Discernments for Parents and Friends



Promoting Vocations in Your Family

  1. Speak of Christ in the home: Speak often of Christ in terms that endear your children to him. Let his name be part of the family vocabulary. Talk about how your faith in Christ has impacted your life and led you to where you are today.
  2. Carving out Family time together: In the midst of the busy schedules, when do you gather as a family? How many meals do you plan during the week to be together? How do you make those meal times a special time to be able to visit and to share? What are some family activities or hobbies you can do on the weekends? How is Sunday different than all other days in your family?
  3. Pray for your children’s vocation: Pray for your children and for whatever vocation God is calling them to, and teach them to do the same. The greatest and deepest wish of every parent for a child is that he or she discovers and does God’s will for his or her life. This is your child’s greatest guarantee of happiness, and your major concern. Prayer is necessary, since there will always be the tempting mirage of an easier way shimmering invitingly on the horizon for your child.
  4. Pray as spouses for your children: Find a prayer that you can say as husband and wife asking the Lord to consecrate your family to him and to the mission he has for you. Some couples compose their own prayer and pray it regularly. If a couple can pray together the witness of united prayer speaks untold volumes to the children.
  5. Pray with your children: Nighttime prayer is a natural time to teach prayer to children and to develop in them this important habit. When you pray the meal prayers, use a variety of prayers and prayer forms including spontaneous prayers from the heart. Teach them how to bring their concerns and needs to Jesus in prayer. They will learn only what you model for them. Write a family prayer which can be said regularly by the family when they pray. Use the liturgical seasons of the year to bring added prayer to your home such as during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons.
  6. Teach Bible Stories: Especially when the children are young introduce them to the hundreds of stories in the Bible. Begin with a children’s Bible and give them Bibles through the years that correspond to their understanding of the Faith. Let the Bible stories be the means to be able to talk to your children about the virtues, right and wrong, life and death, etc.
  7. Teach the Lives of the Saints: Help your children grow, according to their age, in their relationship with God and knowledge of their faith. The lives of the saints are a great source of inspiration for children—and adults. Celebrate the patron saint days of your children. Help them to know who their patron saints are and the virtues which marked their lives.
  8. Teach Devotion to Mary: Many families pray a decade or the whole Rosary as part of their prayers at home. Teach your children how the Rosary is like a photo album of the life of Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles. By meditating on the Mysteries we come to reflect on the Mysteries of Jesus’ Life and Mission and how he calls us to an ever deeper discipleship and mission with him in community with others.
  9. Bless your children: A custom we had as children was to have our dad bless each of us children at night with holy water. He would make the sign of the Cross on our forehead with the words “God bless you” and then he would say our names. This ritual went on for many years. You will find this a wonderful way of integrating parental love and affection with spirituality. It would also be good to have a holy water font somewhere in the house where the children can bless themselves and be reminded of their baptism and commitment to Jesus.
  10. Speak to your children openly about God’s Call for them in their lives: Remind your children often that God has created them in his image and likeness. He loves them so much as his son or daughter. As our Creator he designed each of us for a purpose Invite them to pray about God’s Call for their career—what they are to do with their life as well as their state in life—whether God is calling them to Marriage, Single Life, Priesthood, or Consecrated Life. Teach them how to allow the Lord to make the Call in our lives.
  11. Chastity formation: Speak to your children about developing a deep reverence for the way God has created us and our bodies. Teach them about God’s plan for sexuality and for marriage and family. There are many resources available today. Jason and Crystaline Evert have many resources available in book form and online, http://www.chastity.com. Christopher West has CD’s and books for young adults and couples preparing for marriage. Many young people wear chastity rings and have a special service for this with their pastor. Let us know if you want more information on this. Speak with your young people about the challenges to chastity in today’s world. Take the time to be formed so that you can help the young to be formed. Chastity is the front line for young people. If they get chastity right—they get dating right—then they will get marriage right—then they will get family right—then all vocations will prosper. Ideas: dating prayers, writing a letter to future spouse.
  12. Adult faith formation: If we are thirty years old but have a faith knowledge at the sixteen year old level, we cannot witness a living faith to our children What spiritual reading do you do on a regular basis? Books? Periodicals’ Diocesan Catholic Times? What is your strategy for personal formation for yourself and your spouse? As you develop yourself in your faith, you are better equipped to be a spiritual model and leader to influence the faith formation in your family?
  13. Enthrone your family and home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By having a picture or statue of the Sacred Heart in your home you witness your faith to those who come to visit, but more than that you are reminded as a family that Jesus is the center of your family. It is common for families to have pictures of family members displayed in their homes. The same should be true about our spiritual family. Place a crucifix in the rooms. Have several statues of the Blessed Mother and the saints throughout the house. Give sacramentals and statues as gifts to your children to mark special occasions.
