The questions addressed on this page are geared to men considering seminary formation, but many of the root questions from parents are applicable to any ordained or consecrated vocation in the Church.
Parents’ driving desire for their children is to lead happy, fulfilled lives. When a son begins discerning the call to the priesthood, it can be a confusing and uncertain time for both him and his parents. The choice is certainly counter-cultural and just seems odd, especially when we consider today’s media as representing financial wealth and sexual conquest as the dominant measuring sticks of success for a man.
More importantly, parents know the joys they receive from a loving spouse and raising children and want their own children to experience those joys as well. It is hard to imagine living a life without these experiences because of a career choice. However, the priesthood cannot authentically be presented as just another “career option” because it is not. The priesthood is a call to a life radically opposed to many of the ideals held by a secular culture where chastity, obedience, and detachment from money are ridiculed and mocked. The priest, though, by his life, proclaims to the world that something far greater than the rewards of today awaits us. In the end, the life to come is worth more than anything in this world.
Parents of Discerners FAQ
First, remember that a vocation is the unique and special call from God and that God will always take care of those He calls. And so uniting yourself to God in prayer will bring wisdom and peace.
It is understandable that some parents are not sure whether they can adequately support their son during his seminary training. This is another common anxiety. In many other moments in your son’s life, you have felt ready to offer sound advice from your own past experiences. However, because a vocation to the priesthood is such a unique call, you may feel unqualified to offer helpful advice. Your son understands this and does not expect you to be all-knowing and ever-present with advice! One helpful question you can ask your son is, “What is the most important thing I can do to assist and support you?” This simple question will mean a great deal to your son. Further, it is a sign of your unconditional love as a parent.
Regarding finances, the majority of the expenses associated with your son’s education while he is enrolled in seminary will be assumed by the Diocese of Davenport. If a seminarian is not covered under his parent’s health insurance, the Diocese will provide a health insurance plan. Such concerns are taken into consideration for each candidate.
Some parents feel as if they are losing their son in a permanent way, or that they will not be able to see or visit their son during his years in the seminary.
If your son’s discernment leads him to enter the seminary, his departure will be similar to a son leaving home to attend college or to enlist in the military. There will be an inevitable transition period for all parties. If a son enters seminary to study for the priesthood, he is free to make visits home during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and over the summer vacation each year. It is similar to regular college. In fact, throughout his formation in seminary, he will be encouraged to maintain healthy family relationships.
It does happen that some parents have expressed remorse about their son’s acceptance of a vocation with the sense that they would be happier if they were called to a married vocation over a single-hearted vocation to serve God’s people and God’s Church. This is a valid concern for parents.
A vocation comes to a young person in the form of a personal call from God; a call that was present from all eternity in the will of God. God is all loving and would only call His son or daughter to a place of joy and fulfillment. Dialogue and inquiry about your son’s desires and hopes can be a great help toward understanding. Also, praying for your son and for yourself is especially important as he discerns God’s will.
Some parents are saddened by the fact that they’ll be unable to enjoy the presence of grandchildren or a daughter-in-law if their son doesn’t get married. Although the presence of grandchildren would offer much happiness, every parent desires first and foremost that their son or daughter live a joyful and fulfilled life. If God is calling your son to serve the Church as a priest, fulfillment, happiness, and holiness of life will only be fully realized by him if he faithfully responds to God’s call. Further, the Church recognizes with great respect and appreciation this sacrifice of parents. We trust that God will bless you abundantly in other ways for supporting your son through his discernment process. Just think, every spiritual child your son serves as a priest becomes one of the thousands of YOUR spiritual grandchildren.
Some parents express anxiety over their son’s potential loneliness as an unmarried person.
There is a great difference between being alone and being by yourself. A person can be in a room full of people and still feel all alone. In the life of a priest, moments of solitude or being by themselves are required for prayer, reflection, homily preparation, and rest. Many priests experience this “being by themselves” without feeling lonely. Further, in the midst of his ministry, a priest interacts with hundreds of individuals a week and enjoys many life-giving friendships. Nevertheless, no vocation is immune to loneliness. Therefore, regular contact with family members, especially his parents is always a great joy and blessing for a priest. Further, a priest must always be vigilant in maintaining healthy relationships not only with his family but with friends, brother priests, sisters, and parishioners as well.
Ultimately loneliness is the reality of incompleteness and longing for union and communion. Our ultimate union is with God. For centuries, celibate living has been practiced with joy most especially by those in union with God by way of a profound spiritual life. Ultimately, one who is called to this life will need to foster an intimacy with Christ who we will all unite in eternity.
Some parents express anxiety about what may happen if their son leaves the seminary before completing his course of studies and formation program. It is possible that your son could spend many years in seminary and discern that a life of single-hearted service in the Church is not the vocation God is calling him to. There is nothing wrong or shameful about withdrawing from the seminary and the diocese’s program for priestly formation for this reason. The time any young man spent in formation should never be considered a waste. Your son will have grown in holiness, self-awareness, and in personal maturity through the entire process of discernment during his time in a formation program. He, his future, and the Church are sure to be enriched by the experience.
Occasionally parents become concerned that their son is not suited to serve the Church due to certain temperaments or failings. These same concerns are commonly expressed by the very individuals who are in discernment.
The priesthood and religious life requires a high caliber of skills, abilities, and psycho-sexual maturity. However, it is not reserved for “the perfect.” If every young man who experienced the first movements in his heart to serve the Church waited until he felt completely worthy to begin his discernment, we would not have any priests at all! A genuine vocation is not measured by one’s feelings of worthiness, but rather by one’s desire to respond to God’s call to serve the Church as a disciple of Christ.
The academic rigors and spiritual formation programs offered in the seminary are designed to develop a young man’s natural skills and abilities and remedy any weaknesses or deficiencies. This formation takes time and is one of the reasons why it takes so many years to become a priest. Before the discernment process reaches this stage, however, the most supportive action a parent can take is to encourage their son to listen to and be faithful to God’s call.
Some parents are taken aback by the news of their son’s discernment to serve the Church, especially if they do not consider themselves a very religious family. Some parents are puzzled about the origin of their son’s vocational call.
While a child’s faith, worship, and vocational plans are often times influenced by family practices and expectations, a vocation to serve the Church is a call from God, the author of all life. This call is always unique and intensely personal. Although your son desires to discern his call with great attention and fidelity, you are not obliged to alter your current religious practices unless you wish to do so. Still, your son will certainly benefit greatly from your support and prayers during his discernment.
Do not be offended or hurt if your son did not confide in you first, or early on in his discernment. Young people who are in discernment oftentimes keep their thoughts and their process of discernment confidential from the people who mean the most to them until they feel ready to put the experience into words and to speak about it face to face.
Rest assured that your son both needs and desires your support and encouragement. In fact, your support as a parent is most likely valued more than any other figure in your son’s life.