Advice for mother on son's discernment


#1

My son, who is only 14, has voiced an interest in the priesthood since he was old enough to talk in full sentences! I am not sure how to be a good mother to a boy with such strong faith, and one whom I believe is truly being called into the priesthood. He says he prefers to go right out of high school and I’m not sure if I should encourage that, discourage that, or leave it be. My first instinct tells me to encourage him to explore college and other careers before making any finite decisions. The seminary he is looking at, I believe, does not even accept students right out of high school. However, I feel like by telling him he should explore other careers and make certain he does not meet someone he may like to marry is somehow dissuading him against his vocation. In the end, I know that God will see to it that he is where he needs to be when he needs to be there, but I feel that I need to also be the proper mother of a son in discernment, as this feels like a tremendous responsibility. Seeing how my own faith is weak and struggling, I am worried that I am not doing enough to maintain a strong Catholic atmosphere in which he can grow and continue to properly discern. I am trying, but my efforts seem slow and inadequate. Maybe I am worried for nothing, as I should trust that God will lead my son when I myself cannot…

Anyway, just looking for some advice on what my role is and how I should proceed, things I should say, things I shouldn’t say, etc.

Thanks!


#2

Speak to the Vocations Director of a couple of seminaries that might be in question.
They can certainly direct you in the prayers needed for him to make a good decision, either way.
God bless you.
:slight_smile:

Perhaps even ask him if he’d like a Spiritual Director…maybe you already have a priest dear to you all who could talk with him from time to time.


#3

Like any student preparing for education/vocational choices after highschool, he needs to do the research and the ultimate discernment.

Notice I specifically said “HE”, Mom, not you. He should be contacting the diocesan vocation offices or religious orders or even talking his pastor about this.

Your role is to support him in prayer, trust in the Lord, and let him know that you will respect his discernment process no matter where it leads.


#4

Your responsibility is to see that he gets the best education possible, but you cannot make a vocational decision for him. Are you involved in his education? Do you take him to libraries, museums?


#5

What ever you do to encourage him, don’t box him in! Once my husband was accepted at a minor seminary (8th grade), he was never allowed a normal life to fully discover whether or not he actually had a vocation. When he was home (it was a boarding school) any time he so much as looked at a girl his mother would remind him that he was to be a priest. It was as if going to the seminary made him a priest already.

He was a very unhappy priest. :frowning:


#6

yup. ^^ My husband said Ireland if full of unhappy priests who didn’t want to disappoint their mamas.
Don’t know how true that is, but I do know one who was from Ireland and when he decided it really wasn’t for him, his father disowned him. He had migraines all his life. When he left, they disappeared.
Poor guy. He was a great homilist. I still miss him. :frowning:

Praying for a good outcome for this young man.
Peace.


#7

My advice is don’t try and sway your son into college, let that be his decision I he wants to attend college, and if he wants to attend seminary then let that be his decision too…as the mother of a potential future priest you have an important job to prayer for your son and his vocation and to support him, the church needs more priests , if he has a calling then dont deprive the church of a future priest,

God bless you

Crystal waters


#8

I certainly do not want to railroad him into anything. I just want to make sure I am giving the proper attention to his needs during this time. I don’t want to say nothing, and yet do not want to say too much. My true feeling is that it is really between him and God, and I should be left out of it. And yet, I also feel I need to make sure he knows I support him - and I’ve told him as much - in whatever decision he makes. I just do not want to come across as flippant by saying - “whatever you decide.” He has plenty of time, but he seems to be pressuring himself into making a decision, and I do not want to encourage that by saying the wrong things…I think I’m talking in circles now. I guess, it’s just a fine line, and a big responsibility to be entrusted with a young man who may be called to a priestly vocation. I have an excellent SD with whom I know he could talk, however he does not feel like he wants to discuss it with anyone yet. He seems to want to think this through on his own for now, and has asked me to not discuss it with my SD (I think he is afraid he will be approached about it if I mention it). Anyway, I feel like he is too young to be putting so much pressure on himself to figure things out, and I am just having a hard time knowing how to help him…

Thanks for the words of advice!


