“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Anytime we ask a child this question, we could get a variety of responses, ranging from ridiculous to serious. Little boys often want to be firefighters, astronauts, cowboys, and train conductors, while little girls have aspirations of being doctors, veterinarians, or teachers. A different way of asking this question is asking a high school senior, “What will you major in when you go to college?”
The aspirations we have for the future of our young people are and should be a common conversation we have in our schools and in our families. Parents play a key role in shaping their children’s hopes and dreams for the future. It is very common to see children following in the footsteps of their parents through helping with the family business or pursuing the career that is a family tradition, such as becoming a nurse, teacher, or lawyer. This is why parents play a key role in fostering vocations to consecrated religious life and the priesthood. In Lumen Gentium, the Church’s document from Vatican II on the Church, this key role of parents is expressed beautifully: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to the children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care the vocation to the sacred state” (§11).
Mothers and fathers do not need to talk about the possibility of a religious or priestly vocation every day at the dinner table. Instead, through their loving witness and interactions with priests and religious, they indicate to their children that these are beautiful vocations and the result of true calls from God. When children grow up in a Catholic family, a consideration of pursuing the priesthood or religious life should be a very natural instinct. Statistically, God calls most of His children to the married vocation, but He still calls a significant minority to give their lives to Him through the witness of celibacy. Because our families tend to be smaller than they were in previous generations, some adult children feel pressure, either explicit or implicit, to get married and have a family. You might be surprised to hear how many seminarians I have spoken to whose parents were disappointed when they learned of their son’s discernment of the priesthood. This is almost always because the seminarian’s parents expected him to have grandkids for them! But parents come to understand and embrace their son’s call over time when they see him joyfully grow in holiness and happiness during his time in the seminary.
The family is really the first seminary for any man who becomes a priest. In his family, the priest was formed in how to be a loving son and brother, which is why priests receive seminary formation. Priests are first of all beloved sons of God the Father, having been called to share in the Son’s priesthood in a new way. Priests are also sons of the Blessed Mother and sons of Holy Mother Church. If a man grew up as part of a loving family, he is well on his way to being a well-formed man. One of the biggest responsibilities of parents is to help their children discover their vocational call from God, so that one day, we can all be together in the Kingdom of Heaven.