I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine, a woman who has been supporting seminarians for many years. In the course of our conversation, we got to talking about the continued lack of men discerning in seminary.
I said that I believe one important factor is the attitude of parents toward their children who might be considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. She told me about an encounter she recently had with a woman whom she was asking to pray for seminarians. The woman said to her, “Don’t get me wrong, I love seminarians, but I will never want my son to be one.”
While of course this is only one incident, I think it highlights the crucial role parents play in nurturing a calling from God – to whatever vocation. The family is the foundation for all vocations. Parents profoundly influence their children in so many ways. Their approach to married life, the priesthood, religious life and celibate life can shape their children’s perception of these vocations and their openness to God’s calling toward any of these.
Interestingly, in my visits to different schools in the Diocese of Davenport, I’ve received questions from the kids about how they should tell their parents that they feel called to be a nun or priest. In fact, a couple of girls have expressed anxiety about how their parents would react if they told them they were thinking about being a sister. A few young men have shared with me concerns about pursuing the priesthood because in our tradition, priests don’t marry, meaning they wouldn’t be giving their parents biological grandchildren. Some tell me their parents have told them that they should aim for high-paying jobs and, of course, the priesthood is not one of them.
One of the puzzle pieces that we need to have to help us solve the problem of declining vocations to the priesthood is that of parents who are supportive of the discernment process for the priesthood and are spiritually mature to know that God may be calling their child to a vocation that they might not expect or want for them.
This will come with, first of all, spiritual renewal and growth through Mass attendance and personal prayer, including eucharistic adoration. Solid catechesis on the part of the pastors, faith formation directors, teachers and catechists in schools and parishes is also needed. Then, parents who are well informed about vocation discernment can act accordingly to allow their children to know the joy of living their lives according to God’s will.
The Vocations Office is preparing for a workshop in December for parents and those interested in promoting vocations to the priesthood. We are calling it, “Bringing Vocations Home.” This is a follow-up to the Hundredfold Workshop held last year. Visit our website at www.davenportvocations.org/upcoming-events to know more.
Please continue to pray for our seminarians and for our youth, that they may open their hearts to hearing God’s call for them.
(Fr. Sia is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him at (563) 888-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)