How to talk to your family about your vocation

By Father Andrew Hofer, O.P. Do your parents have doubts about your vocation? Here are some ways to listen and talk to them about their concerns.

Image: Brother Timothy Danaher, O.P. with his parents William and Theresa.

A FAMILY CAN SEE a religious vocation given to a son or daughter as a great blessing. They can also consider it a threat. If you think God is calling you to be a member of a religious community, and your parents are opposed or have serious doubts, here are some things to keep in mind.

Have you listened to your parents’ reasons?
Allow them to tell you what their concerns are. They may want you to have a “normal” life because they think that the celibate life is too hard and unnatural. They may think that if you join you will abandon them and never see them again. They may believe you need to have several years of experience after college before you can make a decision to enter a community. They may think that you’re throwing away your education. Maybe they’ll judge from their experience of certain members of religious communities that all religious are misfits. They may condemn the church as so riddled with problems that it will drag you down, or they might condemn a religious community as hopelessly out of touch with the real world. They may wish you to be happier and be more productive in doing just about anything else than becoming a religious community member.

After hearing whatever reasons your parents give, remind them of your unconditional love for them.
Allow them to know that you will always be their son or daughter. Give them the respect and gratitude they deserve. Let them also know that your love and prayer for them will continue and grow in religious life.

Let your parents know that you want to follow the Lord.
Jesus said, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). There are many different ways of living a total faith commitment. At the same time there’s something especially radical about religious life. Perhaps that’s exactly the reason it draws more questions and opposition to it than so many other ways of living the Christian faith.

Let them know the details of the application process, which may allay some of their fears.
Explain to them what you know. The church and religious communities have all sorts of conditions that ensure there’s a time for waiting before entrance and much, much time before any definitive decision is made. A religious community should not be too eager to welcome someone into their company, and a hasty entrance often makes for a hasty exit. Explain to your parents how the decision to enter a community usually involves extensive reviews, recommendations, interviews, and psychological and physical health examinations, among other things. Also, in a typical religious community several people take part in this decision.

Talk to your parents about the steps of initial formation in a religious community.
Such steps are often called postulancy, novitiate, and formation in temporary vows. While religious communities have many variables on how long a postulancy lasts, the novitiate must last at least one year according to the church’s law. Temporary vows must last at least three years before a final profession of vows. Therefore a definitive commitment in final profession cannot occur before at least four years after your entrance. For some religious communities, the formation before final profession is considerably longer, and communities of priests will have periods of time after final vows and before ordination to the diaconate and priesthood.

Just entering a religious community does not mean that everything has been settled. The church and religious communities would not allow for that. Initial formation is an extended time of mutual consideration before God if the candidate thinks that the community is right and the community thinks that the candidate is right. It includes much prayer, education, and work. Explain to your parents how there are various directors, masters, and superiors who are guiding the whole process of religious formation.

Let your parents experience something of your joy and excitement in a religious vocation.
You know that God wants you to be happy. Let your parents see that your answer to God’s call is precisely for the reason of happiness. Allow your parents to see how people who could have had marriage and family can thrive in a life that is a special gift from God. Invite your parents to visit the religious community with you before you enter, and let them meet various members of religious communities, who are real individuals—like your parents. Also, find out from the community when your parents can visit while you’re in formation. These steps can calm your parents’ fears because they will be able to see how religious life, with the community’s love and support system, is a blessing for their child.

Let your parents see that a very large family is joining your family.
Once your parents come to see others in your religious community, they often feel bonded with the brothers in their son’s formation or with the sisters in their daughter’s formation, and they come to realize that their child is gaining many brothers or sisters. For their part, members of religious themselves look with affection on the parents of one of their own.
Father Andrew Hofer, O.P.Father Andrew Hofer, O.P. is the student master for the Province of St. Joseph at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.




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