The Eye of the Storm

320px-Hurricane_Isabel_from_ISS.jpgSeems like we don’t post as much here as we did when our son first informed us that he wished to enter the priesthood. It occurred to me that we are in the eye of the storm right now. The quiet time after a storm hits and before the storm ends. He is on his pastoral year getting a taste of what it would be like to work in a parish setting. Next year he will return to D.C. to go back to the seminary and continue his classes toward getting his master’s degree. He is a little more than half-way through this process. We have become accustomed to the thought of his life’s calling and where it might lead him. We are now seasoned seminarian parents who know where he is, how he is being treated, and where he is headed. In a few years however, we will enter the backside of the storm as he approaches ordination. When will he receive ordination as a deacon? What are his responsibilities at this point? What if he changes his mind between the deaconate and priesthood? At his final ordination as a priest, what is expected of us? Are we involved in the ceremony or merely attendees? What is the traditional gift from the parents at ordination? (We think it is the chalice and paten.)  Where do you find such thing? Can you get them made special just for your child? Are we expected to have a party for him?

The back of the storm is coming but right now, I think we are content to bask in the short burst of quiet and sunshine that is the now. Soon enough, we will batten down the hatches again and return to riding out the storm. As we enjoy this quiet moment, we realize others are just entering the whirlwind of their child’s decision to enter religious life. I pray our earlier posts will be signposts through the turbulence for these people and that they will find the answers they need.

— KitC (Mom of Evan)

 

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Oh The Places You’ll Go — As A Missionary

Athenry Priory East Window courtesy of Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia CommonsAs we’ve noted before, the preparation for the priesthood goes beyond just academic and theological work. In fact, those things exist to equip the seminarian to act in the world. The USCCB Program for Priestly Formation puts it this way:

The Church continues to place the highest value on the work of priestly formation, because it is linked to the very mission of the Church, especially the evangelization of humanity: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Our apostolic origins, which bind us in communion with the Lord and his mission, motivate those who engage in the ministry of priestly formation, underscore the urgency of their task, and remind them of their great responsibility.

A big part of priestly preparation is having opportunities to participate in the mission of the church through real ministry. During the Paulist novice year, the students engage in social service at soup kitchens, shelters, and other social service sites. As they move further into formation, the opportunities for service grow.

Next spring Evan will be joining a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) mission to Ireland. This mission trip will work with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and will be ministering to both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Therese Aaker posted a few thoughts on her trip to Ireland last spring, explaining the need for ministry to Catholics:

Generally, people there are bitterly angry about the Church. They’re angry with God at best, and indifferent toward Him at worst. They grew up in Catholic schools, but without good catechesis; they know very little about Church teaching. Most sadly, they do not know the Person of Jesus. All they know of the Church is its corruption — and as a result, my generation there is absent from the Church entirely. 

A quick Google search of “seminarian mission trips” turns up several mission trips both in the US and beyond its borders – including a mission trip to Perdue University. In each case, the primary purpose of the mission is to serve as a bearer of Christ’s love. Yet, at the same time, the missionaries are growing and developing in faith and charity as they prepare to enter priestly ministry.

If you have a moment, I’d ask that you offer up a prayer on behalf of all of the missionaries serving around the world.

— 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/

A Proper Reason?

Picture courtesy of Matthias Ulrich via Wikimedia CommonsThere have been a number of reports of a surge in vocations for priests and other religious.  The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported that an estimated 595 priestly ordinations in the U.S. in 2015.  That’s a 25% increase over 2014.  That’s a good growth no matter how you slice it.

Naturally, when people hear about the increase they tend to wonder what’s up.  Dominican brother Dominic Bouck, O.P. has certainly heard the questions.  In a recent blog post he says:

One thing that I’ve heard from several people when I mention the surge in Dominican vocations (and the surge of many dioceses and orders male and female) is “Oh, it must be the recession.”

That’s a natural reaction — particularly for us in America who tend to evaluate a person’s success in terms of professional or material accomplishments.  It also has a whiff of “well, he can’t make it in the real world so he’s going to retreat into religious life.” Except, as Dominic explains, those perceptions are completely wrong.

