. It’s scary. My illusions are comfortable and safe, but the lives of the great Biblical figures and generations of saints show me that God most often speaks to the people who are listening. Maybe if I start just by trying to listen, God will help me see beyond my imagined self to the true self I’m meant to be.

In the meantime, I think I’ll meditate on Thomas Merton’s famous prayer of abandonment:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(A different version of this post first appeared at Area of Effect magazine. It also expands on an earlier post on this site.)

— Dad (of Evan)

 

Decisions, Decisions

© Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence 2.0 attribution and sharealikeTwo roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

Robert Frost perfectly captured the agony of choice in his poem The Road Not Taken. Each choice we make closes off others, each represents a commitment of sorts … a path we have chosen to follow knowing that there may be regret for the path left unexplored.

This came up recently on the Word On Fire Show with Bishop Robert Barron. The particular episode was a discussion called Heroic Priesthood. After spending some time talking about what it means to be a priest and how the ordained priesthood differs from the priesthood of all believers, Bishop Barron spends a few minutes talking about discernment. He suggests several useful tools including listening to the voices of others and finding a spiritual director. At the end of that he says:

Realize that life is short. One thing I find with the millennials a lot is they have this thing about keeping every option open all the time. That I have all options open all the time. Well you don’t. Life is short. It goes by fast. And so you can’t just keep everything open, you’ve got to say, “Jump in.” Jump onto a path. It’s not going to be perfect. You will have some regrets, but everybody does.

(The whole episode is worth your time, so click on over to listen to it as it includes some advice for the parents of discerners as well.)

So, what’s the antidote to indecision? Decisiveness. Easier said than done, though. What do you do if all options seem equally valid?

There was a good answer in a profile piece that ran on the Washington Post. It explores the discernment journey of a seminarian in DC. Anthony Furgeson felt drawn to the life of an artist and only gradually heard the call to priesthood.

He describes his early sense of being called as “horrifying”. He talks about waffling between being thrilled and terrified by the idea of religious life. Eventually, just before Christmas of 2013, he arrived at a moment of clarity.

“I felt like there was a fork in the road,” he recalls. “I could either choose life with this really nice girl, or I could apply to seminary. I knew I had to decide, and I knew if I decided one way, it would kinda close off the other path.”

At a Sunday Mass he prayed for guidance. “The response that I really sensed back — and I’m not going to say it was a Charlton Heston voice — it was just very gentle, quiet, placed-on-the-soul interior realization that it didn’t really matter which way I chose. The Lord would be there either way.”

Knowing that made it easier for Ferguson to consider what he truly wanted. “And when I thought about going into the priesthood, I really did feel that there was a warm sense of peace,” he says.

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by a couple of priests — God is not going to be angry if you choose one good over another. Conversely, God will be with you no matter which path you choose. So, as Bishop Barron says, “Jump onto a path.”

For parents, this means being willing to give your child the space to discern and let them know that they have your support either way. No matter what, they will still be your child and you can be confident that God will be with them.

I don’t think Robert Frost was speaking of religious life, but he made a good point when he finished his poem with:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Dad (of Evan)

Feeling Discouraged

According to a study released in 2011 a little over half of those who were ordained report being actively discouraged from their vocation by a family member. Beyond that, it is difficult to say how many potential vocations have been lost because someone who was discerning was steered onto a different path. In some ways, it seems like we are our own worst enemy when it comes to recruiting and forming new religious.

There’s a certain amount of speculation about why parents might be so selfish. Some point to cultural changes, or poor liturgies, or unbridled capitalism. I suspect there is truth to these ideas, but I think they tend to paint parents with a broad brush and ignore the very real experience of the parents.

Rachel Watkins writes about her experience of having a daughter enter religious life over at the Sioux City Diocesan Vocations site:

We will experience the same feelings and concerns most parents feel but in a different way.  We miss our children deeply and worry about them.  This worry is especially true of parents whose children are missionaries abroad.  And while their needs are taken care of by their dioceses or orders, we have concern for their well-being and support them financially with as much as our incomes allow.  Our lives can seem almost easier with the care they receive from their dioceses or orders but that is not always the case.

In truth, ours can be a difficult lot.  This is not to discourage anyone from encouraging their children to listen for God’s call.  My daughter does not know about what concerns me.  I say it only in an acceptance of the fact that our child’s choice is atypical, making us as their parents also uncommon.  Our children have chosen Christ first and foremost for their lives and their loves.  We could not be more proud, could we?  However, we know that this choice comes at a cost rarely understood.  We often find ourselves at a loss.  We may stumble when trying to tell others what our children are doing.  A teacher, a plumber, an at-home mom, even a tattoo artist, is easily understood but a monk, nun, consecrated or a priest?  These often require an explanation that extends longer than the line at the deli will allow…

…We do our best as parents to answer all the questions.  However, quite honestly, after a while, it can become distressing.  Some of the questions and comments we can receive are so negative.  My husband and I joke darkly to each other that we might have had a better reception if we had announced her decision to join a traveling band of jugglers rather than a recognized order in the Church.  In the end, all these questions come down to this: Why would anyone choose a priestly or vowed religious life?