#9

I would say your duty would be to pray that your son follows God’s will for his life no matter what it be, and is able to properly discern it. Im not sure how things are where you are, but the seminary I attended (as a theology student but 85% of the students were seminarians) wanted a BA first. Maybe a AA or BA studying religion, theology or philosophy while avoiding as much student debt as possible is a good idea? Also there are so many different orders of priests he could explore before making and definite decisions.


#10

Hi Shea, I’m currently in my fifth year of seminary and thought I’d share a few thoughts in response to your post. I think the first thing that I’d say to both you and your son is be open! As others have said, it’s important for him not to feel boxed in (by himself or by anyone else) to irrevocably having to follow a particular path. Openness to the Lord’s will - whatever that might be - is an important aspect of discernment, even in the seminary. The difficult part is of course figuring out exactly what the Lord’s will is! That’s something which takes time and requires listening to god and to others. In my case, the path took longer than I’d ever anticipated but, that said, I’m grateful for the experiences and opportunities that I had in the meantime.

Still, I’d also acknowledge that each person is different and for some, entering straight from school may be fine for them. Nonetheless, It may well be that a vocations director at some point in the future tells your son to go to college or to wait until he’s older which is something he’ll probably find difficult to hear if he has his heart set on applying to the seminary straight from school but what it really comes down to IMHO is the “right” time in God’s time and not ours. So I’d also add that he should think about alternatives to the seminary if for no other reason than this is something which could well come up in an interview if he does apply.

Your role in all of this is really just to provide him with moral (as well as spiritual) support. My mother has never exactly been a cheerleader (so to speak) for my vocation - it’s not that she’s against it but more just that she wants me to be happy in whatever it is that I do and so is concerned to make sure that this is what I really want to do. I’m actually quite grateful for this because, amongst other things, it also means that I have to ask myself that question (again, part of the whole, ongoing process of discernment). She had a cousin whose experience was similar to that of Bonnie’s husband and, for this reason, has also been very careful not to pressure me in anyway since, after all, it’s about what I want (or at least what I believe God wants) and not what she might (or might not) want.

The other thing I’d say is that discernment can be a lonely, frustrating and sometimes scary process. In the midst of all of this, the best “atmosphere” you can provide him is a loving and normal one where he knows he can just relax and be himself, free from any expectations of how he should be. That’s what I love about being around my closest friends and family - they don’t expect me to be anything other than me and they don’t act any differently around me. It’s great that he feels comfortable talking about it with you and it’s also great that you’re there for him. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Feel free to PM me if you like.


#11

I am from the era where one could enter minor seminary right out of what would be termed elementary school and many of my confreres did. I did not. As others have said, there were those for whom it was an unhappy experience while there were others for whom it was a happy experience. It cannot be universalised either way.

Similarly, I have known confreres who entered college seminary out of what would be termed high school and completed their philosophy degree and pre-theology requirements there before passing into theology. Others entered seminary formation after college or even after college and time working. Each young man (or not so young man) has different aptitudes and different paths. There is no one size that fits all.

I entered seminary after college studies and I do not regret that decision but it was dictated by other circumstances. It was in an era and in a place where I did not amass the enormous debt that seems the lot of Americans, if you are American. That can create real problems, I gather, and if he defers entrance to seminary, he will have to have a plan to address any debt he acquires or the timeline can be further delayed.

Also, with the nature of seminary today (it is not a prison), I personally would not counsel to not enter college seminary, if one truly feels called to do college seminary, simply on the grounds that one should not enter that early in life but rather should have other experiences. The college seminaries exist precisely for those for whom that is part of their path. Of course, that discernment rests with the young man AND the vocation director AND the seminary rector and his formation team. No decision is unilateral.

There are, however, many things you have not delineated. You say that he has picked out a couple of seminaries…but the decision of where to send a student does not rest with the student. It is his first obedience. One must be prepared to be sent to a place one would not choose.

