Kids are not getting taught a very important lesson in life. At least not many of the kids here in the United States. Their school teachers, youth ministers, pastors, coaches and, most especially, their parents are dropping the ball on this one. And the dropped ball has caused two massive problems:
1) We have a lot of bad marriages (that aren’t really marriages) that end in divorce.
2) We have too few priests.
So what do kids need to be taught to fix these things? They need to be taught that their vocation needs to be discerned. And along with that, they also need to know:
1) What a vocation is.
2) What their options are.
3) How to discern it.
Most children grow up just assuming they will get married one day. And they never even consider (especially not seriously) the option of becoming a priest or entering the religious life (or even remaining an unmarried layperson). And truly, they never even consider if they’re called to marriage, either. They simply assume it. And while most people are clearly called to marriage, to assume as much does a great disservice to both marriage and the religious life - to both families and to the greater Church. And at the most basic level it does a great disservice to the child.
Our vocation is the practical call in our life that brings about our sanctification and gets us to heaven. It’s kind of a big deal.
And it seems that many parents haven’t really encouraged their kids to even consider the priesthood or religious life (you know, so the next generation can receive the sacraments?). And in the process they’ve presented a kind of “default” option: marriage. Meaning that by default when the time is right you just get married…requiring no real discernment at all. Not only does this approach lead to terrible marriages, broken families and a lot of heartache for people and society, but it also leads to a lack of priests and religious. So why are parents failing to teach this important lesson to children?
Well maybe they only have one or two kids and vows of celibacy would lessen the chances of grandkids. Well, that’s understandable, but ultimately selfish.
Maybe they think the life of a priest is hard, and they don’t want that burden on their kids. But guess what’s a much heavier burden on your kid? Choosing the wrong vocation. Not following God’s call. I think we should worry much more about that. Oh, and - news flash - marriage is pretty hard, too (especially when it’s not properly discerned and set up for failure from the beginning).
Maybe they don’t have faith that what God wants for their child is truly what’s best for them. And that God will always provide enough grace to persevere no matter what challenges our children face in life. We need to teach them to accept that grace, not to run from their vocation.
Or maybe they just think that priests and religious are weird. And that it’s unnatural and a waste of life to deny one’s self a spouse or to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But I think anyone who really thinks that just hasn’t hung out with enough amazing priests.
A few recommendations for such parents:
1) Share your own story of discernment with your kids. Develop such relationships with them that they’re willing to open up to you about their own discernment.
2) Teach them what a vocation is and that it is something you are actively called to by the Creator of the universe Himself, not something you fall into by default or convenience.
3) Teach them how to pray and to discern God’s will in their lives. And you can start by practicing with them on smaller matters when they are small.
4) Hang out with other families who have great marriages. Oh, and make sure you have an amazing marriage yourself.
5) Hang out with some great priests and religious. Make them a part of your life.
6) Don’t be scared of your kids choosing a vocation. Be scared of them choosing the wrong one.
7) Don’t worry, trust God and pray for your children every day. It’s your job to get them to heaven.
In the end, living the vocation one is called to is what leads to the most peace and joy in life. If you want that for your kids, then also have the courage and care to teach them how to do it.