The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (#2226) and that “They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation” (#1656).
The first seminary is in the home
Fostering a vocation starts from your child’s earliest years, in the atmosphere that you and your spouse create in the home.
Pope John Paul II writes, "Christian parents, demonstrating a loving care for their children from their earliest years, communicate to them, by word and example, a sincere and lived-out relationship with God, made up of love, fidelity, prayer and obedience. In this way, parents encourage the holiness of their children and render their hearts docile to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls every man to follow him and to seek first the kingdom of God.
"In the light of this horizon of divine grace and human responsibility, the family can be considered a "garden" or a "first seminary" in which the seeds of vocation, which God sows generously, are able to blossom and grow to full maturity.
"The task of Christian parents is as important as it is sensitive, because they are called to prepare, cultivate and protect the vocations which God stirs up in their family. They must, therefore, enrich themselves and their family with spiritual and moral values, such as a deep and convinced religious spirit, an apostolic and ecclesial consciousness, and a clear idea of what a vocation is." (Pope John Paul II, XXXI World Day of Prayer for Vocations)
Parents: called to be “living models of mature humanity”
A vocation is a call to radical self-giving, and to limitless generosity of heart. Where do children learn these attitudes? In most cases, their first education in the art of loving begins at home, in the way their parents model an attitude of generous self-giving.
"The Christian family, as the 'domestic church,' forms the original and fundamental school for training in the faith. The father and mother receive, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, the grace and the responsibility of providing Christian education for their children, to whom they bear witness and transmit, at one and the same time, human and religious values. In learning their first words, the children also learn to praise God, whom they feel to be very close as a loving and provident Father. As they learn the first expressions of love, the children also learn to open themselves to others, perceiving in their own self-giving the meaning of human living.
"Here is Jesus, who returns to Nazareth and is obedient to them, to Mary and Joseph. That 'obedience' signifies filial obedience, but also, at the same time, an obedient opening to humanity, which always needs to learn, above all in the family. Parents must behave in such a way that children can find in them a living model of mature humanity - and can, on the basis of this model, gradually develop their own human and Christian maturity." (John Paul II. Rome, Italy, December 26, 1982)
Share in the marvelous adventure
If your child’s vocation comes as a complete surprise, and as something that you were not directly intending to foster, perhaps these words of wisdom are for you.
In the text below, Pope Benedict XVI invites parents to imitate Mary and to embrace their son’s calling as an adventure in which they, too, have a part to play. Their vocation is now your vocation, too.
“Dear parents, you are probably the most surprised of all at what is happening in your sons. You probably imagined a different career for them than the mission for which they are now preparing. Who knows how often you find yourselves thinking about them: you think back to when they were children, then boys; to the times when they showed the first signs of their vocation or, in some cases on the contrary, to the years in which your son's life seemed remote from the Church. What happened? What meetings influenced their decisions? What inner enlightenment guided their footsteps? How could they then give up even promising prospects of life in order to choose to enter the Seminary? Let us look to Mary! The Gospel gives us to understand that she also asked herself many questions about her Son Jesus and pondered on him at length (cf. Lk 2: 19, 51).
“It is inevitable that in a certain manner, the vocations of children become the vocations of their parents too. In seeking to understand your children and following them on their way, you too, dear fathers and dear mothers, very often find yourselves involved in a journey in which your faith is strengthened and renewed. You find yourselves sharing in the marvelous adventure of your sons. Indeed, even though it may seem that the priest's life does not attract most people's interest, it is in fact the most interesting and necessary adventure for the world, the adventure of showing, of making present, the fullness of life to which we all aspire. It is a very demanding adventure; and it could not be otherwise since the priest is called to imitate Jesus, who ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mt 20: 28). (Pope Benedict XVI, February 1, 2008)
Recognize that your children belong first to God
As parents, it may be difficult to let go and to allow your child to pursue a dream that is so radically different from the future you envisioned when they were small. Pope John Paul II encourages parents to recognize that every child is a gift, and that they belong first of all to God. We are not owners of our children, but stewards.
