Recently a member of my high school graduating class (1984) whom I had not seen since the end of high school, was at the home of my parents installing their wireless internet. As he worked he visited with my mother and as you’d expect he asked her what I had ended up doing. She told him that I had become a Roman Catholic priest, and a member of a missionary order of brothers and priests. His response to this news was, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming.” And the fact is that at that time I really didn’t see it coming either.
My road to life as an Oblate priest was quite unspectacular. I never heard a voice, saw a vision, or had a dream that led me to the path I now happily tread. In fact, as the remark of my classmate shows, I wasn’t what might have been considered priesthood material. Academically I just squeaked by in high school, and my religious and spiritual life, while active, was relatively ordinary.
My family went to church each Sunday like clockwork, though we were never an overly devotional bunch. My father, who had grown up with my traditional Dutch Catholic grandmother for his mother, tried at various times to work some of the traditional family devotions into the family schedule, but for some reason it never caught on. We were an ordinary, quite mundane Catholic family with all the blessings and afflictions this brings.
There was however one incident early on in my life that I count as significant in my journey. As I, and each of my brothers and sisters approached our Confirmation, we were sat down by our parents for a conversation. They told us that as Catholics approaching adulthood we had to consider as a possible life choice, religious life or priesthood. I’m not sure where they got the idea; perhaps it came from our parish priest or, perhaps it came from my Aunt Lucy, who is a member of the Sister’s of Sion (NDS) and a mentor and friend to my siblings and I, or perhaps it came from our great uncle Joe who was the Abbott at a Cistercian Monastery or perhaps the idea emerged from the wise hearts of my parents themselves. In itself this conversation was not a turning point for me, but I see it now as significant in that it communicated my parent’s comfort with one of their children choosing to follow the path I have followed. The conversation was one of a number of incidents in my life that made the idea of priesthood or religious life normal… accessible. The conversation mom and dad had with each of us was in reality, part of the long discernment process that is growing up.
If you are a Catholic parent I would encourage you to have a similar conversation with your own children for three reasons. The first is that it normalizes a lifestyle choice that is for most young people today, quite unusual. Secondly, and more importantly, it tells your child that such a choice is okay with you. The opinion of parents is immensely important to children, even adult children, and unless you tell them, they won’t know that you’re okay with the things that might be stirring in their hearts. Finally, religious life or priesthood might be the place where your child is going to most become the person God is calling them to be. Having such a conversation will introduce an opportunity they might otherwise miss.