Often when I do presentations on vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the introduction includes the instruction to pray for our priests and religious because they have given up so much in order to respond to their call. While it is true that the life of a priest is a particular form of sacrificial living in giving up the good things of the natural world, there are certainly many blessings that nourish the priest both spiritually and emotionally during the course of his ministry in the Church. I would think, based on seeing so many religious who exhibit that deep seated joy in Christ, that they have a similar experience.
However, there is a sometimes hidden cost of responding to a priestly or religious vocation that becomes quite evident this time of year, but not necessarily for the priest or religious, but for his or her family. Because of our responsibilities and assignments, we often miss family gatherings during the holidays, or when we get there, we are so tired and worn down, all we want to do is sleep; yet nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, parents are all excited to see you and want to hear about what we have been doing.
But especially for members of religious communities, even this is not an option. Often stationed in houses around the globe, families have to make due with a two week ‘home visit’ at different points during the year. In between, hand written letters are often the only means of communication that goes between family and the professed. While the evident joy can temper some of the feelings of loss in the rest of the family, there is still something missing when that son or daughter’s chair remains empty during Christmas Dinner.
On the contrary, there certainly are many blessings that can come to the family of a priest or religious. I know my mother enjoys seeing people she meets make the connection that she is ‘Fr. Schnippel’s mother’ and my father’s favorite pastime is greeting me after Mass with a hearty: ‘Well done, Son!’ (and my sheepish reply: ‘Thanks, Father.’) Plus, family weddings and baptisms take on a special significance when celebrated by your brother or uncle, and it was a particular joy to me to receive my brother’s wedding vows while I was still a deacon.
Despite these great blessings, families of priests and religious can still sometimes feel left out. Perhaps with the upcoming Christmas season, it might make for an excellent awareness to thank those families from among your parishes and friends who have sacrificed in such a way in supporting a son or daughter in their call to the priesthood or religious life.
After all, priestly and religious vocations are not the product solely of one family, but naturally grow forth from a vibrant parish and school life. There is a pride that comes to the whole parish when a son is ordained or a daughter professed; helping a family who greatly loves, yet greatly misses, their child, brother or sister aunt or uncle; is certainly a great way to acknowledge that the fostering of a vocation is too important a task to be left to just one family. It is the responsibility of all.
During this Christmas Season, may Christ richly reward all those who have helped to foster a vocation!
For more on how families and parishes can foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, please visit http://www.cincinnativocations.org/.