People today tend to think that parents who discourage vocations are a new thing. But in the 13th century, the family of Thomas Aquinas went so far as to kidnap him and lure him with a prostitute (as the story goes) so he would abandon the mendicant Dominican order and take his rightful inheritance.
Indeed, fathers and mothers have been against “losing” their offspring to the Church for any number of reasons. For some it may be the desire to pass on the family name, for others it is family status or the fear that their child will be unhappy with celibacy. Parents generally want what is best for their children, or at least what they think is best for them.
Yet with this Sunday designated as World Day of Prayer for Vocations, it is time for us parents to put away our own ideas for our kids and pick up our rosary beads as we hand their futures over to God. He is the Father who truly knows what’s best for them.
The theme of this year’s World Day of Prayer is “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church.” In his letter for the occasion, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “It is essential that the local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations … to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord… ‘Proposing Vocations in the Local Church’ means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.”
The Holy Father makes it clear that vocations are the work of the parish and the work of the family. We should not force young people into a vocation but “propose” in a way that is authentic and convincing on the intellectual, spiritual and emotional levels. Given the silence about vocations in so many parishes and families these days, we all have a lot of work to do.
As father to two boys, I am keenly aware of the pope’s challenge. My 10-year-old talks about being a spy or CIA agent, and I say great. My 6-year-old would love to be a fireman – great again. The older one has never expressed interest in priesthood, or even in joining a bunch of his buddies who are altar boys. The younger one seems open to the call but wants to do something daring and heroic, and the life that he sees of the parish priest doesn’t appear to fit the description.
How do I, and my wife, “propose” vocations to them? We send them to a good Catholic school, we bring them to Sunday Mass, and we pray for them, saying out loud, “If God calls one or both of our boys to the priesthood, we pray that they will respond with generous hearts.”
The Knights of Columbus has plenty of vocations materials to help families bring the possibility of priesthood and religious life into the home and parish. In one booklet, a seminarian who will be ordained this year asks a probing question: “We ask boys and young men if they want to be a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. Why not ask them if they want to be a priest?”
It can all start with one simple question.