10 ways to support your child’s vocation

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If you have been blessed with little ones, you no doubt have spent more than a few hours thinking, worrying and praying about their future. Will they be able to endure the small bruises and bigger heartaches life tosses at them? Will they keep their faith, uncover their talents and find joy in sharing them?

Amid the mix of parenting worries and prayers, your child's future vocation might not make an appearance. Yet through example, spiritual aid and unconditional love, parents can play a powerful role in their children's vocational discernment.

Here are five suggestions to cultivate an openness to a religious vocation in your children and five ways to support them if they choose the religious life.

While they're young

1) Give them "shoulder time" with priests, nuns

"Discernment happens by contact with priests and with sisters," said Father Joel D. Jaffe, Arlington diocesan vocations director. "Children need to see vocations lived out." A few of his suggestions: Invite a sister or a priest over for dinner, help out at a convent raking leaves, or volunteer with a local Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen or AIDS shelter. Expose children to vocations by giving them "shoulder time" with nuns and priests, he said.

2) Don't be pushy

Keep a religious vocation as a possibility, but do not push them one way or another, said Father Jaffe. Just as you shouldn't shove your child into a career as a doctor or a lawyer, so you shouldn't be pushy with a vocation.

3) Teach them to pray by example

Father Jaffe said to teach children to seek "clarity in what God wants for their lives." Help them learn to ask for ways they can use their gifts to "bring God's love and goodwill into the world." And be sure to pray regularly as a family.

4) Share vocation stories

Tell them like you would a love story. Check out the Knights of Columbus' Columbia magazine, or look under "vocation stories" on religious order websites.

5) Pray together for vocations, religious

Pray daily with your children for a specific person by name - your pastor, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde or a local seminarian (you can obtain a poster or list of diocesan seminarians from the Vocations Office).

While they're discerning

1) Listen

"Listen to what they are going through," said Father Jaffe. The discernment processes can be difficult; encourage them by "helping them see their strengths and weaknesses." Remind them that discernment does not end when they enter formation. Even if they decide against a religious vocation, their time spent in seminary or a convent is "not a failure and not wasted time," he said. "They leave with graces and talents they didn't have before."

2) See it for the good it is

The religious life might not have been what you dreamed of for your child, but it's important to appreciate the beauty of his or her choice and "see it for the good it is," said Father Jaffe, adding that "you can be proud that you raised a child" who has embraced this special path.

3) Don't let your plans or aspirations get in the way

Meredith Hinkle, mother of recently ordained Father James C. Hinkle, parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn, said while it can be hard for some parents to let go of dreams of grandchildren, "be joyful" in your child's decision. "You don't want them to feel guilty for their choice or like they are letting you down," she said. You are not losing a couple of grandchildren, added Father Jaffe. "You are gaining thousands of spiritual children."

4) Be supportive of the process

Remember that this is a discernment period, and parents should reassure their son or daughter "that they are there for them, that they are in support of them always," said Hinkle.

5) Pray for your child

"First and foremost, pray for your son or daughter that God is calling them clearly," Hinkle said.

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer on World Day of Prayer for Vocations last year. "Behind and before every vocation to the priesthood or to the consecrated life there is always the strong and intense prayer of someone: a grandmother, a grandfather, a mother, a father, a community," said the pope. "Vocations are born in prayer and from prayer, and only through prayer can they persevere and bear fruit."

Some suggestions were adapted from material provided by the Arlington diocesan Office of Vocations.

Find out more

For more information and resources to support your child's vocation, call the Vocations Office at 703/841-2514 or go here.

A Priest in the Family: A guide for Parents Whose Sons are Considering the Priesthood, by Fr. Brett A. Brannen, is available at vianneyvocations.com.

Vocation prayers for parents and children in English and Spanish can be found here.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014