In the face of these kinds of objections, it is understandable if parents begin to doubt the validity of their child’s vocation call.  They aren’t villains, just parents who are in uncertain territory. It is natural that they’ll want to know how their child’s decision will impact their lives. Vocations – like any other life choice a child makes – will have an effect on the family.

The Eastern Dominican Vocations page offers some thoughtful advice to those discerning a Dominican vocation. It starts in a wise place, inviting the discerner to explore their parents’ objections:

Have you listened to your parents’ reasons? Before you try to explain the mystery of a vocation to them, allow them to tell you what their concerns are. These reasons could range wildly. They may think that you don’t really listen to them or honor them. They may want you to have a “normal” life that would include marriage and their expected grandchildren. They may think that you have abandoned them and won’t see them. They may think that you need to have several years of experience after college before you can make a decision. They may think that a religious community is full of misfits, or that religion is a scam. They may think that you will be happier and be more productive in doing just about anything else than becoming a religious.

From there, it goes on to offer several concrete suggestions for engaging in dialogue with parents. It ends on a very encouraging note:

Parents often feel bonded with the brothers in their son’s formation, and they come to realize that their son has many, many brothers. The brothers themselves look with affection on the parents of one of their own. In a sense, parents don’t lose a son so much as gain many, many sons!

(Kit and I have certainly felt that way about the Paulists. We have enjoyed meeting many of the seminarians and priests and frequently joke about all of our new “sons”.)

Answering the call to religious life raises questions for parents and we – those discerning and the Catholic community at large – owe it to them to take their concerns seriously and do our best to accompany them as they undertake the vocations journey with their child.

 

— Dad (of Evan)

A Call to Return to Mission

pathwayRecently I was privileged to participate in a week long retreat/seminar at Loyola University on the topic of Parish Health and Wellness. It was an intense time with forty of the most dedicated and special people I have ever met in my life. Each one of these people touched my soul and walked alongside of me as we grew together in our knowledge of not only the topic at hand but our own spirituality and missions as well. I hope to maintain a relationship with each of them through our spiritual journeys. One person, in particular, called me back to the mission of this blog.

While at our first dinner with some of the other participants we started introducing ourselves to each other. I mentioned my son in the seminary and one woman suddenly sat up, looked teary, and said she needed to talk to me after dinner. I was startled but said “sure”.

Later that evening when we got together to talk, she disclosed to me that her son is discerning going into the priesthood and she wanted to talk about the experience with me as a mother who has been there. Over the next four days together, we frequently touched base, she would ask questions, I would offer other questions, and I told her she should look toward our blog after we had to go home. Her emotions and distress at the unknown made me recall my similar emotions shortly after Evan informed us of his decision to join the Paulists. Six years later, I had gotten complacent and comfortable with the situation and didn’t think about the blog much anymore.

This mother’s experience brought me back to my original questions, fears, and hopes during the early days of Evan’s discernment and made me realize that there had to be others out there who are just in the first stages of discovery with their child. This blog is not just for us as we write it, but for others as they search for the answers to their questions about their child’s discernment to religious life. If you are just learning that your child is contemplating religious life, I hope the answers within this blog will help you. If you ever have a question that we don’t address, please contact us and we will do our best to get the information you need. We want to be with you during this exciting time.

My journey last month was made special by the wonderful people who joined me. This blog is for people who want to help each other as we all travel the same path at different times.

My prayers for you and your children as you enter this journey.

–Mom of Evan

Image courtesy of http://pdpics.com/photo/367-garden-pathway/

Spiritual Direction

Did you know that all seminarians are required to have a spiritual director?

Do you know what a spiritual director does?

I certainly didn’t when Evan started his journey of formation.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about the role a spiritual director plays in formation and how everyone might benefit from having one.

Back then I summed it up by saying:

A spiritual director is a guide to interior growth and renewal, not counselor or therapist.  The discussions center on the relationship between the directee and God.

You might still wonder what the personal experience is like.  (Which brings me to the point of today’s brief post.)

On a recent Busted Halo broadcast, Fr. Dave Dwyer talked with producer (Brett) about the experience of interacting with a spiritual director.  If you’re interested, it’s well worth your time to give it a listen.

— Dad (of Evan)

The Miracle of Priesthood

prayer-card-jesus-prayer-for-vocations

 

 

As it turns out, today (April 17,2016) is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Over at Aleteia.org Deacon Greg Kandra made vocations the focus of his homily.  He leads off with a quote from a letter that he received from a friend in Philadelphia:

“This morning we received devastating news at Mass. Our beloved Augustinian pastor has been diagnosed with liver cancer that has spread to his lungs. The priest who told us said that he was visiting him yesterday when a cousin came into the hospital room and told him that they are all praying for a miracle. His response was, ‘I have already received a miracle. I am a priest.’”

