Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Some interesting stats from this USA Today article about young women entering religious life:
More than half of the women who professed final vows to join a religious order in 2010 said a parent or family member had discouraged their religious calling, according to a survey conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Only 26% of the surveyed sisters said their mother encouraged them to consider religious life, and just 16% said their father cheered their choice, according to the report, which was released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 2.
Wow! Why on earth would so many parents—many of whom are presumably Catholic—discourage their children from embracing religious life? The author of the article took a stab at an answer with this:
Sometimes parents object because they want grandchildren, or fear losing a daughter. Other times, they fret over their child’s loss of freedom and independence—an understandable but mistaken worry, according to many sisters.
But I think that all of those factors are just symptoms of a deeper problem.
I’m sure that others will cover this story with nuanced insights about the myriad reasons behind parents’ reluctance to have their children enter religious life, but I’m going to make it easy and just blame it all on contraception. (Which will not surprise my regular blog readers, who tease me that I can find a way to trace every modern problem except athlete’s foot back to contraception.)
Luckily, Father Dwight Longenecker did all the work for me when he penned this masterpiece article about contraception and the vocations crisis. He writes:
Before the sexual revolution, a young Catholic boy or girl experienced a family context in which being a husband or wife, father or mother, would have demanded a natural kind of self sacrifice…The young person therefore did not question the demand for a life of self-sacrifice; it was assumed that this was the foundation of a good life. The question, then, was which manner of sacrifice is best for the individual: Dying to self through marriage and family, or dying to self through a religious vocation?
Bingo. Starting at the same time that society began to embrace contraception, we began to embrace the idea that self-sacrifice is bad and the primary goal of life is the pursuit of personal comfort. And what have been the results? Fr. Longenecker explains:
Now, because of artificial contraception, the whole underlying assumptions and expectations about marriage have shifted. Marriage is no longer a way to give all, but a way to have it all. Therefore, when a young person today considers a religious vocation, they are not choosing between different paths of self-sacrifice; they are choosing between a life that seems to have it all and a life that seems to have nothing.
This is not to say that all parents who discourage their kids from considering religious life use contraception or vice versa, but I think there’s little question that the “contraceptive mentality” that is so pervasive in our society is largely behind the data from the USA Today article. To build on Fr. Longenecker’s points, parents who are immersed in contraceptive culture would naturally be less likely to want to see their children embrace a life of self-sacrifice.
Also, I think there’s a fear of giving up control: as the first article points out, many of these parents had specific ideas about how their daughters’ lives would play out, and a lot of their resistance involved letting go of that vision. It makes sense that this would be a bigger problem today than ever before: it’s no surprise that modern parents have a hard time trusting God with one aspect of their children’s lives, when the contraceptive mentality discourages us from trusting God with bringing our children to life in the first place.
What do you think is behind so many parents’ reluctance for their children to follow the call to religious life?