Year after year, in surveys of newly ordained priests, over half report that their families opposed the idea of priesthood when they first expressed interest. Undoubtedly, parents want the best for their children. So what about priesthood does not fit parents’ vision of “the good life”? Let’s look are six common myths about seminary and priesthood.
MYTH #1 “He’s too young.”
Many parents, when their young son expresses an interest in seminary, will dispense well-meaning advice: “Get some life experience first—and at least a college degree—then think about seminary later.” Mom and dad envision that with a nice girlfriend and a good job, the idea of priesthood will fade away.
The problem is, they may be right. That’s why it’s crucial that when God moves the heart of a young man to explore the priesthood, parents should trust God that the timing may be right. True, in some cases an 18-year-old may not be mature enough to enter seminary right out of high school. But many are ready. College seminaries are places of joy, camaraderie, and deep spiritual growth. Even if your son goes to college seminary and eventually discerns he is not called to priesthood, don’t think he’ll have to “make up for lost time.” Thousands of former seminarians look back on their seminary days with great affection and gratitude!
MYTH #2 “He’ll be so lonely.”
This is an easy myth to dispel. Priests are surrounded by people! After all, their job is to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus. They are continually working with parish staff, youth, and a myriad of people who come to them for spiritual advice. Seminaries today are very deliberate in teaching men how to form good, healthy relationships with people in their parishes and the priests of their dioceses. Sure, there can be lonely moments—but the same is true in any vocation, marriage included. Most priests have healthy friendships with brother priests, lay people, and family that keep them grounded and connected.
MYTH #3 “Celibacy is impossible.”
For couples who enjoy a healthy sexual relationship, it can be difficult to image their son choosing “life without a wife.” Society would have us believe that celibacy is impossible, or at the very least, unreasonable. The truth is that sexual love is indeed one of God’s greatest natural gifts, but that thousands of saints have experienced tremendous joy living the supernatural vocation of celibacy. Today’s seminaries offer superb formation in how to live celibately with peace and joy.
MYTH #4 “I won’t have grandchildren.”
When a mother of a priest was asked at her only child’s ordination if she was sad she would never have grandchildren, she responded, “It’s not about me.” She was simply grateful that her son had found God’s will for his life. Many parents of priests are surprised to find that they gain “spiritual grandchildren”—thousands of people whose lives have been profoundly influenced by their son’s priesthood. There is a special joy in meeting people who exclaim, “You’re Fr. Jacob’s mother? He’s such a great priest!”
MYTH #5 “I’ll lose my son”
Some parents think that if their son becomes a priest, they’ll never see him. One young priest laughed at this idea. “When Thanksgiving rolls around and my brothers and sisters are busy with their children and in-laws, guess what? As a priest, I don’t have any of those ties. It’s me carving the turkey with mom and dad!” His point is that diocesan priests are able to spend a healthy amount of time with family. If the priest’s assignment is far from home, in the Internet age, social media and Skype make it easy to keep in touch.
MYTH #6 “He’ll be unhappy”
This is the “umbrella fear” that encompasses all the others. It’s also the easiest to dismiss, because the facts prove otherwise. A number of studies about happiness invariably find one profession ranked number one: clergy. There is even a recent book, based on a very large study, titled “ Why Priests Are Happy.” The author, Msgr. Stephen Rosetti, finds that 92% of priests report being happy, and that the key factor in this happiness is an “inner peace.”
The Ideal Parent
The ideal Catholic parent understands a simple truth: that God desires your child’s happiness even more than you do! If your son experiences a genuine call from the Lord to pursue the priesthood, trust in God’s love for your son!
From the earliest years, make it clear to your children that God has a plan for them. Read them Bible stories of Jesus calling his disciples. Engage in open conversations about your children’s hopes and dreams. Make sure that they understand the various vocations to marriage, priesthood, and religious life. Above all, teach them how to pray and serve others.
If your child does express an interest in priesthood, be supportive. Fr. Brett Brannen, in the book To Save a Thousand Souls, described the ideal parent as one who is at peace with God’s will, who says, essentially, “I will pray for you and support you as you go to seminary… and I will be equally proud of you if discern that you must leave seminary.”
Practical Ideas for Parents
Everyone’s first vocation is to holiness, so parents should strive to create a home environment where Christian virtue can flourish. Here are a few other ideas:
- Invite a priest, sister, or brother to dinner at your home.
- Show your children a good example of holy marriage.
- Attend an ordination (normally held in early summer)
- Pray the diocesan prayer for vocations at supper.
- Always speak with respect for clergy and the Church.
- Read and discuss the Bible stories of Mary’s response to God (Luke 1:26-39), and about Jesus’ calling the Apostles (Mt 4:18-22).
- Speak openly of vocations to marriage, priesthood, and religious life.
Sometimes, as every parent knows, children ask very insightful questions that aren’t easily answered! When this happens, look for the answer online together. That shows that you take their inquiry seriously, and that it is worthwhile to get a good answer.