"For man, to generate a child is above all to 'receive it from God': it is a matter of welcoming from God as a gift the child that is generated. For this reason, children belong first to God, and then to their parents: and this is a truth which is rich in implications for both parents and children.
"To be instruments of the heavenly Father in the work of forming their own children - here is found the inviolable limit that parents must respect in carrying out their mission. They must never consider themselves 'owners' of their children, but rather they must educate them, paying constant attention to the privileged relationship that their children have with their Father in heaven. In the last analysis, as with Jesus, it is his business that they must 'be about' more than that of their earthly parents." (Plato, Italy, March 19, 1986)
Above all, be thankful for God’s gift
In these times, a vocation is a precious gift – and in some cases, a miracle. Pope John Paul II encourages parents to be deeply thankful for this gift, and to understand that it is a blessing that will shed light and graces on the whole family. Your child is not leaving you forever. He or she will be closer to you than ever, in a spiritual way.
"I address parents as well. May faith and readiness never be lacking in your hearts, if the Lord should bless you by calling a son or a daughter to missionary service. May you give thanks to God! Indeed, see that this call is prepared through family prayer, through education rich in spirit and enthusiasm, through participation in parochial and diocesan activities, through involvement in associations and volunteer work.
“The family that cultivates a missionary spirit in its lifestyle and in education itself, prepares good soil for the seed of the divine call and, at the same time, strengthens the loving ties and Christian virtues of its members." (Pope John Paul II, May 22, 1994)
Reprinted with permission from vocation.com
Is There a Priest (or Sister) in the House?
Parents, Kids, and the Religious Life
What kind of home is the most fertile ground for religious vocations? What characterizes the parents of children who become nuns, priests, brothers, and consecrated virgins? Are they holier than most? Is their family life more filled with Catholic practices and devotions? And is there anything that other parents can learn from their experience?
To find the answers to these questions, I spoke with a good number of new priests and sisters, and their parents, from various parts of the United States. Much of what they told me confirmed my earlier observations. There were also a few surprises, as well as encouragement for my own vocation as a parent. I hope the following selection of family snapshots has the same inspiring effect on you.
There's a Range
On the more overtly Catholic end of the spectrum is the family in which John Paul Erickson grew up. Ordained in 2006, he serves as associate pastor of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota. Two of his five siblings are religious sisters.
“Our family was down-to-earth, normal, but also proud of our Catholic identity,” he says. His parents, Richard and Patricia Erickson, “made it clear to us that Catholicism was not just another club we belonged to. That meant, for example, that if we had sleepovers, they were on Friday night and not Saturday, lest we be zonked out for Sunday Mass.”
They also communicated the importance of “looking out for the poor and marginalized,” says Fr. John. “We gave time and money to charity, and served at the soup kitchen and elsewhere. It was in the family that we received our primary formation, though we also attended Catholic schools.”
For Sr. Mary Barbara, of the Nashville Dominicans in Tennessee, the strongly Catholic home atmosphere that her parents created was also key. “Family prayers, the rosary, the Bible, spiritual reading – it all instilled in me the importance of prayer and following the Lord. When I attended National Youth Day, I was ready to answer the altar call for men and women who wanted to enter religious life.”
The Power of Example
But Tom and Kathleen Lynch still haven’t figured out exactly how they fostered the vocation of their son, Brian, who is now associate pastor of St. Ambrose in Woodbury, Minnesota. “No one was more surprised than we were when Brian told us he was considering the priesthood,” they say.
“We can’t think of anything special we did, other than try to set a good example of living. We never talked about the priesthood when he was young and rarely even talked about the faith at meals.” Church missions and saying the rosary were only occasional practices. “Now, to top it off, his younger brother is considering the priesthood, too”!
