Written on: September 10, 2015
The Role of the Family in Nurturing Vocations to Religious Life and Priesthood (link to the study)
The National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) released the findings of a new study which highlights the role family life plays for a young person discerning a vocation to religious life or priesthood. The study was completed in time to highlight this important facet of family life as Philadelphia prepares to host the World Meeting of Families. Being part of the committee that assisted NRVC and CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) to craft the study was an honor and privilege for me.
The goal of the research was to provide information to help families promote vocations to religious life and priesthood. Some of what was validated through research was known intuitively to many, especially a practicing Catholic like me who has raised four children to adulthood:
Conversation is encouraged in a safe environment where our children can share with us what is in their hearts. One of the disturbing findings of the study was that opening the conversation with their own parents about their desire for a religious vocation was the hardest part of the discernment process.
As parents, or really anyone who has influence over young minds, our job is to guide, to show by our actions (and hopefully, words) how to live fully. Yet how do we quiet our own ego-desires when our child is speaking to us?
Learn the fine art of listening.
Will your child sometimes say foolish things? Of course they will. Let’s face it, they’re kids! They are “learning” how to be in the world. Don’t you sometimes say foolish things? I know I do.
“Isn’t it my job to stop my child from making mistakes?” Well, if you mean running with scissors, then yes. But, a few life-lesson mistakes never hurt anyone. Especially if they are still in the realm of ideas, .i.e. “I’m thinking of dying my hair purple.”
There is a way to discuss such matters. Ask:
If you have teenagers, or know teenagers, you’ve probably experienced what happens when you immediately judge a choice they lay before you…
It’s not always easy, but we can train ourselves to listen attentively to whatever is being said with the same open mind; to quiet our own fears (grounded or ungrounded) long enough to, first of all, rejoice that they are actually sharing information with you!
If your children are little, let them know how much you enjoy listening to their dreams.
When one of my sons was very little, his Godfather was a mailman and he expressed a desire to be a mailman just like him. Although in my mind I knew he had a talent for math, and was pretty smart, so I was thinking something more along the lines of an engineer. But, his dad and I acknowledged his thought (he was about 3). We encouraged his emulation of his Godfather. We read him books that had mailmen in them. In general, we gave approval through our actions that told him it was okay to think about any life choice.
During dinner we would often ask our children what they wanted to be when they grew up. They threw out lots of clever and fantastical ideas, yet we always reminded them that no matter what they wanted to be they could do that as a priest, brother or sister (and this was long before I became a vocation director!)
The point is that we not only listened to our children, we invited them into conversation about their future. We didn’t suggest careers to them without first finding out what they were thinking of for themselves.
Children want to please those who love them and know they have your approval. If we remain open and non-judgmental it is easier for the child to feel honored and heard. Starting this when they are young is important. Keeping it going when they are older is more challenging.
From the results of the study there are three-steps any family can use to help communication stay open about life choices. An easy way to remember them is through a familiar directional acronym “GPS“: Gather as a family, Pray together, Support their choices.
Listening to your children, and to God, will help your family navigate the path to adulthood- whichever paths are eventually chosen.
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Maryellen Glackin is the vocation director and social media coordinator for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. She has been a vocation director since 2001. She and her husband Joe are proud of their 4 adult children. Although none of them chose a religious vocation or priesthood, they are living wonderful lives and serving others in ways their parents could never have imagined for them! (the future letter carrier became an economist)