Vocations. We all have one. It’s a special gift that God gives to each one of us and they are at the same time universal and as individual as we are. Mine is to marriage and motherhood. While this is a common vocation, my specific vocation is unlike anyone else’s simply because it’s mine, and because I am unlike anyone else. God gives us, in giving us each a vocation, a path to follow to gain heaven, and in this way it is a gift indeed.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to respond to a gift appropriately. Take, for example, a child. We’ve all seen children open presents at a birthday party or on Christmas morning. Some have mastered the art of hiding their surprise at a truly odd present and mustering a cheery, “Thank you! I never knew they sold footy pajamas for teenagers! How lovely.” Some have not: “Seriously? Am I supposed to wear this or use it to clean up spills?” Still others, those fortunate happy ones, have managed to learn to be genuinely grateful and happy to receive anything, regardless of what it is. What I’ve noticed with my own children is that, without proper guidance from mom and dad, they’ll just keep on having those immature, inappropriate reactions to gifts they don’t understand or like. With a little bit of encouragement and a good bit of discussion, however, they can learn the proper way to receive a gift, and eventually it will be second nature to them to smile, say thanks, and think more about the sentiment behind it than the thing itself, even if, or perhaps especially if it is not quite the gift they were expecting or thought they wanted.
A vocation to the priesthood could be one of those gifts. If a boy is raised with a family who treats such a vocation as a hoped for event, as a treasure, then that boy may see it as one as well. If, on the other hand, the idea of one of the children becoming a priest is as foreign to a family as one of the children suddenly becoming a cat, and the idea is never discussed, a boy with a budding vocation may not know what to do with it and it may, like so many other unsought gifts, be tossed to the back of the proverbial closet, never to see the light of day again. Here, my list of helpful tips for fostering your son’s vocation to the priesthood to ensure that sad scenario doesn’t happen.
1) Talk about vocations. You know how the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club? Yeah. The exact opposite applies here. The first rule about vocations is that you do talk about vocations. You talk about them a lot. You, the parent, talk about your own vocation to marriage and parenthood, and in turn you talk about the other vocations that God may be calling anyone to. How can a child know that Fr. So-and-So didn’t just spring, full grown, clerics and all, if no one tells him that once he was just a man who felt a calling to follow God in a special way? Talk about priestly vocations as regularly as you talk about vocations to marriage so that your sons will know what they are, and that they are just as “normal.”
2) Make frequent use of the Sacraments. It seems like a basic, right? Go to Mass, as often as possible, and partake of the Holy Eucharist. Take your children along with you to Confession. In addition to giving them plenty of chances for strengthening their faith, it will also give them a chance to see priests “in action” as it were. More than one young boy has felt a call while watching the majesty and grandeur that is the Holy Mass.
3) Make friends with your parish priests. Invite them over to dinner. Have them over for birthday cake, or coffee, or ice cream. Find out if he’d like to watch the game on Sunday afternoon. It’s just as important to show your sons that men don’t stop being men because they become priests. Let them know that priests are people too.
4) Pray the Rosary. Pray it every day. Pray it as a family. Ask the Blessed Mother to guide your son(s) to her Son. Encourage a love of Our Lady in your children and she will help them follow the path laid out by God for them.
5) Encourage serving. It’s a time honored tradition for boys to serve at the altar. It gives them a chance to learn about the Mass from a unique perspective. Being an altar boy has always been a means of fostering vocations among young men. And while you’re at it, encourage in other ways too. The priesthood is all about service, about putting other’s needs before your own. It’s best to be in the habit long before the time comes to make a decision about answering God’s call.
The point here is not to try to force a vocation, which is impossible anyway, but to try to create a family environment where, should a vocation to the priesthood occur, it can flourish. I’m not an expert at this by any means. My oldest son is only nine, so I haven’t had much time to practice these myself and I’ve had basically no time to see our own results. It’s not like any of my three have become pope or anything (yet; a mom can dream, can’t she?). I have, however, watched what others have done to encourage that seed in their sons, who later became priests. Many fine families have managed to foster their son’s vocations using these (and many more, I’m sure) ideas, and that is no small matter in a world that is every day more opposed to putting God first and self last. I’d say that makes them at least worth a try.
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