This is probably the best – and most honest – answer to those who have an objection to a man entering the priesthood.  Ordination is an extraordinary event and being allowed to share in the priesthood of Christ in a special way is, indeed, a miracle.

Deacon Greg speaks with great reverence and love about his own call and ordination as a permanent deacon and talks of it as an on-going source of grace and blessing in his life:

Surveys tell us again and again that clergy and religious report among the greatest job satisfaction in the world.

That’s because it’s not a job. It’s a vocation.

As that priest in Philadelphia knew: it is, in fact, a miracle.

Finally, he suggests ways of introducing young men to the idea of the priesthood.  The best advice he gives is that you should ask God if you (or someone you know) is called.  He points to Pope Francis who advises young people to “Ask Jesus what he wants and be brave!

In an address to seminarians in Rome this week, Pope Francis outlined the appropriate way to respond to God’s call — to be all in and not “half-way” priests.

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.”

“Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech.

“It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.”

It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so. All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

So, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, take a moment to ask God to call those whom he chooses to the priesthood and offer to be the bearer of that message if you can.

Giving Up For Lent

Last night we were having dinner with friends and the question came up.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

We went around the table sharing the sacrifices we’d planned and pretty quickly we had a list of the usual suspects; chocolates, sweets, fast food, alcohol, and swearing.

That conversation and this post on a Mormon blog have gotten me thinking about the character of Lent and what is means (or should mean to me.)

The danger of Lent is that it too easily becomes a mirror.  We undertake the disciplines of Lent because they are good for us.  We eat less or cut out sweets or alcohol because they are distracting us from God, but also because they are bad for us.  Or we engage in various prayers and sacrifices on the premise that God see us in a more favorable light or might be more inclined to grant our requests.

Both of these approaches are comfortably uncomfortable because they keep the focus on us.  Even if our intention is purely to grow closer to God, we risk navel-gazing so long as we think our will power makes any real difference to the sacrifice.

As I get older, I’ve begun to understand that Lent isn’t about giving something up.  It’s about giving up.

Monestir_de_Montserrat_vista_Roca_de_St._JaumeOne of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola.  As a young man, he dreamed of being a valiant knight.  He had read romantic stories and his head was stuffed with images of himself, sword in hand, vanquishing foes.  To me, it seems that he was a 16th century fan-boy.

His life took a dark turn on May 20, 1521 when he was part of a Spanish force fighting the French at Navarre.  A cannonball wounded his legs — one of the quite badly.  He was shipped back to his parent’s castle to recover.  While convalescing, he had two books to keep him entertained — a book on the life of Christ and a book about the lives of the saints.  As he read and re-read them he gradually shifted his focus from glory for himself to bringing glory to God.

After he healed, set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Before going very gar, he stopped at the Abbey of Santa Maria de Monsterrat.  There, in the chapel, he held a solitary night-long vigil at the altar.  This was common for those about to be knighted, but Ignatius had a different idea in mind.

When dawn came, he took of his sword and laid it on the altar.  He literally disarmed himself, surrendering to God.  He was giving up.

Ignatius went on to become one of the great figures in salvation history. He eventually founded the Society of Jesus which we know today as the Jesuits.

So, maybe instead of giving something up for Lent, we should follow Ignatius’ example and just give up.

— Kevin

Advice for Discerners — And A Thought for Parents

One of the blogs that I follow regularly is “Co-Author Your Life With God“.  The author, Sr. Marie Paul Curley, describes the blog’s purpose this way:

…interactive, accessible exploration about discernment as a spiritual art that helps us the everyday Catholic discover and live God’s will.

It’s worth remembering that just as all of us have a vocation, all of us have an obligation to discern God’s will for our lives.  And discernment is an on-going process.  Sr. Marie’s posts give great insight into discernment in general and, at times, into religious discernment specifically.  Her storytelling approach resonates with me and I always look forward to what she has to share.

Today she posted about dealing with disapproval from your family.  The whole piece is worth reading, but I found her conclusion to be particularly powerful.

Our vocation is a sacred calling that is too important to let the resistance or disapproval of family and friends stand in the way. Countless priests, brothers, and sisters had to go against their parents wishes to follow their vocation. (The family of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s family kidnapped and imprisoned him to prevent him from following his vocation in the Dominican Order.) This is not an easy path to walk, but if we possess sufficient maturity and have discerned well, it is more important to follow God’s call than to give in to our family’s opinions. Jesus himself called his disciples to leave their parents and families behind to follow him.

Thinking about this in light of Pam’s recent post from a mom who struggled with her son’s vocation, it occurred to me that the parents of a discerner have a difficult task.  We have to cooperate with God’s grace, without trying to force it one way or another.  We have to create a space within ourselves — and within our relationship with our child — that will permit everyone involved an inner freedom.

This involves an abandonment of self; a great letting-go which allows God to grab the wheel and steer our lives.

Fortunately, we have a great model in Mary.  Her consent to God’s plan, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”, is nothing less than willing assent to abandon herself to God’s will.

May we all have the grace to follow her example.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unncomfortable pregnant woman

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

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

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

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