1. Talk. talk. talk.
In our family, talk of vocations, and the idea of God having a plan for our lives comes up regularly. Whenever we have discussions with our children about their futures, we always add the disclaimer:..."if that is God's plan for your life."
Our lives are not our own and every baptized Christian is called to a vocation. We pray that by constantly keeping the "vocation conversation" open that our children will not view a vocation as a foreign concept or a way of life that is "for someone else". Our desire above all else is to teach them to seek God's will in their life - wherever he leads them.
2. Pray. pray. pray.
Vocations are part of our family's daily prayer life in many ways. We pray for our priests, and for an increase in vocations to the priesthood daily. In listing the intentions for our family rosary, my husband and I pray for our children - that they may follow the path God leads them on, whether it is marriage, priesthood or religious life. Above all, we pray that they would be faithful to the Lord every day of their lives.
It is important the our children hear us, as parents, praying this prayer out loud. Our parish is blessed at every Mass to pray for vocations during the prayer of the faithful. Finally, we take our children regularly to confession and Adoration and we encourage them to journal and ask the Lord for his guidance in their lives. Prayer is powerful!
3. Utilize resources about vocations to teach your children.
There are so many wonderful resources to expose children to the possibility of a call to priesthood or religious life. Here are a few or my favorites:
- Our family really enjoyed the book by Elizabeth Fiocelli: Where Do Priests Come From?. This book, and its companion books: Where Do Sisters Come From? provide a wonderful description of how vocations are drawn from ordinary people who grew up in ordinary families. These books are perfect for a read-aloud in a classroom setting at CCD or during a children's ministry and are a great introduction to vocations for children who have had little personal contact with a priest or sister.
- Purchase a Mass kit for your sons - a dear friend of mine bought one for my son when he was two years old and he regularly "said Mass" for us for many years. This one, My Mass Kit, available at Amazon, is just adorable and a great way to give your sons the opportunity to pretend to be a priest. I cannot tell you how many priests our family has met who have shared stories of pretending to say Mass when they were children.
- I love the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist's Facebook page - the joy on these sister's faces as they go about their daily work is so evident and contagious that viewing their daily updates always give me a shot in the arm and a conviction that the joy of the Lord needs to be my strength as well! Let your kids view their status updates as well!
- Father Robert Barrron's video "Heroic Priesthood" is a powerful short video highlighting the experience of the seminarians at Mundelein Seminary through the lens of a basketball game. I recently played it for a group of 11 year olds at our homeschool co-op and I can tell you that the kids were absolutely riveted - you could have heart a pin drop. Many of the children went home and ask their parents to watch the video again.
4. Encourage an attitude of service in your children.
Every Christian vocation, whether it is to the priesthood, religious life or marriage demands and attitude of self-giving and service. In a world that is extremely self-centered, where pleasure and instant gratification is the name of the game, it can be a challenge to foster an attitude of service in our children. However, our family has found that the more we encourage our children to serve others, the greater their desire to serve becomes. It truly does feel good to do good.
An attitude of service does not require remarkable feats of heroism - we don't need to go off to the mission fields to cultivate selfless giving in our kids - simply encouraging them to help out around the house, be aware of a friend or family member in need, and to be open to service opportunities in our parish is probably enough to begin to sow the seeds of a service-oriented life. We have found that when asking our children to serve others, it is necessary for us to vocally make the connection about why we are serving to them - out of love of God and love of neighbor. It is important that children are taught that our service flows from our love of the Lord.
My brother is a diocesan priest and both my husband and I work for the church, so having priests at the dinner table is something my children have experienced to from birth. This exposure to the clergy in a "non-church" atmosphere give them the opportunity to see that God calls real people to the priesthood - Mets' fans, golfers, motorcycle riders (much to my chagrin), budding chefs, guitarists, intellectuals are more. Having clergy involved in our day to day lives allows the children to ask questions about their vocations, and other religious topics. It also gives us an appreciation of some of the struggles and challenges our priests face.
Don't be intimidated to invite your parish priest over to dinner and get to know them. Every priest - dinner guest we have ever had has been immensely grateful for the invitation. I often worry that we are bothering Father, but the reality is, most priests we know are delighted to share a meal as well as their stories and their faith with an interested family.
6. Attend Ordinations.
Attending family weddings was one of the highlights of my childhood - I loved all the festivities that went with these joyous occasions and they served to highlight the importance of marriage for me. I did not, however, have an opportunity to attend an Ordination until my own brother was ordained a priest when I was 33 years old. My brother's ordination to priesthood was a powerful and joyous occasion for my family and I have never forgotten the sense of awe that I had at the gift and mystery of the priesthood after witnessing his ordination.
My husband and I have been blessed to take our children to two transitional diaconate ordinations and one priesthood ordination. The beautiful rite of Ordination and the sense of camaraderie among the priests present provides a great opportunity plant the seeds of vocations in our children.
Many dioceses encourage the faithful to attend Ordinations to the priesthood, transitional diaconate and permanent diaconate - check your Diocese's website or give them a call to find out if you are able to attend - not only will your family be blessed by the experience - it is a great encouragement to the men being ordained to see the support of the community.
7. Enlist the help of the saints.
Last, but certainly not least, ask for the intercession of the saints to foster vocations in your children. Some of our family favorites are St. John Vianney, who is the patron saint of all priests; St. Padre Pio, whose tireless ministry in the confessional is a great testimony to the power of the priesthood; St. Teresa of Avila, whose commitment to prayer and the interior life is so key for any vocation; and St. Therese of Lisieux, whose "little way" of love and service is a goal that can be understood and lived out by even the smallest child.