I find it interesting to note the reactions of people once they learn that someone is discerning a call to religious life or the priesthood. The reactions are often across the board but there are two extremes that I have seen and even experienced during my own time of discernment. One extreme is totally opposed. It can be heard in such statements as, “How can you think of such a thing!” “You are throwing your life away!” “You are too young!” “I want grandchildren!”. The other extreme is totally “for” – uncritically. In this extreme, people would have the one just beginning to discern either ordained or professing solemn vows tomorrow if they could. Neither extreme is helpful. As is often the case, virtue and wisdom lies in the middle.
Today as the Church remembers St. Monica (the mother of St. Augustine) we are invited to reflect on her witness and learn from her wisdom. Monica persevered in her prayer for her son and she prayed that God’s will be done in his life and that he find his way to the Church and there she left it with God. Now, it does seem that she did have a tendency to intervene in her children’s lives uninvited (I think most parents can recognize this temptation) but there is a tender scene of Augustine and Monica near the end of her life that expresses a mellowing that had occurred for her over her lifetime in this regards and also a healing in this mother-son relationship. (The young Augustine once intentionally gave Monica the wrong departure time for a ship thus allowing him to slip out of town to Europe while literally leaving his mother standing on the dock! Saints also, it seems, have rough patches and learn things too through trial and error in life.)
St. Monica has some specific wisdom to offer parents as they navigate the realities of raising sons and daughters while also learning to let go and let their children be who they are meant to be. Monica, I believe, teaches the value of the perseverance of prayer, trusting God’s will, continually loving ones children and living ones own life vocation.
My advice to parents on this feast of St. Monica is that if you want to help your child discern his or her vocation first live your own vocation as a disciple, a spouse and parent. Life vocations are not opposed to one another but in fact support and encourage one another. (My life as a priest is continually strengthened by the witness of men and women living the christian vocation of marriage or witnessing to Christ sometimes boldly in the single life.) Also, avoid the two extremes neither of which is helpful – virtue lies in the middle. Finally (and really foremost) pray; pray for your children, for yourself as a parent – continually ask for God’s wisdom and guidance as you navigate the realities of living your vocation and being family. Persevere in prayer!
Below is video clip found on the U.S. Bishops’ website “For Your Vocation” (http://www.foryourvocation.org/). The clip is an interview with a couple and their role in helping their son discern a vocation to priesthood.
Check it out on this Feast of St. Monica.