  14. Teach your children to love the Mass: I cannot remember a time in which my parents purposely missed Mass. This witness impressed upon me that how essential it is to come every Sunday to receive Jesus who said, “Unless you eat my Body and drink my Blood, you have no life in you.” Even if you are on vacation, especially when you are on vacation take your children to Mass. Dorothy Day, who served the poor in this country for forty-five years used to say that at Mass during the Consecration it was as if the Lord was saying to her, “This is My Body broken for you. Will you let your body be broken for Me and for others today?” At the Consecration of the wine it was as if he said, “This is My Blood poured out for you. Will you let your blood be poured out for Me and for others today?” If we understood the Mass from this perspective, would we ever miss? Or could we ever say it is boring?
  15. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament: I was advised by Father Burke when I entered seminary that I would find my vocation in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Mother Teresa taught her sisters to pray before the Blessed Sacrament three hours a day so that, once filled with Christ’s presence, they would bring Christ’s presence to others. Our lives are so full of busyness and distraction. Model and teach your young people to listen to the Lord in prayer. Find time to make Holy Hours and to encourage your children to make visits and to spend time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Come to Mass early with the family each week and let the time before Mass be a quiet time with the Lord.
  16. Teach your children the importance of conversion through regular Confession: If a person cannot apologize, it will be very difficult to grow in friendship or intimacy with others. Similarly, if we do not learn how to reconcile ourselves with God through the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), there is a level of intimacy with the Lord which we will not attain. Model for your children the need for this Sacrament by your own practice.
  17. Pay special attention to the use of media in the home: How much television is watched in your family? How do you balance time with the media and time with your family? How do you shape the way media is used in your home rather than be shaped by the media? What programs do you watch as a family? How do you help your children to critique the values they are being exposed to? How do you monitor the use of the computer and internet? Internet pornography tragically is becoming epidemic among people of all ages. Spiritually, it divides their hearts and they cannot grow in prayer or friendship with the Lord thus making it impossible to discern one’s vocation in life. The media is a double-edged sword. It can either help or hinder spiritual growth in your family. Don’t leave its effect to chance. Talk about it, strategize and then carry out your plan.
  18. Write a letter or card to each of your children at least once a year at a special occasion in which you share with them your unconditional love and also share something of your faith and your prayer that they continue to listen to and follow God’s call for them in their life.
  19. Aim High: My father asked me in high school not to simply seek an easy life. He said, “Don’t ask God for an easy life. Ask God for the Grace to do something difficult with your life for him and for others.”
  20. Camps and Retreats: As your children get into middle school, introduce them to camps and retreats. Young people need more and more integration of faith with experience within a faith community. In our Diocese we have the Adventure Camp and so many other retreats and rallies for every age group. These experiences help the young people to move beyond the family and parish experience of Church and to grow in their awareness that we are a universal Catholic Church.
  21. Enable participation in outreach, service, or missionary work: This participation is very important for young people. It is here that they will see how much Christ and the Church call them to move beyond themselves to serve the needs of others. They will begin to understand how much they have received and how much they are being called upon to give in return. This can include visiting the elderly in nursing homes or helping aged relatives or neighbors. Later this can include mission trips to soup kitchens or other missions. Through the Diocese there are mission trips to Peru, Mexico, Lourdes, Africa and more.
  22. All states in life are essential to the life of the Church: All vocations begin with the family. There can be no priests or religious without families. Sacraments are essential for the spiritual life of the family. Without priesthood, there is neither Eucharist nor Confession. Every man is called to fatherhood and every woman is called to motherhood. Celibates are not spiritual bachelors or bachelorettes. Ask your pastor to speak about his spiritual fatherhood. Ask a religious sister to speak about her spiritual motherhood. Learn more about brothers, deacons, and the single life as a life of mission and service.
  23. Don’t push, but don’t be silent: Do not push priesthood or consecrated life on your children, but don’t be silent either. Answer questions and at times, bring them up yourself and raise possibilities, but do so always with a sense of freedom and love. Talk openly and support the possibility of your child choosing to be a priest or sister. Look for opportunities for your children to visit a seminary or convent. They can only learn to love that which they know.
  24. Speak positively about bishops, priests, and consecrated persons: Your respect for those in the Church will witness to your children the need to respect those dedicated to God’s service and to the spiritual mission of the Church. We live in an era of anti-authority. Showing respect to those whom God has given to guide us in the Church will go a long way to teach your children how to respect your own parental authority, as well as to teach them how to place themselves under the mission of God in their lives.
  25. Have a well-rounded concept of the education of your children: Do not neglect the formation of character, self-discipline, human virtues, perseverance, and physical health. You are creating the fertile ground for God to act. Besides faith, you will want your children to have the strength of character to be able to do what might be difficult, to overcome peer pressure, and to be faithful to what is right.
  26. Develop the minds and the sense of beauty and joy in your children: This includes, but is not limited to, the knowledge of the Catechism. Help children develop their critical sense, awareness of objective truth, and appreciation for music and the arts.

