Why is he thinking about
becoming a priest?
A vocation is a call from God to holiness through a particular way of life, be that marriage, consecrated life or priesthood. When a person responds positively to this call, they embrace the identity that God intended for them from the moment of conception. They take a step closer to becoming the person God created them to be. People called to the priesthood are responding to an invitation to lead a special, all-encompassing life with God.
As a parent, I'm not sure how to react
Parents often assume that the peak of human experience is married love and that to choose any other path in life is somehow to settle for second best. From this perspective, it can be confusing to learn that a son is considering a celibate life as a priest. But each child is a gift from God so parents whose son is called to the priesthood have the opportunity to offer their child back to God as a gift in return. It’s an immense honour to have a son called into God’s service as a priest. The work they do and the life that they lead will have eternal significance. However it may seem right now, it’s a great blessing for a family and one for which to thank God.
Will he be lonely
living a celibate lifestyle?
When faced with the prospect of their son becoming a priest, parents often have an anxiety that he won’t be happy. The need to love and be loved is at the heart of a happy and fulfilled life, and for most people their most intense experience of love comes from raising a family. So it can seem that a celibate vocation is an embrace of loneliness, a fearful prospect to concerned family and friends. But priests do not choose celibacy for its own sake nor is celibacy a necessary penalty that has to be endured for the sake of a larger vision. The decision to commit to a lifetime of celibacy is a positive choice for a particular pattern of life that enables the priest to love God and others in a different way. Celibacy, then, is not a choice against love; it facilitates a different kind of love and therefore a different kind of fulfilment.
Why didn't he talk to me
about this earlier?
Sometimes parents only learn about their son’s plan to enter a seminary once the idea is quite well advanced. This can be disconcerting and upsetting, especially if parents had assumed they would be the first to know of any such decision. It’s not unusual for young men to keep their sense of calling close to their chest, only sharing it with a trusted spiritual guide or friend. A sense of being called by God to become a priest can be an intense and personal experience. It takes courage to begin to expose this precious pearl to the scrutiny of others and risk their incomprehension or opposition.
How can I be sure
that he's made the right decision?
When a young person enters a seminary, they enter into a process and not a definitive state of life. Over the months and years ahead they will enter into a dialogue with those in charge of their training and they will listen to God in prayer. Through this process of formation, they and others will be able to judge whether they’re meant to spend the rest of their lives serving God as a priest.
It does happen that men enter seminaries in good faith and discover that the priesthood is not the best way for them to live out their Christian life. There is no shame in moving on; the generosity of spirit that enabled them to offer themselves to God as a priest in the first place is to be celebrated. If a man in seminary is in the right place, he will grow in peace and in happiness. There will be good days and bad days as in any vocation, but overall the trend will be towards a deepening joy.
Will I be able to see him
once he enters seminary?
A common fear among friends and family is that if a man enters a seminary they will only rarely be seen again. In most cases, however, the experience of having a son enter a seminary is broadly similar to having them go to university. There are holiday periods when they’re able to come home to visit family and friends, and there are times when it’s appropriate for families to visit the seminary. In fact, parents often end up seeing more of their children if they become priests than if they get married and start their own families.
How can I best support someone
through this process?
One of the most disconcerting aspects of a son or friend leaving the well-worn track of education, career and marriage can be the loss of familiar points of reference. Family and friends worry that they can’t offer advice or that important life decisions are being made according to criteria that they don’t understand. The best policy in these situations is to try to listen carefully to what your son or friend is saying without criticism. There is no need for family or friends to express support for a possible vocation until they are ready to do this sincerely. So it’s fine for family and friends to be honest about their worries as long as they make it clear that their love and acceptance is not conditional on the man making particular life choices. The man himself may be unsettled by this calling so he needs support.
How will other people react?
Sometimes people discerning a vocation are unwilling to share very much to those outside of a very small circle of trust, partly because the question is so personal and partly through fear of mockery or abuse. So check carefully if they want what they have told you to remain confidential. When the news becomes public, be prepared for some negative reactions. The role of a priest is so important and powerful that it can stir up deep emotions in people for good or ill. So it’s best to explain the person’s decision to enter seminary tactfully and non-confrontationally; disturbing rows within a family can be destabilising and undermine an important means of support.
Family and friends of a man called to the priesthood can pray that the man himself will be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. They can pray that Spirit will inspire them with the right words of support. They can give thanks to God for this call and if they can’t give thanks yet, they could ask that they may learn how to be thankful. Finally, if they don’t know what to pray, they can take heart from the words of St Paul: “when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.” (Romans 8:26)