From the Pope to You.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (#2226) and that “They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation” (#1656).
The first seminary is in the home
Fostering a vocation starts from your child’s earliest years, in the atmosphere that you and your spouse create in the home.
Pope John Paul II writes, "Christian parents, demonstrating a loving care for their children from their earliest years, communicate to them, by word and example, a sincere and lived-out relationship with God, made up of love, fidelity, prayer and obedience. In this way, parents encourage the holiness of their children and render their hearts docile to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls every man to follow him and to seek first the kingdom of God.
"In the light of this horizon of divine grace and human responsibility, the family can be considered a "garden" or a "first seminary" in which the seeds of vocation, which God sows generously, are able to blossom and grow to full maturity.
"The task of Christian parents is as important as it is sensitive, because they are called to prepare, cultivate and protect the vocations which God stirs up in their family. They must, therefore, enrich themselves and their family with spiritual and moral values, such as a deep and convinced religious spirit, an apostolic and ecclesial consciousness, and a clear idea of what a vocation is." (Pope John Paul II,XXXI World Day of Prayer for Vocations)
Parents: called to be “living models of mature humanity”
A vocation is a call to radical self-giving, and to limitless generosity of heart. Where do children learn these attitudes? In most cases, their first education in the art of loving begins at home, in the way their parents model an attitude of generous self-giving.
"The Christian family, as the 'domestic church,' forms the original and fundamental school for training in the faith. The father and mother receive, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, the grace and the responsibility of providing Christian education for their children, to whom they bear witness and transmit, at one and the same time, human and religious values. In learning their first words, the children also learn to praise God, whom they feel to be very close as a loving and provident Father. As they learn the first expressions of love, the children also learn to open themselves to others, perceiving in their own self-giving the meaning of human living.
"Here is Jesus, who returns to Nazareth and is obedient to them, to Mary and Joseph. That 'obedience' signifies filial obedience, but also, at the same time, an obedient opening to humanity, which always needs to learn, above all in the family. Parents must behave in such a way that children can find in them a living model of mature humanity - and can, on the basis of this model, gradually develop their own human and Christian maturity." (John Paul II. Rome, Italy, December 26, 1982)
Share in the marvelous adventure
If your child’s vocation comes as a complete surprise, and as something that you were not directly intending to foster, perhaps these words of wisdom are for you.
In the text below, Pope Benedict XVI invites parents to imitate Mary and to embrace their son’s calling as an adventure in which they, too, have a part to play. Their vocation is now your vocation, too.
“Dear parents, you are probably the most surprised of all at what is happening in your sons. You probably imagined a different career for them than the mission for which they are now preparing. Who knows how often you find yourselves thinking about them: you think back to when they were children, then boys; to the times when they showed the first signs of their vocation or, in some cases on the contrary, to the years in which your son's life seemed remote from the Church. What happened? What meetings influenced their decisions? What inner enlightenment guided their footsteps? How could they then give up even promising prospects of life in order to choose to enter the Seminary? Let us look to Mary! The Gospel gives us to understand that she also asked herself many questions about her Son Jesus and pondered on him at length (cf. Lk 2: 19, 51).
“It is inevitable that in a certain manner, the vocations of children become the vocations of their parents too. In seeking to understand your children and following them on their way, you too, dear fathers and dear mothers, very often find yourselves involved in a journey in which your faith is strengthened and renewed. You find yourselves sharing in the marvelous adventure of your sons. Indeed, even though it may seem that the priest's life does not attract most people's interest, it is in fact the most interesting and necessary adventure for the world, the adventure of showing, of making present, the fullness of life to which we all aspire. It is a very demanding adventure; and it could not be otherwise since the priest is called to imitate Jesus, who ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mt 20: 28). (Pope Benedict XVI, February 1, 2008)
Recognize that your children belong first to God
As parents, it may be difficult to let go and to allow your child to pursue a dream that is so radically different from the future you envisioned when they were small. Pope John Paul II encourages parents to recognize that every child is a gift, and that they belong first of all to God. We are not owners of our children, but stewards.
"For man, to generate a child is above all to 'receive it from God': it is a matter of welcoming from God as a gift the child that is generated. For this reason, children belong first to God, and then to their parents: and this is a truth which is rich in implications for both parents and children.
"To be instruments of the heavenly Father in the work of forming their own children - here is found the inviolable limit that parents must respect in carrying out their mission. They must never consider themselves 'owners' of their children, but rather they must educate them, paying constant attention to the privileged relationship that their children have with their Father in heaven. In the last analysis, as with Jesus, it is his business that they must 'be about' more than that of their earthly parents." (Plato, Italy, March 19, 1986)
Above all, be thankful for God’s gift
In these times, a vocation is a precious gift – and in some cases, a miracle. Pope John Paul II encourages parents to be deeply thankful for this gift, and to understand that it is a blessing that will shed light and graces on the whole family. Your child is not leaving you forever. He or she will be closer to you than ever, in a spiritual way.
"I address parents as well. May faith and readiness never be lacking in your hearts, if the Lord should bless you by calling a son or a daughter to missionary service. May you give thanks to God! Indeed, see that this call is prepared through family prayer, through education rich in spirit and enthusiasm, through participation in parochial and diocesan activities, through involvement in associations and volunteer work.
“The family that cultivates a missionary spirit in its lifestyle and in education itself, prepares good soil for the seed of the divine call and, at the same time, strengthens the loving ties and Christian virtues of its members." (Pope John Paul II, May 22, 1994)