But children do watch how their parents live, and they draw conclusions. Sr. Mary Juliana, also a Nashville Dominican, points to the example of the father. “He didn’t become Catholic until my older sister was confirmed, but I would often watch him outside in the morning as he looked out at nature. ‘I bet he is praying,’ I said to myself. That had an impact on my prayer life.”
A number of the stories I heard are testimonies to the good fruit of parents and Catholic educators working together. Sr. Mary Juliana remembers that when she was seven, her religion teacher told the class that the goal of life is to get to heaven. “I figured that the best way to do that is to marry the King of heaven. He would have to let me in!”
Fr. Kevin Augustyn of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Boulder, Colorado, is thankful that his parents sent him to Catholic schools and wanted him well prepared to receive the sacraments. Their choices were foundational for his vocation, he says. A conversion experience at a high school retreat launched his desire to serve the Church. Attending a good Catholic university, along with involvement in an evangelistic outreach serving high school kids, also helped him to discern a call to the priesthood.
Most of the men I interviewed mentioned the significant role played by priests. “They were the biggest influence in my vocation,” notes Fr. John Silva. He remembers the priests at his school as patient and outgoing. “They played basketball with the kids and joined our recreation times. I also have two second cousins who are priests.” One of them is the pastor of St. John’s in Newburgh, Indiana, where Fr. John serves as associate pastor.
“Going to an ordination Mass in high school got me thinking seriously about the priesthood. I couldn’t get over that someone would give their whole life to God like that.”
Freedom and Support
Sr. Elizabeth Ann Dockery wasn’t raised by her parents, grew up in the Nazarene Church, and never experienced family prayer or discussion about the Christian life. Yet she ended up joining a community of religious sisters, the Disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ, near Amarillo, Texas.
“I gave my life to Christ when I was twelve, at a concert by a Christian musician and evangelist. “One day, while I was standing in line at the post office, one of the sisters began talking to me and invited me to visit her convent. Because it was a charismatic community, I felt right at home.” She joined two years later, after college, and after becoming a Catholic through her friendship with a fellow music director.
Sr. Elizabeth Ann is grateful to her grandparents for helping her to the religious life she loves. “Though they aren’t Catholic, I owe my vocation in large part to them because they always supported me. They encouraged me to pursue my musical dreams, and that path eventually led to where I am today.”
Fr. Bob Roggenbuck, the chaplain at Powers High School in Flint, Michigan, also cited the importance of family support. He thought about the priesthood as a youth, he says, then again as a teen – “I wanted to respond to God.” That desire was nurtured at home. “My parents talked about the faith at dinner, and we would discuss the priesthood.
“Their love was always unconditional, even if I did something they disagreed with – even when I became Protestant for years. They kept the perfect balance by telling me they didn’t agree with what I was doing, but giving me leeway at the same time. They were a compelling witness of the love of God.”
Helping to Hear
Some parents mentioned the importance of giving children enough unstructured play time. What does this have to do with vocations? It provides natural opportunities for kids to reflect on God, creation, the meaning of life, and other big issues.
Parents also spoke of creating a home environment where the still, small voice of the Spirit didn’t have to compete with a lot of other input. Mort Mattson thinks that he and his wife’s decision to eliminate TV for a number of years and to ban certain kinds of music was important in keeping a Christian environment. “The media never got a hold of us,” he said. Instead, when his son, now Fr. Steve, and his siblings were growing up, “they were involved in scouting and read a lot.”
Some parents consciously encouraged their children to think about what God was calling them to do wit their lives. This was the case for Nashville Dominican Sr. Mary Barbara. Her father, Fred Keiser, was in Jesuit seminary for over eleven years, and has been a director of religious education and a youth minister; he now teaches high school religion.
“We taught the kids religion at home,” he says, “and when we talked about the future, it was always, ‘when you get married, or when you enter religious life.’ Both options were always presented equally. When there were retreats, missionaries, or talks in the area on vocations, we would take them so they could hear from others, not just from us.”
