As Catholics, we believe that God has a special plan for everyone. Life is not a random haphazard existence; rather there is special meaning and purpose to life. The meaning of life is a question that philosophers and scholars have debated for years. As people of faith, we believe that we are called to know, love, and serve God.
All people are called to holiness (that is our common baptismal call), but then God calls each us to live out our lives in specific and meaningful ways. For many that ultimately means to marry and raise a family; for some it means living a good holy single life in the world; for still others it is a call to live as a priest or religious.
As a parent, you want what is best for your child, but (obviously since your call from God was not priesthood or religious life) are not sure what to do if your son or daughter mentions this possibility. What should I say or do? Even if they never mention it, is this something that you ought to bring up for them to consider? Whatever the case, this section is for you!
As a parent, you try to instill values, to encourage your children in the pursuit of positive goals, and to assure them of your unconditional love. The first step is understanding the differences between your experiences and theirs.
If your son/daughter does begin to wonder about the priesthood or religious life, at some point he/she should contact a vocation director to assist him/her in this process. More than likely friends, teachers, and coaches may provide advice as well (not all of it good either). Each life is a gift from God, discerned (discovered and affirmed) by an individual AND the Church.
As much as you love and cherish your children, it is impossible for you to know 100% what God wants for them. Your support and approval is very important for your son/daughter (even if they say it isn’t). You do not (and should not) decide your son’s or daughter’s future for them. As long as your son/daughter knows that they have your support, they will have the freedom to make good and sound decisions.
Sometimes parents are reluctant to encourage their sons/daughters to consider priesthood or religious life, not because they don’t want him/her to make a difference in the world, but rather because they see the lifestyle connected with it as limiting. After all can’t they make a difference in the world and still have a family? A priest or religious dedicates himself/herself to a life of service to God’s people.
By living a celibate life, the individual is free to respond to people’s needs without being torn between commitments to a nuclear family and the larger family of God. A commitment to priesthood or religious life forever makes sense. Consider that in priesthood, at ordination, a man is changed—forever. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, a priest is ordained to act in the person of Christ Jesus. A priest cannot put on and take off this identity any more than Jesus could be just a spokesperson for God, nine to five, until retirement.
Likewise, for a religious sister or brother, they take solemn vows before God (similar to marriage vows). The individual promises to dedicate himself/herself to God and service of God’s people forever (good times & bad!). Just as Christ is always faithful to us so must we remain faithful to him!
Not that your son or daughter would ever keep you in the dark, but here are answers to some commonly asked questions by parents.
It’s natural for a parent to want the best for a child – a good education, a strong faith, friends and realistic goals for the future. When your child was very young, he or she saw the future through the eyes of a child. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor/lawyer/nurse/fireman..” is the typical response from a young child when asked about the future. But as children get older, they start to seriously look at their future. They begin to recognize their own talents, their likes and dislikes. They begin to think about what they really want to be when they grow up. As a parent, you are concerned, wondering if they are choosing the right path.
If this has not happened yet, maybe you ought to ask yourself the question of “How would you react?” or “How would your spouse 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 why you feel that way is an important step in knowing how to respond to your son or daughter.
A vocation is quite simply a call from God. God gives each one of us a vocation and has blessed us with certain abilities and talents. Some of us are called to be married. Others are called to be single. Still others are called to the priesthood or to religious life. One vocation is not better than another. We hope that if your child shows an interest in religious life or the priesthood you will be supportive and encouraging.
A priest serves God and the Church as an ordained minister. He celebrates Mass and the sacraments, preaches, leads the community in prayer and helps people in a variety of other ways. A priest often works full time in a parish, although some priests have been trained in more specialized ministries.
Some priests are also members of a religious community (like the Franciscans, Salesians, or Jesuits). They make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live, pray, and work with other members of their community. Religious priests can work in parishes or in other ministries. Many priests are diocesan priests who devote their lives to serving the needs of a particular diocese. They work in parishes and in the other ministries of the diocese. They promise to remain celibate and to obey the bishop of the diocese. Prayer and service are important parts of their lives.
Through the vow of chastity, religious women and men choose to share their love and life with God and all people rather than with a single person in marriage. They choose not to marry and have children in order to devote themselves as fully as possible to their service of God and others. Religious promise through the vow of poverty to live simply and to share their abilities, money and possessions. This vow helps to develop a way of life in which. A religious realizes that she/he and all of creation are connected and are dependent on God.
Like Mary, who lived her life faithful to God’s will, religious promise to be obedient to God’s will for them in their work and in their lives.
Sisters, brothers and priests can have a variety of careers. Some work in churches and schools, others are lawyers, electricians, musicians, social workers, doctors, farmers and missionaries. They help the poor, the elderly, the sick and children. Sisters, brothers and priests can have almost any career that other adults have. But whatever work they do, they do to be of service to God and to others. Prayer, community and service are important to brothers, priests and sisters. They usually live with other members of their-religious community. Time is set aside during the day to pray together, to share meals together and to talk about the events of the day.
Individuals who want to become diocesan priests apply through their local diocese for seminary admission. If the candidate is accepted by the bishop, he is then sent to study at a seminary for education and preparation. Some begin seminary immediately after completing high school, others come to seminary after a few years of college, and others wait until they have completed college or after working for several years. Men preparing for the priesthood study philosophy, theology, scripture, history and pastoral ministry during their time of seminary education. After the successful completion of the seminary program, the candidate is ordained to the priesthood for service to his home diocese.
Each religious community on the other hand has its own program to prepare women and men to become members. Some religious communities have programs for college-age women and men. Others will accept individuals only after they have completed college. The preparation program includes a period of time living within the community, learning about its history, traditions and rule of life. Time is spent learning about prayer, community life and the vows. Most religious also attend classes at a college or university to receive professional training for the work they will do. The type and length of training will depend on the ministry to be done.
Each religious community and diocese establishes its own financial policies concerning its candidates. Typically, candidates for a religious community are expected to cover the cost of their tuition, room and board and, other related expenses until they profess vows. Dioceses often help their seminarians cover part of their expenses. For both, candidates for religious communities and dioceses, scholarships, loans and grants are available. A lack of finances should never prevent someone from responding to God’s call to religious life or the priesthood.
The most honest answer to this question is “it depends!” Diocesan priests almost always remain within their own diocese, serving the needs of the local parishes. Some religious communities live and work within a specific location. Other religious communities live and work in a variety of locations, often working in areas where the talents of the sisters, brothers and priests are most needed. As a member of a religious community, your child might have the opportunity to live and work in several parts of the country.
Brothers, sisters and priests can also become foreign missionaries and travel to other parts of the world to preach the Gospel of Jesus and to help others.
Discernment is an ongoing process. Becoming a candidate with a diocese or religious community does not mean that your child is obligated to become a priest, sister or brother. Formation directors will help your child discern whether this choice is a good one. Your child may decide that he/she is called to serve the church in some other way, while being married and raising children. Prayer and reflection will help your child develop a better sense of God’s call.
If your child expresses an interest in priesthood or religious life, encourage him/her. Let your child know that you want him/her to be happy in life, and that you will support his/her interest. Answer your child’s questions as best you can. Priests and religious will help you answer the more difficult questions. Pray for your children that God will give them the strength and patience to discover their abilities and talents and use them to help others.
You may wish to discuss other questions or concerns with your pastor, or with a sister, brother or priest whom you may know.
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