Truly, I have not met one religious who set aside marital joys, self-determination, and wealth because he or she couldn’t find a job.The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying “no” to the world, but saying “yes” to a renewed life with God … there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.

Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.

A similar phenomenon is taking place among religious sisters.  Another CARA report (cited as part of the Global Sisters Report) points out that the age of women professing final vows is creeping upward.

In 2010, 47 percent of women professing final vows were aged 40 to 59. Another 26 percent were between 30 and 39. The median age for the class was 44.

Those numbers have steadily changed in the years since, reflecting an increase among younger women: By the class of 2014, only 27 percent of women taking final vows were aged 40 to 59 and those younger than 30 had increased from 18 percent to 25 percent. The median age of the class had dropped to 35.

But 75 percent of the class was still 30 or older.

The report tells the story of Marie Racine.

Marie Racine was well established, a software engineer for 17 years, when something happened.

“We had a meeting, and all of the sudden when they introduced the new projects, I just wasn’t interested anymore,” Racine said. “It just no longer mattered to me.”

That awareness propelled Racine onto a new path — and into an emerging trend about women committing to religious life: Racine entered a Benedictine monastery the day before her 40th birthday and made her final vows seven years later, in 2007.

All of this is consistent with what I’ve seen among the Paulists.  Among the students and priests in the Paulist Community we’ve met Financial Advisors, Mechanical Engineers, Park Rangers, and an actor. Some of them entered formation after they had established themselves in “respectable” careers and (to a worldly point of view) were on a successful path.  Yet, for all of them, God’s call drew them into a new venture which allowed them to use their gifts in service of the Faith.

When you’re looking at your son or daughter who is in discernment and you’re wondering what’s going on with them — set aside your notions of success and consider the work that God may be doing in their life.

— Dad of Evan

Come and See!

Pam’s post about visiting the seminary with her son reminded me that I’ve never mentioned the “Come and See” weekends.

A “Come and See” is a retreat which offers discerners the opportunity to taste religious life.  The Dominican website OpCentral.org describes it this way:

Information is always helpful, digitally, in print, or otherwise, but there is no substitute for a real human encounter. That’s why a Come and See Weekend is a must for anyone seriously discerning their vocation. Dominican Come and Sees are a sixty-four hour immersion experience into the very rhythm of religious life. It’s that “gut” experience which offers the visceral clarity that is the goal of discernment and the only true test of whether or not your home is here.

Fr. Larry Rice, the Vocations Director for the Paulists, confirms this:

When a man is contemplating a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, most of the discernment is internal work: prayer, reading, prayer, spiritual direction, and prayer. This is a good and necessary process. But it can also feel a bit isolating, as if no one else is wrestling with these issues and questions. And it can also take on a hypothetical and imaginative quality. What will life in the novitiate be like? Is the seminary a strange place where I’ll feel uncomfortable? Will I be out of place, surrounded by people who are so much holier than I am? Can anything good come from Nazareth?

Come and see. That’s the invitation that the Paulist Fathers make three times each year. Come for a visit. See and experience our common life. Pray with us. Dine with us. Come to class. Come to the chapel. Have a soda or a beer, and ask your questions.

Evan participated in a couple of these weekends early in his discernment.  He came back enthused about the community and taken with the beauty of the liturgy of the hours.  Each visit increased his conviction that he needed to pursue the call.

Now that he’s a member of the community, Evan gets to experience these weekends from the other side.  Meeting potential seminarians is a great opportunity for him to share part of his journey and to remember his early days of discernment.

“Come and See” weekends are pretty common.  A quick Google search turns up a long list of possibilities.  Some of them are associated with particular communities like the Dominicans, Paulist and Mercedarian Sisters — yes, there are “Come and See” retreats for women discerning religious life as well.  Some of them are associated with diocesan seminaries.   All of them follow the same basic pattern of welcome, prayer and participation.

The point, I guess, is that discernment is something to be lived.  That means actively exploring religious life.  Don’t just sit in a pew and say “I think God is calling me”.  Get up and answer the call.    Find a “Come and See” weekend, talk to a vocations director, immerse yourself in experiences that will let you encounter God.  You might be surprised at what you learn!