A dialogue with the seminaries he is interested in would tell him who sends their seminarians to that seminary…but what are the criteria he is using to discern those particular seminaries to the exclusion of others? It is a valid question. It is one which would interest both a vocation director and a spiritual director

On the one hand, it can be an opportunity to overpass one’s own choices and preferences. On the other hand, it can be an indicator that perhaps the evaluation of where one was called to apply needs to be re-evaluated should the seminary selected be totally incompatible with the young man.

And that is a type of discernment that requires a spiritual director…which hasn’t been mentioned in the post. He is young but he should be reaching out not only to vocation directors but to priests in his life who can help him as a mentor. This will be important later as he will rely on older seminarians as well as those charged with formation. Those relationships were of the utmost importance to me when I was young. Some can be very supportive…others very discouraging. Coping with that is also an important acquired skill.

Another issue is for whom he will study. If he wishes to be a diocesan priest, for which diocese? The default is where you live…but that does not preclude considering other dioceses.

But he could be called to be a religious priest. He also should consider – and be exposed to – the religious orders and congregations. This is a place where adults can help: Providing him the opportunity to actually go and visit an abbey and be present at the Divine Office. To be in contact with friars, such as the Dominicans, who are primarily teachers, or the Carmelites who are more eremetical, or the Franciscans or the Oratorians or the Redemptorists or any of a vast number of other Institutes of Consecrated Life.

He may discover that an inchoate sense of attraction to priesthood solidifies with a specific charism that he has not even be exposed to yet.

It can happen that one may truly be called to the priesthood but not by the initial path one undertakes or contemplated. One may go in one direction only to find that it is by another path one is to proceed. That is also an openness that an adult can help provide insight about. The same is true with rejection.

I wanted to be a monk. I was attracted to a specific abbey (since monastic vocations of this type are tied to autonomous monasteries) and had a number of visits across years but there was a discernment that such was not my vocation, confirmed by more than one authority and my own spiritual director. That was a difficult moment in my relative youth and inexperience. I still felt called to monastic life but accepted that it was not my path. It was a great and keenly felt personal sacrifice. I recovered and was providentially led to another path and so my priesthood was realized by a non-monastic path.

It is never simply what the person thinks – the Church, in the person of the authority who calls, is the one who decides if one has a vocation to the life over which they have authority. That is its own challenge and occasion for growth.

There are many ways for you to be involved and engaged as he will explore and encounter the various persons and situations that will shape the path that he will have to decide if he is called to and wants to pursue or if he needs to discern and seek another way…by taking one or more of many forks in the road of life. Openness is a very crucial quality for a seminarian because it is essential for a priest and/or religious.

I will pray for both you and your son. God bless you.


#12

I’m from the era where one could enter minor seminary right out of what would be termed elementary school and many of my confreres did. I didn’t. As others have said, there were those for whom it was an unhappy experience and others for whom it was a happy experience. It can’t be universalised either way.

Similarly, I have known confreres who entered college seminary out of what would be termed high school and completed their philosophy degree and pre-theology requirements there, before passing into theology. Others entered seminary formation after college or even after college & time working. Each young man (or not so young man) has different aptitudes and different paths. There is no one-size-fits-all.

I entered seminary after college studies; I don’t regret that decision but it was dictated by other circumstances. It was in an era and a place where I did not amass the enormous debt that seems the lot of Americans, if you’re American. That can create problems, I gather, and if he defers entrance to seminary, he will need to plan to address debt he acquires or the timeline to enter can be further delayed.

Also, with the nature of seminary today (it’s not a prison), I personally would not counsel to not enter college seminary, if one truly feels called to do college seminary, simply on the grounds that one should not enter that early in life but rather should have other experiences. The college seminaries exist precisely for those for whom that is part of their path. Of course, that discernment rests with the young man AND the vocation director AND the seminary rector and his formation team. No decision is unilateral.

