We picked my oldest son up at the seminary last Sunday after his weekend "come and see" visit. With all our littles, middles and bigs in tow, we joined the community for Sunday Mass and then for a brunch in the dining hall. It was a typical Mass for me, chasing my 1-year old up and down halls and encouraging her to "touch it gently" but "don't grab." I saved a precariously placed statue of Mary from meeting the floor half a dozen times (apparently, toddlers are not a general concern in seminaries) and went on a long chase down a hall I'm pretty sure I wasn't meant to go down. But we made it.
I watched my 17-year old son in between distractions and as always, was startled that the word "boy" hardly seems to fit anymore. I noted his tired eyes -- he had taken a 3am holy hour and been up early for a meeting with the vocations director. I also noted that his tired eyes were shining. I know that look. His soul had been stirred. And I realized with more than just my intellect that my place in this journey had changed. Whatever concrete measures I have taken to prepare for this period of discernment up to now will have to suffice. My time is almost up. I am now a supporter, a counselor (if called upon) and a pray-er... come what may.
It is not my job to make sure that any one of my children becomes a priest or religious. Not at all. It is my job - my vocation - to make sure that the foundation has been laid for an openness to doing God's will, wherever that may lead. My job is to lead them to holiness... and to do what I have to do to clear the path to grace.
We already have all of the resources that we need to pursue sanctity in the home. We could immerse ourselves in Scripture, the documents of the Church, and the lives of the saints and never exhaust them in our lifetimes. When it comes to encouraging an openness to priestly or religious vocations, it hardly involves more. We are simply teaching them to love the Church, to hear the call of God, and to say yes to His will. But if I had to make a list, this is what it would look like. This is not a checklist. Our children will not respond to a formula, but to radical love...
- Enter into the sacramental life and liturgical year.
- Teach Virtue.
- Keep trash out of the home and heart.
- Foster an interior life.
- Live a life of service and radical discipleship.
- Pray out loud.
- Encourage service at the altar.
- Find opportunities for your boys to serve with only boys.
- Expose your kids to joyful and faithful priests and religious.
- Find a parish with beautiful and correct liturgy. Be willing to drive to find it.
- Teach them to read well and give them access to the lives of the saints and Church documents.
- Model a joyful married life.
- Don't give away your parenthood.
- Teach healthy interpersonal behaviors.
- Discourage exclusive dating before an age of marriage discernment.
- Introduce them to sacred music.
- Limit exposure to people who tear down the seeds of vocation.
- Be a dad who leads.
- Be a mom who speaks joy.
- If your kid's school undermines Christian joy and the seeds of vocation... homeschool. Even if it's hard.
- Sing as a family.
- Study the liturgy.
- Be willing to confiscate the ipod/ipad/iphone/laptop etc. for as long as you need to.
- Teach them to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
- Visit convents, monasteries and seminaries as energetically as you visit college campuses.
- Make friends with faithful priests and religious.
- Don't let sports become a family idol.
- Keep them away from priests who are tepid and who lack masculine virtues.
- Frequently ask people for prayers.
- Buy or make your boys a play Mass kit and small vestments.
- Make sure your daughters get to wear a religious habit at least once on All Saints' Day.
- Teach your kids to pray about their vocation.
- Don't let the world have your teens.
This is a long list but it is still wildly incomplete (and admittedly heavy on male vocations). I could write an entire post on each of these points. This is simply a summary of what I have seen produce fruit in our home. Again, this is not a checklist. Our focus should be on living authentically and dynamically Catholic wherever God has placed us. My family has not done this perfectly. Not. at. all. I am not sharing these things from a place of authority, because I have none to speak of. The only success I can claim (by the grace of God) is that we somehow managed to pass on the joyful respect we have for the various vocations. When they dream of possibilities, they don't exclude religious vocations or the priesthood. Our kids may have preferences (and a long road ahead of them), but for now, they all ask the question: What does God want me to do? And we can't ask for more than that.
For those of you interested in knowing more about my kids' vocation journeys, I must tell you that most of that information will never make it to these pages because their stories are becoming less and less mine to tell. But I can offer you a brief glimpse right now into the heart of a discerning young man (my oldest)... and ask that you read his story, pray for him, and perhaps share it with someone who might be able to offer him some material assistance. Read more here: Priestly Discernment Pilgrimage
And if you would like to read more parental perspectives on "Talking Vocations With your Family," click on over to visit Gina at Someday Saints who is hosting this great blog hop!