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.

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How long does it take to become a priest? Part 1

Mundelein Seminary in Chicago has posted a video on the academic steps to become a priest: from College Seminary or Pre-Theology to Major Seminary to Transitional Diaconate to Ordination.   This is a very clear explanation of the process.

Being an Educator for 25 years, I was very interested in reviewing the coursework my son would take as part of the intellectual formation in seminary.

After  reviewing the curriculum, I was struck by how well educated our priests are through this process. I always knew priests had a graduate (Masters) degree, but the course work seems longer and more in depth than most Master’s degrees.   Most full time graduate programs such as an MBA, MHA, MSW, MSN are only 2 years beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Typically, a priest graduates with a Masters in Divinity degree.  Some students also take course work to earn an additional graduate degree in Theology.  It is not uncommon for a priest to be sent for further education to earn a degree in Canon Law or a doctorate by his bishop.

When learning about the academic road to priesthood, some people have commented that it seems like a long time to go to school “just to be a priest.”  Others have expressed dismay that it would take so long with an air of “is it really worth it?”  In my experience, these people identify as Protestant or Evangelical where bible college, mission trips and service projects may be the extent of the formation process.

Other well respected career options can take as long or longer than priestly formation. The road to become a doctor is 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and then at least 2 years or more to complete a clinical Residency. A Surgical Residency is at least 6 years!  That’s a total of at least 14 years without further specialization.  Lawyers spend 4 years in college and 3 years in law school. No one seems to mind how long it takes to be a doctor or a lawyer. Scientists, college professors and others spend many more years doing research to earn a PhD.  The length of academic preparation for these careers is respected for its perseverance and advanced knowledge. These careers are attained through mainly intellectual “formation” and skill application.

For seminarians, intellectual formation is only one of the four pillars of formation.  The road to priesthood also requires the development of  personal maturity, knowledge and skills in the spiritual, pastoral and human pillars of formation.  Progress in these 3 pillars tends to develop slowly as behavior, judgement and skills become integrated into one’s personality. The 6 – 8 years required for priestly formation is a growth process that is far more than learning an advanced level of content and skill application. It is a highly structured program of comprehensive development of the entire person. The bar is set high for our future priests  which is no less than what the people of God deserve.

I will post Part 2 soon on how an average high school student adapted to the rigors of academic life in the seminary.

Philosophy? Why?

Renee Descarte - Would you wager with this guy?

Here’s a little game I’ve enjoyed playing for the past couple of years.  Whenever talk turned to children and someone asked about my kids, I’d point out that one was a Starbucks CoffeeMaster and the other was a university student.

“Oh?  What’s he studying.”

“Philosophy,” I’d deadpan back.

The usual response was a furrowed brow and a hitch in the other person’s voice.  I could almost see them thinking, Crud!  What am I supposed to say now?

I understood their confusion.  After all, isn’t the formal study of philosophy something of a joke?  Never mind that some very successful people have degrees in philosophy.  Never mind that it can be the gateway to many careers.  Philosophy seems to be the sophisticated equivalent of underwater basket weaving.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave the other person hanging, so I always said, “Go ahead.  You can ask.”

No one — ever — replied “Ask what?”

They all knew “what.”

And they all asked.

And I always told them of his intent to enter the seminary.  It turns out that philosophy is a great background for a priest.

Evan explains it this way:

“Philosophy served as a ground work for theology and it was a good way for me to see if the priesthood was what I wanted to do,” said Cummings, adding that two of his professors at Utah State were Catholic.

You can find that quote (and some other interesting information including a mention of St. Wikipedia) in an article in this week’s Intermountain Catholic.  If you have a minute, click over there and read it.

–Dad