Whether a son is in high school, college, or working, many parents feel anxiety when their son speaks to them about the possibility of becoming a priest. It does not matter what the religious practices of mom or dad are, the news can catch anyone off guard.
The following is a summary of the 5 of the most common questions parents have when their son is considering the priesthood. This is taken from the book, A Priest in the Family: A Guide for Parents Whose Sons Are Considering Priesthood by Fr. Brett Brannen (which the Office of Vocations makes available to parents of discerners).
1. I am concerned that my son will be unhappy and lonely as a priest.
It is true, there are lonely and unhappy priests and the two tend to go together. However, research has revealed that the clear majority of priests are happy people. Ministry might be difficult, but it is extremely satisfying and rewarding, the reward coming in the form of Eternal Life. As for loneliness, that is not unique to the priesthood. You might know many married people who, even with a spouse, are lonely people. During formation for the priesthood, seminarians are taught to form a solid prayer life and a relationship with Christ that will be the foundation of the rest of their life. Though difficulties and loneliness might appear in his life, a priest learns to turn to the Lord to find peace and a true relationship that lasts forever.
2. I don’t understand why priests can’t marry; I want grandchildren.
In the Roman Catholic Church, we have a tradition of a celibate clergy along with men and women in religious life who also live celibate lives. Though it might seem archaic at first glance, there is a rich spiritual wisdom behind this spiritual discipline. First, priests, like all people, are called to follow Jesus and this means imitating Jesus’ life. When we think of his life, we realize that Jesus never married or had a girlfriend so not marrying means we follow him in this radical way. Second, a priest does have a spouse, but she is the Church. A priest is “wed” to church in the way he loves her and gives his life to her. Third, a priest sacrifices marriage as a sign of how much he loves God. He saves his heart for God and this shows to people how real and serious his love and dedication are in this life.
It is true that parents of a priest will not have grandchildren in the usual sense. Yet, parents only need to look at their parish community to understand that a priest’s family is probably larger than they could ever imagine. There is a reason why we call priests by the title, “Father,” it is because his parishioners are his child and that means for his parents, grandchildren!
3. I want my son to have a successful career.
If priests were judged against the standards that most people mark a successful career, they would probably fall short. But imagine how grateful you would be for a priest to be with you at the hour of your death. For a priest to be there at that moment, wouldn’t that be “successful.” We might look to the example of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis has churches, religious orders, statues, and even our city named in his honor. His family were well-to-do merchants of his day in the 12th century but he gave up the possibility of his family’s wealth to follow Jesus Christ in a life of poverty. Now, he is perhaps one of the most famous Christians of all time.
4. I don’t want my son to be labeled.
We are still feeling the effects of the scandal of sexual abuse and various other crimes and scandals perpetrated by clergy and religious. The Church screens her candidates for the priesthood perhaps more than any profession and the long assessment period before ordination helps us to find out if a man should not be ordained. Labels are a hard thing to shed, just think of lawyers and all of the bad jokes associated with their profession. While the sins and crimes of the past cannot be changed, your son can change the writing on the label so that in the future, it says something joyful and hopeful.
5. I’m not very religious myself.
All of us are on our own journey of faith. Sometimes that means parents are in a different place than their children. There are some priests whose parents are not even Catholic. This can be frustrating, unnerving, or embarrassing. Fr. Brannen writes that he believes the reason God calls some men to the priesthood is to strengthen the faith of their parents. It shows to us that God has his plan for each one of us and walks with us wherever we are.