A few mothers said they always had a sense that God was calling a child to religious life. Jan Mattson experienced this in regard to one of her four sons. “I asked him at one point if I could pray that he become a priest. He said, ‘No, mom. I love children and want to get married.’ So I asked if I could pray for him to do God’s will in the matter, and he said okay.” Fr. Steve now serves a parochial vicar of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lansing, Michigan. “I have never felt more myself,” he told family and friends on his ordination day.
It struck me that every parent I spoke with expressed delight, pride, and peace with the decision of their son or daughter. Any initial misgivings and reservations had vanished away.
“We found out that we didn’t have to be afraid that we would give our kids away to religious life and never see them again,” says Fred Keiser. “When Sr. Mary Barbara comes home, or we visit her, as with two of our sons in seminary, they are all ours. Our relationship is just as close, or closer, now.”
Ken Przybilla still goes on hunting trips with his son, Troy, now associate pastor at St. Peter in Foster Lake, Minnesota. There’s nothing like it, he says. “When he puts on his vestments and says Mass in the little cabin, it is a holy, moving, special moment,”
Bill and Marilyn Cox, parents of Sr. Mary Juliana, see their whole family as reaping spiritual benefits since their daughter joined the Dominicans. Her growth in joy and peace is visible, says Marilyn. “It has led to our transformation, too. We have moved from Texas to outside Nashville and have become Third Order Dominicans. The sisters are now a big part of our life. As my husband says, ‘we couldn’t be more proud of her if she was a doctor or lawyer.’”
Trust God – and Eat Dinner
It also struck me that there is no perfect or prototype family from which religious vocations most often arise. Like the rest of us, the parents I interviewed have experienced failures and made mistakes. Sometimes the “track record” is mixed, including a child in religious life and another who may not be following the Lord at all.
But I did notice two common denominators. One of them – attending Sunday Mass – came as no surprise. But I hadn’t expected that every child and parent I talked to would also mention the importance of eating dinner as a family. Even in homes where religion was rarely or never discussed at the table, frequent family meals seem to have played a critical role.
The bottom line is that God is so much greater than our limitations as parents. We don’t have to do everything right in order for our children to hear his call!
Reprinted with permission of The Word Among Us (www.wau.org)
Practical Tips for Fostering Vocations in the Home.
The ABCs of Fostering, Supporting and Nurturing Vocations within the Home
Apostles. From the very beginning, help your children see that a Christian is meant to make a difference in the world around him, we are Christ’s ambassadors. Light of the world and salt of the earth. Make them aware that their faith is a gift and talent to share.
Answer your children's questions about priesthood or religious life; never discourage them or ridicule them if they bring it up.
Baptism. Celebrate each one’s Baptism Day as well as birthday – and yours too. Build family traditions around the celebration… a specially decorated Baptism Candle that you light for the occasion with a special prayer…, displaying photos of their baptism.., writing a card or saying a prayer for the priest who baptized them….
Bring your family to an Ordination Mass or prayer vigil for religious (look under events).
Catechism. Teach, explain, challenge and have them memorize. Always connect it with life.
Challenge your teenagers with Church History and Apologetics. Make them proud of their faith, give them answers, encourage discussion.
Confirmation. Be counter-cultural, make Confirmation the real beginning of personal and mature practice of the faith!
Challenge teens and young adults to consider a Church-related vocation. Tell them the gifts for ministry you see in them. Encourage them to participate in at least one special vocation event (ordination, vocation retreat, Focus 11, etc.).
Discuss your own vocation to family life, explaining that God calls some people to priesthood or religious life, some to marriage, and some to life as single laypeople. You can talk about vocations firsthand!
Eucharist. Need we say more?
Encourage your children to be involved in the liturgical life of the parish as servers, lectors, musicians, etc. (and get them there on time!)
Explore the feelings you might experience should one of your children choose to give his or her life to God and discuss them with your spouse.
Find opportunities to affirm the gifts and talents of your children, and help them relate their gifts to various career and life choices (including priesthood and religious life).
Gratitude. Make this a major element of all family prayer, cultivate their awareness of all God’s gifts, both spiritual and material.