There are, however, many things you have not delineated. You say that he has picked out a couple of seminaries…but the decision of where to send a student doesn’t rest with the student. It’s his first obedience. One must be prepared to be sent to a place one would not choose.

A dialogue with the seminaries he is interested in would tell him who sends their seminarians to that seminary…but what are the criteria he is using to discern those particular seminaries to the exclusion of others? It’s a valid question. It’s one which would interest both a vocation director and a spiritual director

On the one hand, it can be an opportunity to overpass one’s own choices and preferences. On the other hand, it can be an indicator that perhaps the evaluation of where one was called to apply needs to be re-evaluated should the seminary selected be totally incompatible with the young man.

And that is a type of discernment that requires a spiritual director…which hasn’t been mentioned in the post. He is young but he should be reaching out not only to vocation directors but to priests in his life who can help him as a mentor. A spiritual director is crucial; his role in part is to assure that what is in the directee’s best interest, as an individual, is not lost in the equation – since a vocation director also has a focus on vocations for his diocese or institute of consecrated life as well as discerning with the individual his path.

These relationships with various priests will be important later, as he will rely on older seminarians as well as those charged with formation, as he proceeds through the years of formation. Those relationships were all of the utmost importance to me when I was young. Some can be very supportive…others very discouraging. Coping with that is also an important acquired skill.

Another issue is for whom he will study. If he wishes to be a diocesan priest, for which diocese? A default is where you live…but that doesn’t preclude considering other dioceses.

But he could be called to be a religious priest. He also should consider – and be exposed to – the religious orders and congregations. This is a place where adults can help: Providing him the opportunity to actually go and visit an abbey and be present at the Divine Office. To be in contact with friars, such as the Dominicans, who are primarily teachers, or the Carmelites who are more eremetical, or the Franciscans or the Oratorians or the Redemptorists or a vast number of other Institutes of Consecrated Life.

He may discover that an inchoate sense of attraction to priesthood solidifies with a specific charism that he has not even seen yet.

It can happen that one may truly be called to the priesthood but not by the initial path one undertakes or contemplated. One may go in one direction only to find that it’s by another path one is to proceed. That’s also an openness that an adult can help provide insight about. The same is true with rejection.

I wanted to be a monk. I was attracted to a specific abbey (since monastic vocations of this type are tied to autonomous monasteries) and had a number of visits across years but there was a discernment that such was not my vocation, confirmed by more than one authority, and my spiritual director. That was a difficult moment in my relative youth and inexperience. I still felt called to monastic life but accepted that it was not my path. It was a great and keenly felt personal sacrifice. I recovered and was providentially led to another path and so my priesthood was realized by a non-monastic path.

It is never simply what the person thinks – the Church, in the person of the authority who calls, is the one who decides if one has a vocation to the life over which they have authority. That is its own challenge and occasion for growth.

There are many ways for you to be involved and engaged as he will explore and encounter the various persons and situations that will shape the path that he will have to decide if he is called to and wants to pursue or if he needs to discern and seek another way…by taking one or more of many forks in the road of life. Openness is a crucial quality for a seminarian since it’s essential for a priest and/or religious.

I will pray for both you and your son. God bless you.


#13

I should also add that, at 14, this may simply be part of his internal journey of self-exploration. You are right that he should not be putting too much pressure on himself as his plans may not be realizable for any number of reasons.

As he gets older, though, he will have to reach out to someone eventually. Decisions about seminaries and acceptance into formation do not happen in days or weeks but over months since it involves more than one official. If he wants to enter a college seminary after high school, he could not make a first approach to a priest late in his last year of high school. That is something else to think about.

Your questions brought back a rush of memories for my youth many years ago, in any event. Perhaps there is some wisdom for yourself and your son that you can draw from in that long post of my experiences.

God bless you.


#14

Thank you so much for your response!

God bless you in your seminary studies and journey - I will keep you in my prayers!


#15

Thank you so much! This certainly gives me a lot to think about and to understand!

God Bless!


#16

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