Christ asks you to be a holy parent, not necessarily a perfect parent. Seek to sanctify your spouse and children by your loving and nurturing—God will do the rest. Trials will inevitably occur within your family. You preach your most powerful sermons during times of difficulty. The saints have said that a holy family is a struggling family. When the Apostles were in the midst of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus told them not to be afraid. If we have Jesus in our boat—home life—he will get us through. Your witness of trust in those times will speak a thousand words.

“... The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of - discernment and renunciation. I am speaking to especially you, young Christians.... Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.” - Pope John Paul II

“Of my own free will, dear Jesus, I shall follow You wherever You shall go in search of souls at any cost to myself and out of pure love for You.” - Mother Teresa

Ten Suggestions for Parents

  1. Develop your relationship with Christ and impart a desire for discipleship in the lives of your children.
  2. Live your vocation to marriage out as fully as you can.
  3. Speak of the influential priests and religious in your Life.
  4. Provide opportunities for your children to speak with priests and religious.
  5. Pray for your children’s vocations that they may understand their call, and place them In the care of the Blessed Mother (especially in praying the Rosary).
  6. Help your children develop a wide range of activities and discern what gives them joy and at what they are good.
  7. Speak of your children responding, showing your support of them without pushing them.
  8. Instill in your children a desire to serve and a proper understanding of stewardship.
  9. Inspire a heroic life of virtue in your child by reading the lives of the saints and encouraging moral choices.
  10. Develop a sense of the sacred and transcendent in your child, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful,- which will reveal the Truth.

What to do...and not to do.

by Fr. Marcel Taillon, Diocese of Providence

The feast of the Holy Family which is celebrated the Sunday after Christmas reminds us of our heavenly Father’s plan and insistence on the design for Jesus’ earthly life. It also reminds us of our own families and how intrinsic family life is to our own formation, blessings and struggles. God chooses our family for us (even if we are adopted) and the search for our vocation is always in the context of family no matter what our relationships with them or they with God. Just as Jesus had to “work out” his calling in his family, so does anyone considering the priesthood/celibate life.

Reactions in a family to the news that someone is considering entering the seminary are as wide ranging as could ever be described here. They run the gamut depending on one’s perspective of their son, the Church, and their own lived faith experience.

In contemporary circumstances some good parents do not practice their Catholic faith and are thus suspect at the outset of a Church vocation. This is usually the case when parents don’t know any priests or religious personally.

A major issue is that our contemporary culture does not understand the tremendous value of celibate love, especially if they don’t have contact with integrated joyful celibates.
It’s important to understand that celibacy is a gift. Recent sexual abuse scandals cause some to hesitate wondering if their son would be part of a lifestyle that can lead one to deviancy or at the very least unhappiness and loneliness.