— Dad (Evan)

What’s Life Like in the Seminary

A couple of weeks back Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble linked to this video on her blog.  It’s a nice peek into life in the seminary and well worth your eight minutes.  (In case you’re curious, the video comes from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California.)

Brotherhood from Adspectus on Vimeo.

On a related note, Sr. Noble’s blog is also worth your time.  And she’s written a terrific book called “The Prodigal You Love.”  It’s a great resource if you want to help lapsed Catholics find their way back into church.  And — spoiler alert — the book says you’ll need to start by changing yourself.

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.

News from the Web

Global-Network-iconComing to you from around the globe via the world-wide-web, it’s News from the Web!

(Imagine that read in an urgent, nasally voice accompanied by twitchy black-and-white film footage and you’ll get the idea I was shooting for.)

This week we ran across several interesting items on the web that seemed to be worth sharing in this space.  The first is a blog post by Amy V who is the mother of a seminarian.  In part she writes:

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!” He loved Jesus though, and the Lord was always leading my son more deeply into a relationship with Him. My son also 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.

There’s quite a bit more to the post and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing.

Next up, a reflection by Paolo Puccini on his experience of the First Promises Mass.

Making my first promise to the Paulists is much like making a down payment to “buy the field.” I was led here from my encounters with the treasure that is the Kingdom of God alive in my family and my experience of church throughout my life. Though I didn’t exactly sell my possessions because the Paulists don’t make a vow of poverty, I did have to leave behind my family, many close friendships, and a job I really enjoyed in Houston.

The whole post gives some great insights into Paolo’s journey to the Paulists.

Speaking of the journey to the Priesthood, the Los Angeles diocese posted a great article about discernment and the care which is taken in identifying appropriate candidates.

The challenge for us in the Office of Vocations is to be cognizant of an ever-present reality — the need for both quality and quantity of candidates for the priesthood. Certainly we have a great need in the archdiocese for many, many more priests. 

But what the Church does not need is just anyone to become a priest. Rather, we need those who are truly called by God and recognized by the Church to have an authentic priestly vocation. 

Our previous article, “Priestly Formation and the New Evangelization: The 4 Pillars of Formation” (July 4), dealt with the four essential dimensions of priestly formation in the seminary. We need well-rounded, holy men of prayer and study and learning who demonstrate the capacity to serve God’s people well as parish priests. Thus, while a great quantity of new seminarians is a primary goal, the quality of each candidate is also of supreme importance.

Although the article is specific to the LA diocese, it is good reading for anyone contemplating a vocation.

Finally, over at The Word on Fire, Fr. Robert Baron and his team released a short film called Heroic Priesthood.  Fr. Baron explained his motivations for the project:

My goal with this film is to reach as many people as possible—certainly priests and seminarians, but especially young Catholic men. I want them to see that holiness is heroic and that Jesus Christ’s invitation to the priesthood is an invitation to an extraordinary life.

It’s a terrific film; well shot and worth twelve minutes of your time.  And — even for a sports illiterate like me — the basketball theme still worked.

— Dad

Seminarian Brewers?

There are folks who think of the seminary as a sort of monastery where silence reigns and every moment is taken up with prayer and contemplation of the mysteries.

There’s certainly a place in the seminary life for that kind of thing, but there are also moments when the parts of the community comes together to share their talents.  Seminarian Mike Hennessy is using his love of brewing beer as a springboard for evangelization.

An article on the Michigan Live website fills in the details:

If you like good beer and drinking deep of spirituality, chances are you will enjoy an upcoming class Hennessy is teaching at the Catholic Information Center. “Holy Brew: Trappists, Monks and the Catholic Tradition of Brewing Beer” is being offered at the CIC next week. A third night was added after the Tuesday class filled up.

Small wonder. The CIC is run by the Paulist Fathers, an order of priests whose prime mission is evangelization. If you want to evangelize in Grand Rapids, good beer is a surefire way to get people in the door.

In this case you won’t find a better evangelist than Hennessy. A Paulist seminarian attending Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he is also a home brewer for his fellow seminarians there and an avid appreciator of craft brews. When he was assigned to spend this summer in Grand Rapids, he cheerfully offers that it was “most likely the Holy Spirit” at work.

There’s more if you’d like to swing over and read the whole story.