I attended a freshman prayer breakfast yesterday with my daughter at the local diocesan Catholic high school. It allowed me a chance to catch up with Rita, an old friend whose daughter is also a freshman. In conversing with her over poppy seed muffins and scrambled eggs, I came to find that her son just entered the seminary. She is thrilled, as well she should be. I think she is already sewing vestments.
So now, two of my friends have sons in the seminary. It’s a beautiful thing to see vocations blossom, and while God certainly is the one calling, the family is the fertile ground which prepares and allows a young man to say “yes”.
A priest once visited a convict in prison. While talking with him he discovered a scrawling on the wall: “Mothers are the Fate of Men.” When asked about it, the prisoner replied that in prison one has a lot of time to think about many things, and the result of this particular prisoner’s reflection was this saying. “You see,” he continued, undoubtedly speaking from experience, “A good mother is a blessing for the children; a bad mother, however, is a terrible curse.”
I am writing this column on the feast of St. Therese, who lost her mother when she was very young. Yet, in her autobiography, Story of a Soul , she writes of the strong influence of her mother on her life. At one point she writes, “God was pleased all through my life to surround me with love, and the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and the most tender caresses. I loved Mamma… very much.” And later in the book she writes, “Ah! How delicate a mother’s heart really is, and how it shows its tenderness in a thousand little cares that no one thinks about!” It’s amazing to realize that St. Therese was merely FOUR when her mother passed, yet she recalls with great clarity many instances that formed her involving her mother. She sums up with a profound and sobering thought, “Having nothing but good example around me, I naturally wanted to follow it,” Undoubtedly, a mother’s influence is important in the awakening and nurturing of religious vocations.
While a mother’s impact is important in the blossoming of a religious vocation, I think a father has a particularly significant role in vocation-discovery for young men. He is the leader and head of the Catholic family, and if a mother is good, holy, pious, and adhering to various religious devotions, a father can unduly unravel this goodness with a simple scoff or sarcastic look, or a pattern of bad example. For a young man to truly consider the vocation of priesthood, I believe that the father has to present it as a viable option. For despite the devoted love and concern of a doting mother, it is a father who teaches his son to become a man, and demonstrates through word and action how this manhood can and should be played out. Specifically, a father’s example of principled living and devotion to God influences a young man in ways no mother, sibling, friend or book can. Additionally, a father suggesting the vocation of priesthood as a possibility to his son legitimizes the option as an accepted and viable one, and allows the son to consider freely whether God might be calling him to this beautiful and sacrificial way of life.
My father, grandfather to almost 50 children, has a spectacular, ornate, golden chalice that he purchased while on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Poland. He gathered the grandsons upon his return and told them that this chalice was going to be a gift to the first priest in the family. He spoke of the specialness of the vocation and explained that without priests we would have no Mass and no Holy Eucharist. A way to ensure priests in the future is to value and revere the vocation, and respect those who have been called to service in this way.
Pope Benedict XVI 2009 has declared a “Year for Priests” beginning with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 19, 2009 and ending with an international gathering in Rome June 9-11, 2010. This is a perfect time to reflect on how we can support and encourage the priests we know, as well as ask ourselves what God may want for us in our families. We should be asking our sons if God might be calling them to a religious vocation. If one is not asked, it might be difficult for one to say ‘yes’.