No doubt a decision to discern a priestly vocation in a seminary affects an entire family and in fact is designed to do so. Some people focus only on the sacrifices: no grandchildren; family name and legacy issues; economic success and admiration, not to mention caring for ones family in older age. These are valid issues, but this perspective sees the priesthood in a negative light.

Making it clear to his disciples that they would receive much more than they sacrificed, Jesus said to them: “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30).

Here are some do’s and don’ts for parents and families of those who are discerning a call to the priesthood or religious life:



BE RECEPTIVE:  Don’t overreact.  Trust the Holy Spirit is at work in your son/brother’s life but also in your own in some mysterious way in this process.  Ask for docility to the Spirit.

BE SUPPORTIVE:  There are so many cultural and societal factors that can negatively influence a man’s priestly discernment.  Many deride or mock a life of sacrificial love.  Verbalize your support in word or writing but only when you are sincere and ready.  Avoid negative comments or put downs of God’s call or the Church.

BE INFORMED:  Supporting a vocation should not happen blindly. Ask questions but be aware that your son/brother may not have many answers initially.  Find out how discernment/seminary works from them.  Talk to a priest you trust.  Call the Vocation Office staff.  Visit Catholicpriest.com and go to “frequently asked questions”.  Remember no one is ordained right away; seminary locks are on the outside of the doors not the inside!

BE PATIENT:  The road to seminary and to the priesthood is paved with ups and downs and graces and crosses similar to those preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage.  Initially some seminarians/applicants may not share much, some because it is so personal, others because they are anxious and some from fear of rejection or mockery.

BE CHRIST LIKE:  Reactions will vary as others find out about your son’s/brother’s intentions.  Be careful not to feel pressure to answer questions you can’t or choose no to.  See this as an opportunity to get to know others spiritually and to grow in your own faith knowledge.

BE LOVING:  Love your son/brother, love God, love the Church.  Ask God for the grace to love all three.

BE PRAYERFUL:  Lift your son/brother up in prayer each day as well as his vocation.  Don’t forget your other children/siblings too.  Give God gratitude for your children/sibling(s).  Do not be too anxious about the future…as scripture says, “fear is useless, what is needed is trust!”


Don’t ordain your son/brother today or tomorrow. Your loved one and the Church will decide when/if he is ready.  

Don’t badger him on his vocation.  Don’t belittle his experience, sincerity, or experience of the Church that may be different from yours.

Don’t fall into the modern trap that unless one is sexually active one cannot be happy.  Celibates have the gift of sexuality as Jesus did.  We must all struggle to give that gift in a way that honors God and his plan for us and the Church.

Don’t think it is just a phase that will go away.  Maybe the Lord is up to something special with your son/brother.  He chose simple fishermen, a tax collector and a physician…God chooses whom He wishes.

Don’t try to figure it all out.  Pope John Paul II said of his vocation that it was a “gift and mystery.”


Common Parental Concerns

1. Do not to be offended or hurt if your son did not confide in you first, or early on in his discernment. Young people who are in discernment oftentimes keep this process confidential from the people who mean the most to them until they feel ready to put the experience into words and to speak about it face to face.

Rest assured that your son both needs and desires your support and encouragement. In fact, your support as a parent is most likely valued more than any other figure in your son’s life.

2. Some parents are taken aback by their son’s news of his discernment to serve the Church because they do not consider themselves a very religious family. Some parents are puzzled about a vocation’s origin.

While a child’s faith, worship, and vocational plans are oftentimes influenced by family practices and expectations, a vocation to serve the Church is a call from God, the author of all life. This call is intensely personal. Although your son desires to discern his call with great attention and fidelity, you are not obliged to alter your current religious practices unless you wish to do so. Still, your son will certainly benefit greatly from your support during his discernment.

3. Occasionally parents become concerned that their son is not suited to serve the Church due to certain temperaments or failings. These same concerns are commonly expressed by the very individuals who are in discernment.