Generosity. Lead by example and teach your children to repay God’s gifts by loving others and being generous to others as He is with us.
Have a priest come and bless your home.
Have your younger children make a cross to hang in each bedroom in your home.
Include the diocesan vocation prayer in your personal and family prayer, especially on Wednesdays.
Invite a priest, brother, sister or lay consecrated person to your home.
Jesus. From their earliest age, help them enter into a personal relationship with Jesus as their best friend. Encourage simple, direct prayer, a sense of his presence in everything they do.
Join together in prayer as a family; include a short vocations prayer when you pray before meals (especially on Wednesday).
Keep an eye open for TV shows and movies that present Gospel-centered role models. Watch them with your children and engage in a discussion.
Let your children see your own attitude of openness to and love for God's will.
Look for appropriate times to read and discuss with your children stories of calls in Scripture (e.g. Mary's response to God in Luke 1:26-39, Jesus' calling the Apostles in Mt 4:18-22, etc.).
Matrimony. Your marriage is one of the greatest keys to your children’s individual vocations. Share with them the story of your own vocation, especially on your wedding anniversary, how you met, how you “knew”, how you made your decision and the importance of faith in your life, all that you have to be thankful for.
Make time for teenagers in your life: your children and their friends, nieces and nephews, babysitters, etc.
Open their minds. Be sure your children learn. Foster their curiosity and love for creation and culture.
Patron saint. Help your children grow in their knowledge and devotion to their patron saint. The saints come from all walks of life and made a positive difference in the world--a goal as real today as it was in their time.
Play. Give sports and adventure their place.
Purity. Both the virtue of purity and consecrated celibacy require the positive appreciation of the gift of sexuality, as well as the awareness of our natural weakness in this area. Communication, timely instruction, good habits, your example, proper vigilance are all key.
Pray for the seminarians of your diocese by name (you can get their names, bios, and birthdays from the diocesan website. Even “spiritually adopt” one of them.
Pray as a couple for the specific vocation of each one of your children.
Prudence and Patience. Pray fervently for these gifts, so as to respect God’s work and God’s timing in the life of your child, and not to have any personal agenda beyond what is truly best for them. Children, not only parents, make mistakes!
Queen: Enthrone Mary as Queen of your home, form a prayer-chain with other families. (Check: “Pilgrim Queen”)
Reconciliation, or the Sacrament of Penance. We all need it. Lead by example.
Remember in prayer by name those who minister to your family and include in your family prayers petitions for those called to priesthood and consecrated life.
Scripture. Pull it out, read it actively as a family – commenting on it, applying it to life. Look for appropriate times to read and discuss with your children stories of calls in Scripture (e.g. Samuel, the Annunciation, Jesus calling the Apostles, etc.).
Service. Together as a family, do things that serve others, especially those in most need. Seek out those in need and find ways to care for them.
Support and participate in any school or parish vocation activities.
Talk about your family’s ethnic or cultural heritage and its values.
Talk positively about the priests, sisters, brothers, and deacons in your parish and share with your children the stories of the priests or sisters who have inspired you and how (e.g. priest at your wedding, or baptized your children, priests or religious from school, etc.).
Use books and videos to familiarize your children with saints who are priests or vowed religious. Use these lives of the saints as a springboard for discussion on these lifestyles.
Visit Christ in the Eucharist. Work in a visit to some shrine or famous church while on vacation and offer prayers together as a family.
Witness to your own vocation in your love and care for each other.
X, In Greek it’s the first letter of “Christos”, Christ, the Anointed One. Anointing is used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Sacrament of the Sick.
You. Help your children grow out of the Me-mode and into the You-mode. Where “you” is God and neighbor.
Z, The last letter of the alphabet. The last letter in Greek is Omega, and Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Make him the Beginning and End in everything you do.
Reprinted with permission from vocation.com
Building a Culture of Vocations with Fr. Allan MacDonald, (CC Vocations Director)
Listen to audio here!