The priesthood and religious life requires a high caliber of skills, abilities, and psycho-sexual maturity. However, it is not reserved to “the perfect.” If every young man who experienced the first movements in his hearts to serve the Church waited until he felt completely worthy to begin his discernment, we may not have any priests at all! A genuine vocation is not measured by one’s feelings of worthiness, but rather by one’s desire to respond to God’s call to serve the Church as a disciple of Christ.

The academic and formation programs offered in the seminary seek to develop a candidate’s natural skills and abilities and to remedy any weaknesses or deficiencies. This occurs over a period of years. Before the discernment process reaches this stage, however, the most supportive action parents can take is to encourage their son to be faithful to God’s call.

4. Some parents express anxiety about what may happen if their son leaves seminary before its completion.

It is possible that your son could spend as few as five days or as many as a five years in seminary and discern that a life of single-hearted service in the Church is not for him. There is nothing shameful about withdrawing from a program for this reason. The time spent in formation should never be considered a waste. Your son will have grown in holiness, self-awareness, and in personal maturity through the entire process of discernment and by his or her time in a formation program.

5. Some parents express anxiety over their son’s potential loneliness as an unmarried person.

There is a difference between aloneness and loneliness. In the life of a priest, moments of solitude or aloneness are required for prayer, reflection, homily preparation, and rest. Many priests experience aloneness without feeling lonely. Further, in the midst of his ministry, a priest interacts with hundreds of individuals a week, and many life-giving friendships are enjoyed. Still, no vocation is immune to loneliness. Therefore, a priest must always be vigilant in maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends, brother priests, religious brothers and sisters and parishioners.

6. Some parents are saddened by the fact that they’ll be unable to enjoy the presence of grandchildren or a daughter-in-law through their son’s marriage.

Although the presence of grandchildren would offer much happiness, every parent desires first and foremost that their son or daughter live a joyful and fulfilled life. If God is calling your son to serve the Church as a priest, fulfillment, happiness and holiness of life will only be fully realized by faithfully responding to this call. Further, the Church recognizes with great respect and appreciation this sacrifice of parents. We trust that God will bless you abundantly for supporting your son through his discernment process.

7. Some parents feel as if they are losing their son in a permanent way, or that they will not be able to see or visit their son during his years in the seminary.

If your son’s discernment leads him to enter seminary, his departure will be similar to a son leaving home to attend college or to enlist in the military. There will be an inevitable transition period for all parties. If a son enters seminary to study for the priesthood, he will most likely make visits home during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and over the summer vacation each year. Throughout his formation in seminary, he will be encouraged to maintain and develop family relationships through occasional visits and by frequent communication.

8. Some parents are not sure whether they know how to adequately support their son.

This is another common anxiety. In many other moments in your son’s life you have felt ready to offer sound advice from your own past experiences. However, because a vocation to the priesthood is a such a unique call, you may feel unqualified to offer helpful advice. Your son understands this and does not expect you to be all-omniscient! One helpful question you can ask your son is, “What is the most important thing I can do to assist and support you?” This simple question will mean a great deal to your son. It is a further sign of your unconditional love as a parent.

Another helpful question is, “Is your discernment of a vocation something that you’d like me to keep confidential at the moment?” This will assure your son of your respect for his “pace” of discernment and of its public knowledge.

Regarding finances, the majority of the expenses associated with your son's education while he is enrolled in seminary for pre-Theology and Theology will be assumed by the Diocese after his ordination to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Winona. The Diocese generally can not assist individuals with college or college-seminary funding. If a seminarian is not covered under his parent's health insurance, the Diocese will provide a health insurance plan. Parents can obtain the Diocese's printed financial aid policy by contacting Fr. William Thompson, Vocation Director.

9. Lastly, some parents have expressed remorse that had they offered a more functional, loving model of marriage that their son would have chosen a married vocation over a single-hearted vocation to serve God’s people and God’s Church. In other words, an attitude is adopted, “It’s my fault that my son is discerning a vocation to the priesthood.” This is very rarely a reality and this sense of causal-guilt should be abandoned.

Although a functional, loving model of married life in the household is very beneficial, several, healthy models of marriage are present in the lives of children and young adults among neighbors, extended family, parishioners, coaches and teachers to name only a few. A vocation comes to a young person in the form of a personal call from God and should never be seen as a last or only option due to a limitation of choice.